by Brian Dunlap
It’s Saturday April 14th and the crowd is large. Café Con Libros is silent. There are no empty seats when I arrive so I stand. I’m in Pomona’s Art Colony for Obsidian Tongues, an open mic hosted by William Gonzalez and Ceasar K. Avelar. I’m 15-20 minutes late, and with the large crowd, worry there won’t be time for me to read as part of the open mic.
It’s Pomona’s monthly art walk. The artist whose art is displayed on Café Con Libros’s walls, briefly discuss his art. Then the open mic begins.
William and Ceaser are warm and welcoming literary supporters and poets. William has self-published two poetry collections Black Bubblegum (2013) and Blue Bubblegum: Sticky Literature (2015) focused on capturing the struggles connected to working-class poor people and his Los Ángeles.
Several open mic readers step to the mic including L.A. poets and educators Matt Sedillo and Irene Sanchez who read powerful and necessary political poems, Irene’s about the Latinx students she teaches Chicano Studies to in the San Gabriel Valley. Then, the first of the three featured poets, James Coats, graces the mic. His debut collection of poetry If I Had Lived explores the capacity to love and all that comes with an honest romantic journey as authentically and openly as possible. I can tell many in the crowd are family and friends, eager to hear him read.
The open mic is run by two Latinx poets and the poems that are shared during the open mic are mostly about experience, their struggles being people of color in America. Then former Los Angeles Poet Laureate Luis J. Rodriguez and is wife Trini perform their set as the final features, each alternately reading a poem. The atmosphere of social justice is complete. Rodriguez finished with a powerful poem about L.A.’s homeless problem, inhabiting the voice of a homeless man living on the coastal streets of Venice, CA.
At the evening’s outset, the large crowd may have falsely characterized Obsidian Tongues as an impersonal open mic. As a place to read without making a connection. By the end, the voices had resonated, the crowd hearing versions of their own perspectives that needed to be confirmed. That needed to be spoken.