Essay

The literary scene in Yucatan

by Fer de la Cruz

 

In the state of Yucatán, where decentralization is only a political slogan, literary things happen mostly in its capital city: Mérida. In a way, things are rocking among the chaos of UNESCO´s “City of Peace”: 2 schools of creative writing have been founded within the past 3 years: 1) Escuela de Creación Literaria (where I teach) of the State Institute of Fine Arts, in which Spanish and Mayan-speaking adults earn a 3-year degree in Creative Writing, and workshops are offered for children and teenagers. 2) Escuela de Escritores Leopoldo Peniche Vallado belongs to the State Institute of Culture (ICY), which is currently in the process of becoming a Ministry—so much for descentralización! Both schools are inconveniently located in the same building, across from the zoo. On the other hand, two universities, one public, one private, have been graduating Literature majors for a decade. And there´s a number of private workshops throughout town.

Back to the issue of centralism, the only living Yucatecan writers who have been truly influential (big names like Agustín Monsreal and Raúl Renán) have resided in Mexico City for decades. Also, Raúl Cáceres Carenzo resides in Toluca; Jorge Pech in Oaxaca; Reyna Echeverría in New York… Among those who reside within the state borders are those who are native Yucatecans (Francisco Lope Ávila, Roger Metri, Jorge Lara, José Díaz Cervera, Lourdes Cabrera, and Mayan writer Feliciano Sánchez Chan, to name some) and those born elsewhere who must be considered a part of the community of Yucatecan writers, such as Cuban-born Raúl Ferrera Balanquet and maestro Jonathan Harrington, who calls himself Orgullosamente yucagringo.

There are two main independent groups of writers: Centro Yucateco de Escritores, A.C. (CYEAC), which was created over 2 decades ago, has been hosting an on-going workshop, a magazine (Navegaciones Zur), an has its own publisher (Ediciones Zur). Also, five years ago or so, la Red Literaria del Sureste was created as an alternative. Some politically active writers from both groups hold public offices. There are also those with academic credentials in literature, such as Manuel Iris, Ph.D. candidate; Jafet Israel Lara, Ph.D. candidate; Cristina Leirana, M.A., and your humble Fer de la Cruz, M.A. The rest have never heard of Terry Eagleton.

There are lots of writers, it seems. The problem is, local bookstores show little interest in marketing their works. To publish a book, one may submit it to the editorial council of either ICY or Ayuntamiento de Mérida. If selected, the book will be published but not necessarily promoted. One may also try her/his luck in state or nation-wide literary contests for money and/or publication. Librerías Dante sponsored 2 contests for publication. The second batch of 10 authors from all three states of the Yucatan Peninsula is being published this year. Other than that, there is no such thing as agents or talent-hunters, and big name publishers appear only on display, especially for those who lack political connections.

So, how do local writers earn their daily bread? They pray: Some pray to God; some (with political connections) prey on smaller fish. Those who don´t hold a public office may have steady jobs in private institutions. There are those with two, three, or even four part-time teaching jobs, whose paychecks (in the case of public schools) may be delayed for periods of five months year after year. Some writers may be asked to present a book, write a prologue, or preside over a public event without pay. Some others are invited to jury in a literary contest, with pay—the honest ones are seldom called for the latter.

New generations of local writers are starting to emerge. Also, new generations of critics are earning degrees in literature. There is hope that these young professionals learn to separate art and politics and that the way things are may actually be challenged without losing one´s job.

Better laugh than cry in México´s “safest city.” Following the steps of maestro Agustín Monsreal, I have become a satirist who hopes not to have disappointed the readers with my view on things, since writing is my way of making the world a better place.

 

 

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photo by Dan Griffin


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Essay

Two Poets and a Dancer Suing Mexico: A Dancing Metaphor of Arts and Politics

by Fer de la Cruz

 

I don’t want my government to get away with extortion, especially when it is done to me. So this is my personal story regarding Mexico´s hottest issues: public education and human rights. For months I haven´t been paid in my job as a professor of Creative Writing for a public school of arts. So I am suing. Yes it is possible to sue the government in Mexico and, despite retaliations, it is possible to win. I was writing this to share with readers of In Other Words: Mérida right as the national leader of Mexico´s largest teacher´s union was about to be arrested on charges of embezzlement, as The New York Times was reporting on the hundreds of disappearances by Mexican police and military forces, as I was receiving kind invitations to work without pay at this year´s International Book Fair in Mérida (FILEY), and as I was worrying about how I would pay this month´s rent.

