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Latino Poets Corner

By Rich Villar

The immortal words of the poet start us off:

Yes, yes, y'all.

Hola, bienvenidos, como esta usted, and all that good stuff! Don't mind the plastic seat covers or the beaded curtains; it all comes with the territory, papa.

So Langston Hughes once said that you can only write about what you know. That's exactly what the plan is here. This is the spot where you fine folks will learn about the happenings in Latino poetry and spoken word around the nation, and hopefully around your block.

Best to start at the beginning...

What exactly is spoken word? It's a term that gets thrown around a lot, especially with HBO, Def Jam, and slam poetry getting a great deal of exposure these days. If I were lazy, I could say that "spoken word" is an offshoot of hip-hop, or that it's just a safe way to say "poetry" without scaring away half the audience. But truthfully, spoken word goes a lot deeper than that, especially when you think about how Latinos have contributed to it.

Poetry has always been spoken out loud. It's an art form as old as ancient Greece, and a tool for communication as old as the Mali Empire. In the past few decades, poets have been reclaiming poetry from their dusty library books and speaking the words of their poems out loud again, for live audiences.

Latinos have played an important part in the history of spoken word. In New York especially, much of the focus of Latino poetry has been on its oral traditions-improvisation, the need to be loud, and the need to shout out the stories of immigrants in the inner city, accompanied by whatever music and dance one might need to interpret the poem correctly.

Among the first Latino artists who provided the influence and foundation for the spoken word phenomenon were Felipe Luciano, Louis Reyes Rivera, and the poets of the Nuyorican movement; including Miguel Algarin, Miguel Piñero, Sandra Maria Esteves, and Pedro Pietri. Through the nineties, spoken word exploded with the contributions of Latino artists like Willie Perdomo, Edwin Torres, Mariposa, and the Welfare Poets.

New York City continues to be a hotbed for Latino artists, and a breeding ground for writers who are itching to redefine spoken word. For those of you in New York, check out one of these venues for an instant primer on Latino poetry and spoken word, past and present:

**The Nuyorican Poets Cafe, 236 E. 3rd St. between Avenues B and C. This is the home of the Nuyorican movement, the world famous cafe that spawned some of the most respected Latino voices in the canon, as well as some of the most well-known names on the spoken word circuit.

Karen Jaime hosts the Nuyorican Friday Night Slam every Friday at 10pm, which is then followed by the Open Room, a late-night open mic session hosted by A-Trayn and Rich Villar. Check out their site at www.nuyorican.org.

**Acentos, Una Relacion Del Barrio, located at the Blue Ox Bar, 139th St. and 3rd Ave. The first Bronx stop off the 6 train (138th Street) puts you at the doorstep of the City's fastest growing poetry series, a serious outlet for fans and practitioners of Latino verse. The open mic is always growing, and the poets in residence are always there to bounce ideas off each other and give space for new talent to shine. Latino poetry legends such as Jack Agueros, Louis Reyes Rivera, and Willie Perdomo have graced the Acentos mic, and on March 23rd, they celebrate their first year in existence with a reading by none other than the founder of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Miguel Algarin. Organizers Oscar Bermeo, Jessica Torres, Fish Vargas, and Rich Villar are leading a poetic resurgence right where hip-hop was born-the South Bronx. Check out the series at www.louderarts.com/acentos.

So there it is. In the coming weeks, I will be highlighting some of the venues, poets, and poems that represent the Latino heart of spoken word. Maybe some history too, pero only if I'm in the mood.

Peace, love, y guardame el pegao...
Rich Villar
 

 


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