Westwind

Poetry

I was lucky enough to be sent Kim Dower’s debut publication, Air Kissing on Mars, which is a conglomeration of her early and seasoned works. Brought together, they have the effect of “growing up” with the writer for the reader. You can recognize her ability growing with each segment of the book: True Stories, People Give Me Titles, Cranky in Paradise, and How To, mini-chapbooks in one big collection (131 page in all.) At first it was difficult to see the “big” picture of the work; the four segments jump around and don’t stay still for anyone, ruminating on love, loss, and poetry (sometimes even dogs.) The book overall leans toward the domestic: family, relationships, the self, and the question of a legacy in accomplishments (offspring and otherwise.) In her verse, neuroses pop up like age spots.

Dower’s preoccupation with motherhood and its role is seen in quite a few poems like, “Different Mothers,” “Birth,” “Huge Rat in Laundry Room,” and “Cranky in Paradise.” She even prefaces the book with a dedication to her son, Max. Maternal attitudes that start to emerge in these works are more prevalent in her new book, Slice of Moon. In my opinion, by the time she wrote the content for People Give Me Titles is when she starts to become more preoccupied with the symbol of the feminine moon and matrisocial intricacies of daughter to mother that is fleshed out in Slice of Moon. “Different Mothers” ponders urban motherhood and the many forms motherhood poses in the face of a popular, ‘Earth Mother’ nurturing role. This is where she rejects the pastoral identity of mothers teaching idyllic, unnecessary skills in favor of supporting a child who “can look anyone in the eye, tell them/ what he’s thinking.” “Birth,” however, concerns itself with keeping the child close to the mother to the point of reversing the birth, to keep the infant indefinitely within the mother: “She tries to picture life/ after birth, after they take him/from her body.” Dower views the child as a possession, still a part of the female body. In “Huge Rat,” this is reversed when the speaker’s son has become almost a mature adult, yet the speaker equates her child to an invasive pest, something distant and foreign to her. Yet it is “Cranky in Paradise” that is the jewel of these mother-centric poems. Dower’s speaker goes back to the birthing event, interpreting it with a foggy bliss like that of drugs, who “closes her eyes deep breath scent of seaweed/ she’s fading now counts backwards like when/ they took her tonsils out or when they took her/ baby out … / paradise was nothing more than being alive.”

There is a “tender flavor” that smacks of Los Angeles in her poetry as well. The westside vibe infiltrates her poems like, “They took the mailbox away,” “Different Mothers,” and “The things I do in my car,” by geographical markers (“my traveling L.A. secret circus” to “on Cahuenga and Clinton.”) She uses her location like an identity, integrating it into the self that she curiously ponders over. These hints are peppered throughout True Stories and People Give Me Titles, and by the time she enters Cranky in Paradise, Los Angeles (and to a lesser extent, New York City) have faded into the background of the poems, no longer needed to be explicitly stated within the verse.

I personally think that the book should have been called “Cranky in Paradise” given the wealth of utopian-gone-wrong material she works with. Dower’s speaker is a modern Eve-figure in a paradisiacal world of glittering lights and organic smoothies. Despite this, she is grumbling, unsatisfied, but the why is never quite figured out. She is the type of madwoman who spits on her smartphone while dialing for delivery, daring for a social rupture to lead to some dangerous action. I found that this collection has much in it, more than what I can describe in a review. To truly experience the wealth of topics Dower touches on, her book is available for purchase either through Red Hen Press or Amazon. You can find out more about Kim Dower at her website: www.kimdowerpoet.com

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Source: luisjrodriguez.com

 

On Monday, May 18th Los Angeles Poet Laureate Luis J. Rodriguez joined Westwind, UCLA’s literary journal, at the Powell Rotunda for a reading of his work. Joining him on stage was his wife Trini, a poet, and his son Ruben, a fouth-year at UCLA and co-prose editor of Westwind.

Although Rodriguez began his writing career as a poet, he has written in many other genres, including journalism, memoir, fiction, and literary criticism to name a few. He is recognized as a major figure in contemporary Chicano literature. Rodriguez’s best-known work is Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A., which received much literary recognition, including the Carl Sandburg Literary Award.

Mayor Eric Garcetti appointed Rodriguez as the poet laureate of Los Angeles in October of 2014; Rodriguez will serve a two-year term as official ambassador of L.A.’s vibrant culture, promoting the city’s rich literary community and celebrating the written word.