Beside the disappearances, the beatings in the prisons, the illegal arrests, the irregular trials, and the horrors of that sort which are not always publicized in the newspapers but one would expect to occur in a developing country, what is probably the most subtle but prevalent of human rights violations committed by the Mexican government against its citizens is the withholding of payment earned by workers in the public sector, particularly in schools. This is an account of my own such experience here in the state of Yucatan, Mexico, as founding professor at the School of Creative Writing at Yucatan´s State Center of Fine Arts—a nearly one-hundred-year-old institution locally known as Bellas Artes—after I, with some colleagues, decided to sue.

Many of the professors within Mexico´s huge public education system saw St. Valentine´s Day go by without having yet received September´s paycheck. Year after year, this is the reality of Mexico’s adjunct professors: 1) that their new 10-month contract is finally authorized—in which case they get their late payments all at once—or 2) less often, but not unheard of in Bellas Artes, that their new contract is not authorized by the Secretary of Education and the time that they already worked will not be paid. From this perspective, slavery is still taking place in Mexico.

To prevent this, in July 2012, thirteen of Bellas Artes´ employees (two from the administration and eleven faculty members of various arts) placed a lawsuit demanding tenure from the Secretary of Education, to which Bellas Artes belongs. The initiative came from Leticia Sánchez Vargas, professor of Mexican folk dance who has been teaching there for fourteen years. On more than one occasion, Maestra Leticia obtained excellent marks on her tenure examination, only to discover later that new teachers, including her own former students, were being hired by the newly appointed principal and entered Bellas Artes as tenured faculty.

This school year, due to the transition between the old and new State governor, payment came early in Bellas Artes. Except for those thirteen listed as plaintiffs within the July lawsuit, every non-tenured worker received their payment and contract in October. Shortly after, we and our lawyers found out that a group of teachers and the two workers from the administration had withdrawn from the lawsuit. The entire faculty of the Jazz Dance department then decided to step down in support of their coordinator who, reportedly, had been threatened with losing her job if her teachers and staff did not line up with Bellas Artes´ higher authorities. Other teachers were simply offered more teaching hours. At least one was legitimately afraid that she would lose her teaching job at a different official institution.

In any case, the extortion continued. Bellas Artes´ principal, Maestra Rita Castro Gamboa, summoned most of the “rebellious” teachers to her office, one by one, with a simple offer. If, while within her presence, teachers chose to call the Secretary of Education´s legal services office and withdraw from the lawsuit, in return, she would immediately authorize the release of the paychecks withheld and extend them new ten-month contracts. She kept her word in most cases and her method proved effective, reducing the number of dissidents from thirteen to the current three. The last one to abandon the lawsuit, in January of this year, was a professor of contemporary dance who had to pay her mortgage or lose her house. She has taught at Bellas Artes for seven years.

In the meantime, those who remained party to the lawsuit continued to teach but without pay. The three who remain are: Lety Sánchez from Mexican folkdance, and from Creative Writing, Francisco Lope Ávila and myself. Maestro Lope is quite knowledgeable of the issues mentioned in the opening line as he happens to be a member of the Mexican League for the Defense of Human Rights. Unlike the many professors suing the government in the State of Yucatan alone, we´ve gone public. However, there are some local journalists, artists, and intellectuals who hesitate to take a stand, perhaps out of fear of losing their jobs or isolating their influential contacts.

The Mexican League for the Defense of Human Rights, member of the International Federation for Human Rights, has already sent a letter to Yucatan´s new Governor, dated Dec. 10, 2012, urging him to instruct the State Secretary of Education, Dr. Raúl Godoy Montañez, and Bellas Artes´ principal, among others, to immediately cease violations of both criminal and labor laws as well as the Human Rights of Bellas Artes´ professors.

As for me, after having worked enough semesters for a paternalist government, I’ve transformed from lyric poet to satirist (as Quevedo did), believing that it’s better to laugh than cry. Along with Lety & Lope, I am actually enjoying this ongoing legal process, painful though the lack of an income may be, because we are proving to ourselves and others in our situation that something can be done. And as we fly among the uncertain winds of politics (here´s the dancing metaphor), Lope and I are looking for a publisher who might be interested in the wonderful poems written by the children and other students of all ages who have attended our classes and workshops for the past four-and-a-half years since we founded Bellas Artes´ School of Creative Writing. And we stand at ease, knowing that the law is on our side and that our lawyers have proven to be far more efficient than those of the State government, in our tropical corner of this developing country (which is still quite safe for tourists), where we are proudly making a difference in what our principles dictate as wrong.

