Los Angeles Poets and the Temper of Our Times

by Luis J. Rodriguez

From: LAPL BLOG

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Let us dare haunting verse of the oppressed,

poems with hoodies, finger-tapping, ambling.

I mean pissed off and ardently expressed,

poems delirious as midnight rambling.

Bebop, Hip Hop, a decima or slam,

metered lyrics, free shaped texts… no matter,

bring out the fire, the punch, a resounding jam.

Let it ring far, a magnificent chatter.

Naming the nameless, voicing the unheard,

questioning the questions, swimming, splashing.

No expert strokes but damn if not expert word;

every line bleeding, grieving, pleading, slashing.

            The power of poetry is its stance,

            page or stage, electrifying or trance.

Los Angeles’s creative life appears driven by the vast dream factories established in this city—Hollywood, fashion, murals, car culture, architecture, skateboarding, tattoos, museums, music.

All that glitters. All that blings. All that sings.

Cool. I enjoy a good movie, TV drama, and wonderful museum like anyone else. But glaring to me are the gaps, the unequal economic, political, and cultural rifts, the Paris of the Pacific versus the Beirut by the Beach. This is also our city: Some 40 gang injunctions “arresting” around 70 communities; Los Angeles residents making up 60 percent or so of the state’s massive prison system; L.A. County with more poor than any other U.S. county; the country’s largest homeless population; more police killings than any other city; and violence rates in parts of this city that rival or exceed the world’s most violent places.

For example, from a Los Angeles Times report a few years ago, in South L.A. the homicide rate for Latino males ages 16 to 24 was 70 per 100,000 people; for African American males in the same age range, it was 120 murders per 100,000. The countries with excessive murder rates—Honduras, El Salvador, sections of Mexico, South Africa—go from 70 to 90 per 100,000.

Still, with a creative economy that provides one in seven jobs in the Los Angeles region, close to 730,000, with a combined income of $50.6 billion (from the 2014 Otis Report on the Creative Economy), there are whole neighborhoods, for miles and miles, that have no bookstores, no cultural spaces, no museums, no movies houses—and this in the “Entertainment Capital” of the world.”

Nonetheless, there is much to love and celebrate in Los Angeles.

So I ask, can we imagine a new L.A.—free of poverty; social injustices; toxic air, ground, and water; as well as domestic and street violence? A Los Angeles that’s healthy and thriving, including neighborhoods exploding with public art, festivals, music, dance, theater, spoken word, and more—with a cultural life that incorporates children, teens, adults, elders, not just concentrated for a privileged few.

Perhaps we should listen to poets.

In 2014, Mayor Eric Garcetti appointed me as the city’s official poet laureate. The Mayor made the pronouncement in October of that year at the Central Public Library downtown. I told the story that at 15 I was briefly homeless in downtown’s streets, on drugs, sleeping along the “Concrete River,” in abandoned cars, at all-night movie theaters, on church pews, behind dumpsters. That very library became my refuge. I walked those aisles hungry for ideas, stories, compelling language. I read for hours. These books were my saving grace.

By 20, I became gang-free, drug-free, and crime-free.

Today, 40 years later, I’m all about books. I have published award-winning works in all genres. I also help oversee the bookstore/cultural center co-founded with my wife Trini, Tia Chucha’s Cultural Center. And I’m founding editor of one of L.A.’s premier small presses, Tia Chucha Press.

The point is literacy and arts among the poor, dispossessed, and pushed out is vital in these times when the “bottom line” reigns.

This year, Tia Chucha Press released a new anthology of L.A.-area poets, “Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes & Shifts of Los Angeles,” edited by Neelanjana Banerjee, Daniel A. Olivas, and Ruben J. Rodriguez. Beautifully designed by Jane Brunette, who’s been designing our books for 27 years, with cover art by Alfonso Aceves, “Coiled Serpent” is a testament to the powerful poetry undergirding all the ugliness and splendor, scarcity and abundance, of our lives.

Why don’t we hear more from poets? Why don’t we have more poetry at graduations, celebrations, rallies, commemorations… as an every day, every occasion thing? Today, poetry is removed from the mainstream culture—we’re one country that marginalizes poetry while poetry is written, memorized, and recited all over the world, even in the most deprived areas. Read Rest of Article Here

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