Sept. 7th, Grito de Boyle Heights Featuring Luis J. Rodriguez

Join us this Wednesday, September 7th, at Re/Arte Centro Literario for a reading & open mic featuring former L.A. poet laureate Luis J. Rodriguez!

Grito de Boyle Heights happens in-person at Re/Arte (2014 1/2 E. Cesar Chavez Ave. LA, CA 90033) every second and fourth Wednesdays of the month. Sign ups for Open Mic start at 6:45 PM, so we recommend arriving early! When you’re there, enjoy a cup of coffee catered by Mobar Coffee & Market.

Luis J. Rodriguez was born in El Paso, Texas, and grew up in the San Gabriel Valley of East Los Angeles. He is a Poet, novelist, journalist, activist, critic, and founding editor of Tia Chucha Press, and co-founder of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore in the San Fernando Valley.

He is the author of 16 books in all genres, including the best-selling memoir, “Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.” His latest memoir is the sequel, “It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing.” that recount his experiences as a former incarcerated individual and dealing with addiction and gang violence. His last poetry book is “Borrowed Bones” from Curbstone Books/Northwestern University Press. In 2020, Seven Stories Press released his first book of essays, “From Our Land to Our Land: Essays, Journeys & Imaginings from a Native Xicanx Writer.” From 2014-2016, Luis served as the official Poet Laureate of Los Angeles.

We will have copies of Luis’s books in-stock at Re/Arte if you would like to grab a copy!

We also offer writing workshops every 2nd & 4th Wednesdays of the month at 4 PM, on a donation basis, with Chicano political poet Matt Sedillo at Re/Arte (no appointment necessary, drop-in). Other times for workshops check more details here.

See you soon!

Revelations by Ruben Quesada

Reviewed by Staff

Ruben Quesada’s chapbook, REVELATIONS, is a collection where poems about angels, Christ, and crucified gods mix with poems about heroin, erections and dead birds; the holy and the unholy.

Poems are grouped together by titles of his translations of works by Luis Cernuda, a Spanish poet who was exiled from his home country in 1936 at the start of the Spanish Civil War, and one of the first openly gay poets of the 20th century.

Except for the opening piece (“Angels In The Sun”), all the author’s poems are titled by way of roman numerals. Poems I through IX are all prose pieces; psalms that offer a window into a soul that has witnessed and experienced much pain and sadness.

What impacted me most from these prose poems were the endings. Some, just a few words, but each more melancholic than the last. For example, a haze of zinnias hushed in the rain, and later, body turned to ash, and, nothing more was said.

Cernudas’s poems share the themes of nature; the changing seasons; and life and death. Here, some lines from “Desire,” my favorite of the translated pieces: from the yellow poplar/ a leaf like a broken star/ spins toward the earth. And this stanza from, “Fall Feeling,” another translation, and the final poem in the chapbook:

Upon the old ruins it rains,

The autumn still green,

Odorless, dreams blossom,

And the body gives in.

Quesada carefully chose which poems to include with his own, and the four translated poems complement his own language well. For instance, compare the previous cited lines with these from poem, “X,” sunsets were plum colored lights kissing snow/ covered rooftops joy was a love letter, and this first stanza from poem, “XIV”:

Beneath sunsets like wildfire

an alchemy of traffic in orange

and red on the 405 in Los Angeles

Both poets know the importance of color to set the mood, and both are masters at describing everyday natural occurrences in nature and life that make the reader want to stay in that moment.

At only 38 pages, this chapbook is a bible tract, but not the kind handed out by Christian zealots trying to save you from the eternal flames of hell. This is a religious text for all who can feel September quietly transform from summer into autumn, and for those who believe in the beauty of words.


REVELATIONS is available for purchase at Sibling Rivalry Press

Dated Emcees by Chinaka Hodge

Reviewed By Amanda Hildebrand

Poet, activist, educator, and spoken word/rap artist Chinaka Hodge has gifted us with her first book, Dated Emcees (City Lights Publishers, 2016), and shows us how hip-hop’s biggest names are history’s most tragic lovers, cheaters, victors, and martyrs, spitting and singing side-by-side with us in this terrible love game. Hodge takes us through her dating history of ex-emcees and emcee-exes a poem at a time, one for each lover and lesson, bouncing between the boundaries of literature, verse, and memoir.

Dated Emcees is a book of love poems, all things considered. If you feel lost in lovesickness, Chinaka Hodge knows where you’ve been. These are the everywoman’s love poems; poems for the infatuated woman, the dumped woman, the other woman. Hodge lets us into her personal memories of heartbreak that may feel all too familiar, and the reader pictures themselves alongside her in those lonesome gray days, counting quarters for the laundry and waiting for a call back.

Her stories are centered around women’s issues, speaking particularly to black female readers, as she challenges misogyny, violence, and colorism that permeate a popular culture centered on light, white, and straight-haired beauty.