 

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Fer de la Cruz is a Yucatecan poet born in 1971. He has received two national, two regional, and one state-wide poetry awards in Mexico and is a member of the founding faculty at the School of Creative Writing of the State Center of Fine Arts, in Mérida. He is also coordinator of the Historic Mérida branch of Centro de Idiomas del Sureste, where he was a teacher for 20 years. He holds an MA in Spanish from Ohio University and a BA in Philosophy. As an independent editor, writer, translator, and cultural promoter, he has participated in cultural festivals, conferences, and book fairs in Mexico, Cuba, France, and the United States. His poems appeared in the books “Redentora la voz” (Ayuntamiento de Mérida, 2010) and “Aliteletras. De la A a la que quieras” (Dante, 2011), as well as in the chapbooks “La cuenta regresiva. Radiografía urbana mesozoica” (El Drenaje, 2012) and “Seven Songs of Silent, Singing Fireflies” (JKPublishing, 2008): delacrux@hotmail.com.

 

an essay by fer de la cruz_Painting Juan Pablo Bavio detail from  CABEZA CANSADA

Painting: Juan Pablo Bavio – detail from  CABEZA CANSADA

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Essay

Not everything I have said has been an illusion

by G David Schwartz

 

Not everything I have said has been an illusion. There, that first sentence is the name of the essay, and thus the essay need not be searched for a different name. Undoubtedly, many names may be given to this essay but they weren’t.
You need a mother or a wife to butter your… no, sorry, you need a mother or a wife to better your life.
Total emptiness allows clarity of thought.
Stubborn is not strong, sterns is gestative. Stubborn is negativity.
Note on Nietzsche: Nietzsche as a promoter of a new attitude.
a.) Nietzsche’s  new attitude
b.) the dis-affection of religion
c.) the unnecessary abolishment of God
d.) God and the New Attitude
Developing an attitude: How to obtain a perspective to make your life and another’s life easier (or, Is life all about easiness?).
Everything i think is but an illusion to your eyes or ears. To reasonable and penetrate seeing and hearing.
This scattered me in lessons which were testaments that shows are but inceptions.
A Tree Bent Over In Sadness
I have many hopes, and here is but one. I hope the suggestion that workers develop such a system by trial (no error) smacks of anarchism (devoted of any revolutionary struts of hated and abuse. Throw a lake into a darkened storm and think of enchanting in the time of nausea. I would and will glance superstition as a shard is to a worm.
What is supposed to do is not an excise but an admittance that you did something ignorant.
Everyone likes to write limericks
few do want to read ‘um,
Each and all will speak limerickly
No one really needs ‘um
And:
P. Nott should change his  name
Before they bury her in her spot
otherwise her grave would read
“Here lies Nott P.

And for a third:
The horse concentrated to sand below me
the lanced became a snake
The armor clasp inside me
The helmet claimed my brain
AND NOW:    LINES TO READ IN THE UNEMPLOYMENT LINE
Our great society
values success as
the girl at the window calls,
“Next!”
Value: Move forward
a step and a half at a time, etc.
I would writer (typo for rather) smile than frown. Smiles refresh my dreams. It is sometimes funny how those eight hours or so of dreaming can refresh ones life.
Fetishism is a psychological aberration; result of division — loose thus losing memory, then mourning into alienation.
She (name withheld by request) smiles herself into beauty. She was, and still is oriental. She once told me about oriental laws tend to push legal codes to the side, preferably to dispense with them altogether, and allow disputes to enter into face to face, give and take, confrontation which to name it sound less vicious, is called face to face, give and take, relationship leading to a grateful and mutually agreed upon solution. Western courts emphasize the code of disputant representation of abstract fig-wheels (lawyers), meditating by structures difference (the roust roan) and alienated decision (the jury).
There is a problem (there is always a problem) —
I sometimes run out of things to say because I sometimes run out of thoughts thus, I keep reading books.