Since his appointment, Rodriguez has been traversing the city to conduct readings at venues like the Hammer Museum, where he read a poem in Nahuatl (the Aztec language,), the Grand Park Book Fest, the L.A. Times Festival of Books, and The Big Read. He has also read poems in front of the Los Angeles City Council twice, conducted writing workshops with youth for Urban Word, read a poem by Henry Dumas in acknowledgement of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, and in Leimert Park commemorated the legacy of the unofficial poet laureate Wanda Coleman, who recently passed away.

Right now, Rodriguez is calling out to Los Angeles poets to submit to an anthology that he is publishing through Tia Chucha Press next year. The deadline is July 2015. Ten poems are requested from each poet, from which Rodriguez will pick one or two for publication. The submission email is TCPress@tiachuha.org

To complement the reading hosted at UCLA, we at Westwind asked Rodriguez to answer some questions about his work as a poet, journalist, social activist, and publisher.

W: Thank you very much for joining Westwind for a reading of your work. It’s even more special because your wife Trini Rodriguez and your son Ruben will be reading their work as well. Have you read your work together as a family before?

 R: This is special. Of course, we’ve done similar things as a family—for example, I did a keynote talk at Ruben’s high school graduation where he also played guitar. My son Ramiro and I have read in Chicago, San Francisco, and L.A. And Trini and I have read together before, in particular a couples’ Valentine’s Day reading at the Malibu Poetry Reading Series. But this is a first for us three—I’m moved by this opportunity to share with my wife and son. Everyone in my immediate family are powerful writers. This may seem odd, but they learn being around me how vital it is to have language, to know one’s story, to express powerfully with pen and heart.

W: Talk about your background. How did your experiences shape your outlook on the world? How did it shape your writing?

R: My best-selling memoir, Always Running, covers a period in my teen life when I was in gangs, on heavy drugs, including heroin, and in and out of jails. A circle was completed when Mayor Garcetti presented me as poet laureate in the Central Library. This was the very library I used as a refuge when I was briefly homeless in downtown LA at 15. I finally left the “Crazy Life” by age twenty, holding my first son in my arms, helped by mentors, teachers, and a cause.

All these experiences—including getting politically active; working in a steel mill, foundry, paper mill, chemical refinery, and in construction; having kids; becoming a journalist and poet; working with gang and other troubled youth in the U.S. and other countries; the healing work I do with Native American spiritual practices—informs all my writing.

W: Can you please talk about your work as a journalist?

R: I became a journalist at age 25, first as a writer/photographer for weekly newspapers in East LA, covering murders, mudslides, and car accidents (although I also had a boxing column). I then worked as a daily crime-and-disaster reporter for the San Bernardino Sun when that city had the second-highest murder rate in the country. As a freelancer, I covered uprisings in Mexico, the Contra War in Nicaragua and Honduras, labor battles, as well as the trials and tribulations of Mexican and other Latino immigrants. One piece I did on the plight of the undocumented for the LA Weekly won a Western State’s Journalism award in the early 1980s.

I’ve also written extensively about gang life and solutions, including from all over the U.S, Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala. In Chicago, I also worked as editor of a weekly political newspaper—which took me around the country covering many fronts of struggle for social justice, against poverty, immigrant rights.

W: You’ve also done extensive activism around literacy awareness in prisons. Did you conduct writing classes, workshops? What were those experiences like?

R: I began doing prison workshops in Chino Prison in 1980, mentored by the leading Chicano poet doing this work at the time, Manuel “Manazar” Gamboa (who was also an ex-prisoner and ex-heroin addict). I’ve been doing these ever since, speaking and reading in San Quentin, Soledad, Folsom, Lancaster, as well as prisons, homeless shelters, migrant camps, Native American reservations, and juvenile facilities around the country. In addition, I’ve visited prisons in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Argentina, and England. I generally tell my story, read poetry, and talk about going from trauma to transformation. My workshops are healing circles mostly, but include writing as healing and renewal. Almost always, the prisoners and wards are attentive, respectful and full of poetry.

The only time things got rough was at an Arizona youth facility that rioted soon after my talk (although this had nothing to do with me—tensions had been shimmering for a long time among the Chicano and Native youth wards). I was pepper sprayed that time as guards tried to subdue the inmates and bring back order.

But again, my prison experiences have been the best, even in terrible inhumane prisons in places like El Salvador or Mexico.

W: Talk about Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore, and the press you run under the same name. Why did you open this organization? What kind of work do you publish?

