Here are the poets' responses which, in turn, stimulated ideas for writing prompts for the second part of the session.
In Linda's instance, the voice of everyday people and resonance with the African American experience in Campos' poem appealed to her and prompted her own writing prompt: "I arrive with sweet potato pie",as she imagined a dialogue with an elder in her own neighborhood. Everyone agreed that there was a certain 3-dimensional or cinematic quality as this poem captured movement between memories, the present, and the future with its shifting verb tenses. Ana, Carol, and I appreciated the code-switching in the poem and shared the cultural contextualization of the epithet the Tia utters and how its gravity shifts from one Latino culture-Cuban American - to another-Puerto Rican-, as we three are. A sense of loss, according to Tess, permeates the poem; this poet, Tess declares, is a poet of things as he captures every detail. I understood this as relating to the ephemeral significance of everyday objects and, even, of family members as they age and pass on. Fascinated, Jerry shared how he grappled with fixing the vanishing point in the poem; at the end of the long first stanza, to which point do we backtrack to include "have all vanished"? To the retirees? Even further back in the poem? Brenda's unconscious misread of the title "Unspoken Elegy for Tia Cucha" as "Unspoken Eulogy for Tia Cucha" stimulated further discussion and an immediate search, thanks to Linda's I-Pad, to distinguish the meaning of the two words and its impact on the poem. The familiarity of the objects, scents, and sounds evoked for many in the room childhood memories. In Brenda's case, she immediately remembered the freedom of roaming in a candy store whereas, in Ben's case, it evoked the passing of time one can never relive. For Ben, it evoked even further memories of living with his grandmother and Boston Creme doughnuts. The simultaneity of both a personal and collective Cuban historical moment prompted further discussion. In this homenaje to his tia, I immediately imagined a super-8 black and white shaky film of this narrative moment, with the very few colors in the poem, "red", "pink", "blue", and "sapphire" suddenly in brilliant color. The last three lines evoked for me a Frida Kahlo-esque moment; it was an emotional epiphany, after a loving familial encounter and with the reality of mortality - of the cut flowers, of memories, of what spaces signify, of a family member who is both a human vessel of and bridge to the memories of a homeland.
Whereas Blanco's poem facilitated numerous entry points for the poets present, Cortez's poems made us grapple to engage and, to varying degrees, we relished the challenge. Jerry appreciated the in-your-face quality to both her poems and posited that if the first poem is entitled "There It Is", the second one, "Poetry", could have been entitled, "There It Ain't". Linda's profound knowledge of African American history and literary history further informed our discussion as she spoke briefly about the Black Arts Movement and aligned Cortez's life with the African American Civil Rights Movement. Linda also reminded us of Cortez as a visual artist, whom she and Carol both likened to Salvador Dali and to the DaDa movement: surreal, bewildering, unsettling and often populated with private images, which may be challenging to decode. Tess was inspired by the forcefulness of Cortez's insistence on the power to control one's own life in both poems. Ben became fixed on the meaning and significance of the word convoy in "convoy of chickens". There was much discussion about oppressors/the oppressed, "sheeple" (people who act like sheep), and the inability of a poet's words, sometimes, to move the masses. As a resisting reader and ever the cautious optimist, I found myself responding to Cortez's "Poetry" with an urge to write a poem in response in which poetry does matter - another writing prompt. Amusingly, Tess likened the moment in the second stanza "poems are like baboons/waiting to be fed by tourists" to an academic poetry reading, whereas Linda likened it to a poetry slam, both in the worst sense. Everyone agreed that there was a definite and angry resistance to establishments: the military ("convoy"), consumerism "liquor store", and places which passively entertain but do not genuinely engage people. lI was drawn immediately to Cortez' use of animals:"convoy of chickens", "poems are like baboons", "the sun/ goes down like/ a stuffed bird", and "sing jazz/ through/constricted mouth/of an anteater" all which underscored for me ornamental, performative moments of poetry, all devoid of substance, of the ability for poems to stir anyone to move, to riot, to move toward revolution. Again, the last few lines of the last stanza evoked for me another Frida Kahlo-esque moment: surreal, intimate, privately coded, personal. And it is up to each poet, to each socially engaged human being, to care enough about "how many symbols survive" and what each symbol signifies.