 

 

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G. David Schwartz is the former president of Seedhouse, the online interfaith committee. Schwartz is the author of A Jewish Appraisal of Dialogue (1994) and Midrash and Working Out Of The Book (2004) Currently a volunteer the Cincinnati J. His newest book, Shards And Verse (2011) is now in stores or can be ordered on line.
Samuel2

painting by Samuel Barrera

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Essay

From Faith to Folklore: Yucatan´s Banalization of Hanal Pixan

an essay by Fer de la Cruz

 

A fascinating non-Western tradition, Hanal Pixan (the week-long Mayan “Day of the Dead”) loses meaning when its “celebration” is imposed by the government to public schools and institutions throughout the State of Yucatan, in a reductionist version turned political. Indeed, the 20-year-old encouragement that not only public offices and schools but also private schools of all levels set up a Hanal Pixan altar is now a de facto mandate by the State Secretary of Education. Setting up altars is fun, yes, and pretty, but it´s also meaningless when institutionalized, when removed from its context as a private, religious observance in the family and turned into a display.

The argument is: Hanal Pixan is part of “our Mayan heritage” and it´s preferable to foreign traditions such as Halloween and the practice of central Mexico imports such as eating pan de muerto or sugar skulls. This assertion implies an outdated, essentialist definition of being Yucatecan, which is to be expected of any given populist, local regime. The contradiction is: How can the State tell a Yucatecan family of third generation Lebanese descent, for instance, that its roots are Mayan? The same goes true for Yucatecans of Korean or Chinese descent, or those from straight Spanish heritage who lack the honor of rightfully calling the ancient Maya their ancestors.

A plural entity, Yucatan is a “tossed salad” of various forms of Western and non-Western components. Many Latino (Western) Yucatecans grew up observing the Catholic rituals of All Saints Day and All Souls Day (Western imports) in the morning, while throwing Halloween private parties (another Western import), at night, having never been exposed to the Mayan observance of Hanal Pixan before the 1990s. Similarly, Yucatecans who are Mayan or of Mayan descent, many of them fully bicultural, many of them Catholic themselves, maintained the observance of Hanal Pixan in its full, meaningful beauty, by faith and to honor not only the memory but also the living souls of their beloved ones who passed away.

Another issue is that of the many Yucatecan families who belong to various denominations of Christianity, and find both Hanal Pixan rituals and Halloween parties equally conflicting with their religious faith. It is mandatory that all professors, without consideration of their religious belief, stay in the school during the Hanal Pixan activities, since they have to clock in and out. Failure to do so is retaliated by a deduction from their paycheck.

My call here is against the subtlety of an imposition under the false pretense of honoring a “minority”, while flying a banner of political correctness. My call is also against a politically motivated sentiment of regional pride that flirts with xenophobia. I sure enjoy eating the delicious Mucbilpollo (a large tamale traditionally baked underground during the season), which has been a cultural feature shared by Mayan and non-Mayan Yucatecans for generations. I also enjoy seeing the altars on display and have enjoyed setting them up, as a professor myself. But I do so for the mere like of it and because it doesn´t conflict with any personal religious belief or disbelief, not because I have to, by mandate. In addition to that, I also enjoy a good Halloween costume party which, as a Westerner, I can also call my

own, same as Carnaval, Easter, and Chirstmas. What I most celebrate of today´s Postmodern era is such diversity of Latino-Western, Anglo-Western, and Mayan as well as other non-Western cultural features, among the different manifestations of autumn traditions, in Yucatan´s ever growing plurality. No one can rightfully tell me that the Halloween parties I grew up attending, or that the bluejeans I grew up wearing, make me less of a Yucatecan, when even a Mayan Jmen priest will wear Western trousers and a baseball cap as everyday attire, without it making him less of anything.

Hanal Pixan has been distorted from an ancestral tradition carried on with a sense of honor and faith in the private homes of the Maya, to mere folklore imposed, along with a Melting pot-like sense of identity and roots that reveals blunt ignorance among Yucatan´s elected or appointed civil servants. One thing is to promote a cultural feature original to one´s native or chosen land; another, to impose it from above in support of a fabricated sense of pride. This distinction marks the difference between a thoughtful defense of a local tradition before an omnipresent globalitarism and a reactionary embrace of totalitarian tactics, a constant danger in a country whose public universities have their presidents imposed from the State Governor´s office.

 

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Fer de la Cruz is a Yucatecan poet born in 1971. He has received two national, two regional, and one state-wide poetry awards in Mexico and is a member of the founding faculty at the School of Creative Writing of the State Center of Fine Arts, in Mérida. He is also coordinator of the Historic Mérida branch of Centro de Idiomas del Sureste, where he was a teacher for 20 years. He holds an MA in Spanish from Ohio University and a BA in Philosophy. As an independent editor, writer, translator, and cultural promoter, he has participated in cultural festivals, conferences, and book fairs in Mexico, Cuba, France, and the United States. His poems appeared in the books “Redentora la voz” (Ayuntamiento de Mérida, 2010) and “Aliteletras. De la A a la que quieras” (Dante, 2011), as well as in the chapbooks “La cuenta regresiva. Radiografía urbana mesozoica” (El Drenaje, 2012) and “Seven Songs of Silent, Singing Fireflies” (JKPublishing, 2008): delacrux@hotmail.com.