R: I began Tia Chucha Press in Chicago in 1989 to publish my first book, “Poems across the Pavement.” A mixed Native American/white artist named Jane Brunette designed the book when we both worked for the Archdiocese of Chicago’s publishing wing. The book did so well that others came to me to publish their works. Then I also solicited manuscripts of poets I loved—and I’ve been doing this ever since. For more than 25 years now—and Jane has been my only designer.

When Trini, my two youngest boys, and I moved back to LA in 2000 (my oldest son was in prison, and my daughter and her child eventually joined us later). We moved to the northeast San Fernando Valley, the mostly Mexican and Central American section of the Valley where Trini grew up. Unfortunately, the northeast Valley had become culturally barren. A year later, we took out mortgages, credit cards, and royalties from sales of Always Running to create Tia Chucha’s Cultural Center & Bookstore—the only bookstore, art gallery, and decent performance space for 500,000 people. We’ve now been in existence 15 years. For the past 10 years I’ve not had to put my own money in there, although both Trini—who is Interim Executive Director—and myself have never been paid for creating and sustaining this center. It’s our gift to community.

W: Based on your experience, what are some of the challenges in getting published today? Do writers of color face experience additional challenges when it comes to publishing their work? What are some of the challenges publishing as a Latino publisher? What do you look for as a publisher?

R: Writers of color have only recently been recognized, beginning in the 1960s. Yet, despite many wonderful Chicano, Puerto Rican, African American, Native American, and Asian writers, we are still highly marginalized in the publishing world. Tia Chucha Press is now known as one of the leading cross-cultural small presses. But it is hard to compete in a world with corporate publishing houses controlling the market and most distribution and also during the developing shift to digital books. But I still edit and publish books—I believe in the printed book. I believe in the new voices often not wanted by others. This is a business, of course; the bottom line’s important. But we do this for the love of literature, compelling writing, the unheard voices. Yes, many good literature and poetry gets published in the general trade, but for the most part it’s about the blockbusters and popular fare.

Personally, I’ve been fortunate to have wonderful publishers for my books such as Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Seven Stories, Lee & Low, Curbstone, and Open Road Integrated Media. But this is not true for the vast majority of writers of color. It’s a struggle even though people of color have become a quarter of the U.S. population. By 2050 it’s estimated the majority of the population will be from communities of color. As everyone is saying now, we need more diversity in books as well as movies, TV, radio, the Internet, all media. That’s an area I plan to keep remedying as long as I can.

W: What has your experience been in getting published with large publishing houses? What are the advantages about getting a small press to publish your work?

R: The larger publishers have the distribution power. My books with major publishing houses can appear most everywhere. In Barnes & Noble, independent bookstores, airports, Staples Stores, and more. Also whatever major media writers can get, it’s usually because of the big publishers and their marketing budgets. You generally need an agent to represent you with these publishers—one that knows the market but also the individual editors.

Although book tours in cities with media appointments are mostly not budgeted for anymore—except for blockbusters—I have made a living reading everywhere: universities, colleges, conference, libraries, schools, even bookstores, as much as I can. My books therefore are constantly being promoted. It’s a natural part of the “hustle” required to be an independent sole proprietor as a writer/lecturer/reader.

As for small presses, you don’t need an agent. You can send to various publishers, especially if you’ve done the homework. There are Literary Marketplace reference books (often in the various genres) you should consult. There are magazines and conferences you should turn to. Once a small publisher shows interest in your work, they also put their heart and soul behind each book. For example, Tia Chucha Press only does two books a year, but we design them beautifully and individually (although there is a Tia Chucha Press “look” that we’ve acquired over the years). We have a distributor among one of the most prestigious university presses, Northwestern University out of Chicago. Small presses don’t sell anywhere near as many books as the big publishers. But each sell is organized for, fought for, and valued.

There are other ways to go—self-publishing, print-on-demand, vanity presses, etc. All can be legitimate. But for me, even with less percentage of each book price for royalties, it’s best to get a long-standing and hardworking publisher behind my books.

W: What advice would you give young writers trying to find their voice and then getting their work out there?

R: The first and most important advice is: “don’t give up.” There is no surefire path to publishing, but you can pretty much make this a plausible fait accompli by getting the writing skills—compelling, powerful, unique (don’t write like anyone else) in the genre or genres you are passionate about. This requires adequate schooling but also ongoing self-study.