Hodge’s confessional anecdotes are spaced between pieces about, inspired by, and dedicated to legends of hip-hop of now and days past. Haikus for Biggie and couplets for 2Pac; an internal monologue from the mind of “Mr. Carter” on the day of Blue Ivy’s wedding; an interview between Drake and Pac that night in Vegas, the two glaringly different artists reciting together in those last moments: oh my god/ oh my god/ if i die/ i’m a legend. Even though there are pop culture references buried in almost every stanza, you don’t necessarily need to be well-versed in hip-hop or its surrounding culture to understand Hodge’s message; but, as Hodge alludes to, there’s a difference between understanding and knowing. She writes to us as if we know, and we either keep up or we don’t.

Hodge is perhaps most well-known as a spoken word poet, especially for her past appearances on the HBO show Def Poetry Jam. You can hear that influence in Dated Emcees as the poems rush to sound in your head, kicking and jerking, pumping through your chest, begging to be read aloud:

i date lushes faded like grandpas
who crawl sixteen bars and get twisted
they run tabs more than they spit
swallow fake beautifuls
hen and mott’s apple
juiced stuck slurs stirs
one finger skyward
blurred
(from title track)

Hodge writes of past loves as if they were songs, their memory reverberating and echoing forever through her story, their words tattoos in Sharpie on the binds of history books, where the people will see them. Her subjects are saints enshrined in the timeless art of hip-hop.

Hodge reminds us of the comfort and healing that can be found in remembering pain as growth.

Female emcees are strangely missing from the armada of hip-hop figures filling the pages, despite the influence women in hip-hop have had on Hodge and her work. Perhaps she simply has never dated a female emcee; perhaps she wanted to focus specifically on masculinity in the hip-hop community. Her stories are centered around women’s issues, speaking particularly to black female readers, as she challenges misogyny, violence, and colorism that permeate a popular culture centered on light, white, and straight-haired beauty.

sth
pft
sith
pft
ha
they
aint
never
going
to make
no princess
tiana your
color.
(from “light privilege or Lili speaks”)

The poems are tied together by the overarching idea that the past, and our ghosts from it, have direct influence on where and how we go in the future. If we watch ourselves make the same mistakes, forsake our histories, refuse to amend damaged pasts – then we’re resigned to the same heartbreak, over and over again. Hodge reminds us of the comfort and healing that can be found in remembering pain as growth.

Chinaka Hodge will break your heart, she’ll make you angry, she’ll make you guilty; but mostly, she’ll tell you the truth. Her confessions of heartbreak in Dated Emcees will speak to those who have loved, lost, and re-found themselves in the small places between the punchlines.


Dated Emcees is available through City Lights Booksellers & Publishers

Mortal Trash: Poems by Kim Addonizio

Reviewed By Amanda Hildebrand

Mortal Trash (W. W. Norton & Company, 2016) is a collection of handfuls: odes to old friends and family members, instructional poems about what poetry isn’t, simple pleads for answers. There’s a eulogy at the end, as if we’ve just died. We all follow Addonizio to heaven: “I saw God/ in a cumulus cloud./ Angels gathered on my library card.” And the big-kid concept of death is now so simple: a face in the clouds, a small square of plastic in your pocket.

And as soon as we stick our toes in, Addonizio won’t give us a moment of relief. There are no page numbers in the table of contents; each cryptic title is listed next to the digits 000. Nothing nothing nothing, again and again – and we’re lost with her in quasi-structured mayhem. A couple sections of poems with no uniform format and no collective motivation are followed by a section of fourteen maybe-randomly-numbered sonnets, a smack of structure in the middle of the collection. Mortal Trash is a collection of handfuls: odes to old friends and family members, instructional poems about what poetry isn’t, simple pleads for answers. There’s a eulogy at the end, as if we’ve just died. We all follow Addonizio to heaven: “I saw God/ in a cumulus cloud./ Angels gathered on my library card.” And the big-kid concept of death is now so simple: a face in the clouds, a small square of plastic in your pocket.

Addonizio’s style is ephemeral, but relatable as hell; it’s absurd, confessional, vulnerable, even silly. She presents abstract situations and concepts as ordinary objects and happenings, forcing our noses to the dirt to see the beauty there. Addonizio gives us structured poetic forms with mismatched, abstract content – a spaghetti dinner served on fine china but with no forks or knives to easily gobble it up; we’re left messy. Her settings are fantastic, in places where you hear “ominous sounds in the woods” from “[m]aybe/ wild animals, maybe lesser demons – / strewing the garbage, thieving chickens/ and itty dogs, clawing at the siding doors”; a place where “[s]omething flowers/ in the air above the bed but no one/ can say what”  (from “Stray Sparks”). This place is like a dirty fairytale, littered by mundane objects that Addonizio continuously points out: a box of matches, stove burners, a hospital chair. The fantastic decomposes, surreal, then belligerent, leaving nothing but ugly, material waste for us to stare at. The world is dissolving before our eyes, and our trash is unignorable.