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Samuel30

Artist Samuel Barrera

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Essay

The Mayans vs. the International Mayan Festival

an opinion by Fer de la Cruz

 

The idea of a Mayan festival in Yucatan would be in itself a reason for great rejoicing. The state government organized one in October. It was huge. A great amount of money must have been spent to bring Yanni, Filippa Giordano, Joan Manuel Serrat, Joaquín Sabina, and Deepak Chopra for such festival, yet there was nothing Maya about it except for its name. Once more the name of the living Maya was utilized for the sole benefit of non-Mayan, latino-Western politicians and business men.

Consequently, a large group of Mayan intellectuals and artists, all promoters of Mayan language and literature, organized their own Independent Mayan Festival Cha´anil Kaj (chaanilkaaj.org), which started on October 12, and carried on for two weeks, with more than 150 activities (theatre, conferences, debates, workshops, concerts, multilingual readings, presentations of books and documentaries, story tellers, traditional games…), on different urban and rural locations of the Yucatan Peninsula.

The state government tried to silence them: The local media were ordered not to attend their press conference, as some reporters informed them off the record. Only some gave them access, whereas the official festival was everywhere to be seen via billboards, huge displays on the newspapers, commercials on radio and TV, posters on the bus stops and on the buses, etc. The government even tried to buy off some of the members of Colectivo Cha´anil Kaj, and it is known to them that the mayors of some towns of the ruling political party were instructed not to facilitate locations for their activities.

Catchy though the title of this article may be, I admit it is misleading in one regard: The Cha´anil Kaj Independent Mayan Festival was not a confrontational event. Instead, it focused on being proactive. Only a small part of their effort was endeavored to denouncing their conscious and systematic exclusion from the official festival via letters to the editors of different newspapers—one made it national, as it was published in Proceso.

To legitimize their official festival, the state government did have one special Mayan guest: Rigoberta Menchú (Guatemalan K’iche’ Nobel Peace recipient, 1992) was granted a Doctorate Honoris Causa by a public university whose graduate program doesn´t even have a Master graduate yet. It might have been believed by someone that she would reject it to protest the government´s exclusion and sabotage of the Mayan artists and intellectuals, just as Ray Charles is known to have cancelled a concert in segregated Georgia. As was suspected by most organizers of Cha´anil Kaj, Ms. Menchú played along with the Yucatecan government, although it is hard to judge her.

The good news is that, as a community event, Cha´anil Kaj (the people´s fiesta) prevails in the lives of many who were part of it in two states, whereas the official, international “Mayan” festival was a great spectacle, certainly, which was already forgotten by the great masses seeking only to be entertained. What I make of all this is that Yucatan´s multicultural identity is still threatened by a government who believes in the fallacy of Western (Latino-white) supremacy, but that the average citizen can defy that in a peaceful, constructive, and effective way as was done by the members of Cha´anil Kaj.

 

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Fer de la Cruz is a Yucatecan poet born in 1971. He has received two national, two regional, and one state-wide poetry awards in Mexico and is a member of the founding faculty at the School of Creative Writing of the State Center of Fine Arts, in Mérida. He is also coordinator of the Historic Mérida branch of Centro de Idiomas del Sureste, where he was a teacher for 20 years. He holds an MA in Spanish from Ohio University and a BA in Philosophy. As an independent editor, writer, translator, and cultural promoter, he has participated in cultural festivals, conferences, and book fairs in Mexico, Cuba, France, and the United States. His poems appeared in the books “Redentora la voz” (Ayuntamiento de Mérida, 2010) and “Aliteletras. De la A a la que quieras” (Dante, 2011), as well as in the chapbooks “La cuenta regresiva. Radiografía urbana mesozoica” (El Drenaje, 2012) and “Seven Songs of Silent, Singing Fireflies” (JKPublishing, 2008): delacrux@hotmail.com.