Next read many books, all the time, even books you don’t like (figure out why you don’t like them).

Third is write all the time. It’s an artistic practice. Any sportsperson, painter, musician, mechanic… what have you… get better the more they do their craft. Same with writing. Experiment perhaps. Try different forms. Discover new ones.

Writing like any art is an inexhaustible power once you’ve reached deep and draw from your own internal creative reservoir.

W: How important is it for writers to know how the publishing industry works?

R: It’s important to know the ins and outs of any professional field you’re interested in. Writing is a rigorous and demanding career. It’s highly competitive and hard to negotiate. Knowing the markets, the publishing houses, what they publish and don’t (so you don’t waste time sending manuscripts to people who don’t publish what you write), and aspects like agents, contracts, and copyright laws are all necessary. You can go to professional bodies like the Associated Writing and Writing Programs conferences every year (they also have a magazine with jobs listing, writing tips, interviews, and teaching positions in Masters in Fine Arts programs in writing).

I have a lecture agency, a literary agent, and a Hollywood lawyer to help me with all this. They are paid by the work I do, and so far I’ve made a decent living, although it’s a year-by-year proposition (some years are better than others).

The main thing again is your writing. Concentrate on that and then let the world revolve around this. Make time for your art.

Searching for a chance to break out of the campus bubble and find some cultural stimulation? Look no farther than UCLA’s own backyard. The Hammer Museum offers frequent public engagement programs, focusing on the arts and cultural issues, and often supplementing the museum’s current exhibits. Admission and public programs are all 100% free!

ART programs include weekly Lunchtime Art Talks and biweekly guided Exhibition Tours. Tours are led by Hammer student educators and include Art in Conversation tours, using conversation to compare two works of art.


LITERATURE & POETRY programs include Libros Schmibros Book Club meetings and a series of readings from prestigious authors around the country. Recent readings have featured JD McClatchy, Michael Waters, V. Penelope Pelizzon and a celebratory reading of Alice Munro. Coming up in June, the series will host a group of award winning UCLA student poets for a group reading, including Westwind’s very own Tina Lawson.

FILM programs include series of screenings related to current exhibit topics and, a personal favorite, the quarterly Open Projector Night. On Open Projector Night, short film submissions (of all genres) are accepted until the start of the event. Subsequently, each film is screened for two minutes, at which point the audience votes on whether or not to finish watching the film by cheering or booing. The event is emceed by a pair of brother comedians, and always holds the promise of a riotous evening.

Other frequent programs include concerts, performances, lectures, and family activities. Additionally, The Hammer Student Association puts on a series of mixers and parties to encourage student engagement with the arts, and the museum hosts a popular drop-in guided meditation every Thursday afternoon.

The programs are always memorable and definitely worth stopping by. Check out the full calendar of events here.

These days, log into Instagram and you’ll find a jungle of fashion bloggers, foodies and travelers lurking behind hashtags, hoping for a slice of the million-follower pie. It seems that a number of specific things garner attention: Colors, beaches, subtle sex appeal, smoothie bowls, workout plans, outfits, burgers, puppies, Kardashians – the eccentric list trails on, but a sweet new form of minimalism has found its way to fame on Instagram. In a world of photos, poets have established a striking voice.

During a new age with multiple platforms allowing free publishing, authors have new opportunities for gaining followers and earning wider traction. On the surface, Instagram appears the most unlikely of platforms for circulating text. Users scroll through lengthy captions, and emojis illustrate rather than simply label. Despite these stacked odds, a range of poets have found remarkable success. With clean layouts, consistent postings and raw emotion, standout accounts accumulate thousands upon thousands of modern readers.

 

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From Christopher Poindexter’s Instagram profile (@christopherpoindexter)

 

Talented users like Rio Jones, Lang Leav and Christopher Poindexter have all steadily gained followers by posting their work. The title of Keats-of-the-Instagram-poet-generation, however, belongs to R.M. Drake, a mysterious user with raw love poetry and reflections that seem hauntingly familiar. His elegantly human poetry and classic type-writer presentation led to a million followers on the platform, which in turn have earned the poet a publishing deal for his books, including Beautiful Chaos and the soon-to-come Black Butterfly. Loyal online followers and newcomers alike are rushing to purchase the book, a printed homage to a virtual phenomenon.

Jenna 2

From R.M. Drake’s Instagram profile (@rmdrk)

 

Would you publish your poems to Instagram? Have any favorite writers you think we should follow?

 

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