“The fantastic decomposes, surreal, then belligerent, leaving nothing but ugly, material waste for us to stare at. The world is dissolving before our eyes, and our trash is unignorable.”

There has to be logic behind this mess. Addonizio is obviously a well-read fan of Anglo classics; canon literary references pop in and out of her poems just when we thought all we knew was lost. Her poem “Out in the Tranquil Bay” directly quotes Arnold’s famous opening line of “Dover Beach,” then slides straight from the tranquility of “The sea is calm tonight” into pointed, scattered declaratives that jostle us with accusation: “You are an infidel.” “This elixir tastes weird.” “You are on fire./ Put yourself out.” The economy of her words shows a methodology behind each seemingly dropped-from-ten-stories-above poem. Her use of references ground us, tap into our subconsciousness whether we like it or not, and force us to pay attention. She’s poking us in the chest with the most recognizable minutia of our everyday lives so we see the dirty beauty in our collective messes, and, particularly in “The Sonnets,” her personal griefs.

Each poem in the section titled “The Sonnets” is numbered. Skimming through, they look like sonnets; their length, line breaks, and use of couplets loosely mirror the Elizabethan formatting. At face value, this section seems more structured than the others, and the call to Shakespeare immediately eases us into a familiar place – but we’re only comfortable for a second. The question is: are Mortal Trash’s sonnets supposed to “line up” with Shakespeare’s? In the Addonizio way – kinda.

Sonnet 130
my mister’s eyes are something all right
Mr. Johnson how do you do
his scleras oh they’re mighty white
float like a dead man sting like a wound
Captain Crow flew off up some tree
calls me names when Mr. walks with me
burnt roses at the florist stand greening
we went back in the dark singing

One of Shakespeare’s most quoted, memorized, and labored-over sonnets, Sonnet 130 is dedicated to a lover whose appearance is nondivine and repulsive, and still draws the narrator into a violent fit of fourteen-lined passion. You can see what draws Addonizio to this sonnet, and Shakespeare’s general out-with-the-old-in-with-the-nasty spirit. Addonizio’s Sonnet 130 calls to the original’s famous first line with a dry joke that mixes irreverence with the familiar to make us uneasy. Her sonnet feels shameful, with mystical Miltonesque characters called Captain Crow embodying concepts like judgment, creepy singsongy rhymes, and a general feeling of eerie off-ness, like a nightmare you had as a kid you still remember. It’s an uncomfortable ride through a distorted reality where sonnets are dirty, and not even Shakespeare is safe.

Sonnet 116 is elegantly begun by the Bard with the show-stopping riddle: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds/ Admit impediments.” Don’t spend too long racking those undergrad Shakespeare lectures in the back of your head, Addonizio wants to make it easy for you:

let me not to the pediment of two minds
admit marriage; love alter[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[=[====[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[]
Love is not love
stain remover will take that out
(from Sonnet 116)

In this sonnet and others in the section, txt speak and sporadic punctuation tantrums have swallowed strict rhyming patterns and measured iambs. It’s as if Addonizio dropped her forehead on her keyboard for a second to collect herself. We’ve boiled down to our gritty truths. Even Shakespeare seemed to believe in small hopeful ideas like love, but Addonizio has wiped the thought away, has blotted out that stain so we can see the ugly reality hiding between the lines. Her sonnets are at their cores about love, death, shame; they’re angry, and mournful; they’re almost guilty. She uses this traditionalist, structured space as a landfill to dump everything out – every bitter, ugly, ridiculous, embarrassing feeling that makes us squirm to read.

Addonizio’s musical background easily carries over to her poetry. It’s like we’re following an erratic drummer; the poem’s sounds are manipulated through strategic disjointed formatting and are aligned to an inconsistent beat. Thoughts and images stop staccato and harsh, or pour into each other over line breaks. They wax and wane, stop to breathe, and pick up again. Sometimes they wiggle around with nowhere to go at all. The secret to tying unconventional rhythms with the themes of Addonizio’s world of mess lies in her economic but impactful language, balanced on well-placed turns and bursts of simple imagery, all captured in the first poem of the collection:


This is me as a slowly-tearing-itself apart cloud
and marveling
at a fire palely and flamily
emerging from a bowl, wavering
up through stones of cobalt glass. The air
wavers back. This is me in love
with the beauty of blue glass in flames, this is me on drugs
prescribed by my doctor
as I try once more
to sneak into nights closely guarded city,
my hollow horse read

(from “Scrapbook”)

Everything has a message. Addonizio hints at hers, whatever it is, in “Sleep Stage”: “Dreams,/ what are they, anyway: collage art,/ trash bins, intergalactic interfaces,/ maybe random missile file/ from oppressed realities.” She wants our faces against our mirrors, she wants us dancing down in the mud with her. She wants us to see the meaningful in the simple, and wonder if something really loses its beauty after it’s been thrown away.


Mortal Trash is available through W. W. Norton & Company