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Saturday, March 19, 2016

I had a wonderful time last night reading my poems at Viva Tacoland here in San Antonio, along with the wonderfully talented Ben Olguin. That is until the clouds grew more and more dense and began to lean in on our little beer garden along the river like some kind of CGI version of an extreme weather phenomenon taking place. Gray-green clouds, wind, and lightning were all around us. It did lend a certain drama to the night, and we managed to carry on with our third surprise feature reader, Jen Knox, and most of the open mic that came after before the rain really hit. Here is me reading from my chapbook, Dear Jean Seberg,  before the storm did its macabre dance around us. There was a certain disaster flick charm to the reading as the storm drew nearer, as the other photo shows:

The crowd listening to Ben Olguin 30 minutes later.......That is the wonderful Live Oak Tree at Viva Tacoland set against the quickly darkening skies. And if you look closer, you can see my husband's beer in the foreground, waiting patiently for him to finish taking this photo:

One poem I read from Dear Jean Seberg was: "Dear Key Largo."  It seemed apt to read as this flick, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, takes place in Florida at a family-owned hotel right as an ominous hurricane is approaching. But then the gangsters arrive and take over the place and the local Native Americans get stuck outside as the wind mounts, pounding on the door. This 1948 film, released so soon after the war, has Bogart playing a disillusioned soldier come back from fighting in Italy. He has arrived in Florida to seek out the widow (Bacall) of his war-time comrade since he was the captain of her husband's troop and witnessed his death. It goes from there, but there are many sultry scenes of sweating gangsters pacing while waiting for a boat to arrive to make their escape--all as the hurricane nears. Then the wonderful Claire Trevor plays Gaye Dawn, the head gangster's ex-girlfriend, who stares down the bottom of one too many whiskeys and embodies a club singer now past her prime with indelible, broken-hearted vulnerability. All this, with great dialog, hurricane lamps, and 5-6 gangsters growing steadily more uneasy, builds enough tropical tension for several film noirs. Here's the poem along with a poster from the film:

Dear Key Largo:
     (for Bogart and Bacall)

If life were a hotel, it would,
at times, buck and swell. The temperature
is on the rise, the waves muddy
as regret and not receding. Do you play the ponies?
The long shot is only your wrists,
pale as snow and thrust out into the world,
a cacophony of small-time criminals
and masters of the fix; each man his own
version of a war—his hope faulty
as electrical wiring in a storm. And what
about the girls? They wait like potted plants,
they thrive only in the spotlight
of someone else’s arms, but a few
sense the pressure dip and rise; like a barometer,
they take the world in stride. The shutters whack
and tremble, the hurricane lamps are in the shape
of tears. She’s a widow and he’s a wanderer,
the father’s a cripple, and the gangsters
pace upstairs. Someone gets smacked around,
someone else dies with an unloaded gun
dropping from their hands. The wind ignores
the plot unfolding inside and tosses
the palm trees around like dice.
Gee, fella, can I have a drink? There’s a singer
past her prime, her boyfriend the mob king
sweating upstairs. There’s a widow and a wanderer.
That was a close shave. The local Native Americans
pound on the door, want out of the storm.
The ceiling fan spins like a headache
that won’t end. What do you do with a gun’s
black throat poking into your ribs? Funny
how a decision can tip when a little fear’s
added into the mix. Hope is squeamish,
patriotism wary, and the mobsters
are peddling counterfeit money. Who, after all,
is the real public enemy? The gangsters
or your own thoughts, both equally capable
of holding you hostage. Meanwhile, Bacall                                         
turns her face toward Bogart, and the camera stalls,
the hurricane subsides, and the pale flickering light
sliding across her cheeks would take a lifetime
to describe.

--Alexandra van de Kamp

Thursday, March 10, 2016

I had the privilege to interview the multi-talented bilingual, NY/Puerto Rican poet, Urayoan Noel last week for The Rivard Report, an urban, independent online newspaper based here in San Antonio, and the interview was picked up by the Poetry Foundation's blog, Harriet! We discussed everything from brain hemispheres to composing poems with smartphones to homophonic translations and more.

I had the luck to meet Urayoan Noel in New York City when I was living there with my husband from 2000 to 2006, and we had the audacity to try to build a bilingual journal (in English and Spanish) on a fraying shoestring budget (at best!). We had started this journal Terra Incognita while living in Madrid and were intent on building a bicultural bridge between the U.S and Spain by featuring poets and writers practicing their art in English and/or Spanish or a combination thereof . One of the pleasures of this project was receiving submissions from poets such as Urayoan Noel and being able to host him and others at a bilingual reading series we curated at The Cornelia Street Cafe in Greenwich Village in the early 2000s. So, more recently, it was a double delight to be able to host Urayoan Noel again here in San Antonio through Gemini Ink, a nonprofit literary arts organization. As the Creative Writing Classes Program Director for Gemini Ink, I had the  satisfaction of featuring him as one of our Spring 2016 visiting writers, and out of his visit to San Antonio, came this interview.

Read on to learn more about the buzzing hemispheres reverberating in the poems of Urayoan Noel, in his new collection Buzzing Hemisphere/Rumor Hemisferico (University of Arizona 2015), poems which have been called by Victor Hernandez Cruz: "a stereo ping-pong game between two languages." Click the link here to read the interview in full:

Urayoan Noel Visits Gemini Ink and San Antonio