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Samuel15

Artist Samuel Barrera

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Essay

Cafe Poesia: a tribute

by Cher Bibler

 

There is a poem called (I think) Meeting of a Poetry Society. Written in the 1930s, it describes giving a password and going into a clandestine meeting, like a meeting of communists, I guess, inferring that anymore poetry is a secret society that one hides one’s membership of. The poem used to hang on the front of my fridge, the author isn’t particularly well-known, I found it in an old anthology. Most of my belongings are packed up in storage right now, awaiting the finish of a house renovation, so I spent a bit of time googling, trying to find a copy of the poem.  I am now acquainted with actual meeting times of actual poetry societies from here to Tanzania, but I’m not any wiser concerning that poem or its author.

I have been involved with poetry all my adult life, and I have gone to many clandestine meetings in secret hideouts (ie readings in coffeeshops and bookstores),  and I am proud to say (how loudly depends on who I’m with) that I belong to the great underground movement we call poetry. How did poetry get so far out of the mainstream? Or was it always out? All I know is that saying I write poetry results in lots of eye rolling and dismissals.

I have belonged to many such poetry groups in the states, but after moving to Mexico, I began to despair. I missed the camaraderie, the acceptance, the support, in a big way. Then I discovered Café Poesia.  It took me a couple weeks to feel comfortable, my spanish is so awfully, awfully bad. I would get up and read my poetry (in english) and look out at the sea of very, very yucatecan faces, politely waiting for me to finish. They would clap enthusiastically when they perceived I’d come to the end. I, in turn, listened intently to their work and tried to pick out words I could understand. Sometimes I could even maybe figure out what a poem was about. I had no way of judging whether poems were any good or not. Instead I looked at peoples’ faces when they read their poems, their intensity, their fire. And imagined what they might be saying. I got tons of ideas from this for poems of my own, I have to admit.

After awhile, we started recognizing each other on the street, we would smile and say hi. I began to feel like one of the bunch. It was a good feeling. And, yeah, lots of people spoke english, other gringos occasionally showed up, I met lots of great people from here and other places, some of my best friends came via Café Poesia. I am really sad it’s over, but I’m glad I had the 3 years of it that I did (I was a late comer).

The last night was hard. Lots of people came and it was a great send off. I read a poem I remembered reading at the very first Café Poesia I came to. I remembered it because Fer had politely said he liked it, and that stuck with me. At the very end of the night, when we were all saying goodbye for the last time, and we couldn’t say “See you next week!” things began to get a little misty.  There isn’t anything that’s going to replace Café Poesia. There are no other secret corners where we can bond and be poets together. It will be sorely missed.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Fer de la Cruz for starting Café Poesia and keeping it going for five years, and creating a space for the literary community in Merida that was like no other. We will miss it!!
(Oops, getting misty again…)

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steve s

Photo by Steve Shewchuk

 

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Essay

Once there was something new: Café Poesía

a history by Fer de la Cruz

 

Café Poesía, a multilingual open mic for reading poetry in Mérida, just came to an end after five years. It was an important space in a Mérida whose artists grow more and more skeptic with anything that has to do with overpoliticized official cultural institutions and prefer to join—or create—independent alaternatives.

Lasting longer than a great many official projects, Café Poesía turns its last page for two reasons: 1) It already influenced upon the way public readings are done locally, by importing the concept of “micrófono abierto,” unknow to Mérida five years ago. Now it´s used in events organized by the Secretary of Education and by other independent groups, which is a great thing. And 2) I am tired.

I attended my first Open Mic at the Civic Media Center in Gainesville, Florida, in 1998, where I became a regular. They called it Poetry Jam and it was moderated by Jimmy Schmidt. It goes on to this date. Right on! Ten years later, as I returned to the States, I also became a regular at Donkey Café´s open mic poetry event called Designated Space, in Athens, Ohio, run by CJ Smith, who was also editor of JK Publishing. As I graduated from Ohio University, CJ suggested that we publish a chapbook with my recent poems (my first ones written in English) and that I open a branch of Designated Space in Mérida. Shortly after, both ideas were materialized. My book was called Seven Songs of Silent, Singing Fireflies (JK Publishing, 2008).

Back in Mérida, I found the perfect place for the project: A brand new restaurant-café called Café Chocolate that was also an antique shop and an art gallery, located in Centro, at an old house where once lived a great, local poet named Ernesto Albertos Tenorio. My friend Uziel Góngora created the logo, out of a nahuatl glyph that represented poetry, and came up with the name Café Poesía. The owner of Café Chocolate even came up with a cocktail based on the ingredients of White Russian (a personal favorite of mine). With time, Café Chocolate, the restaurant, was sold twice but Café Poesía readings kept rocking every Saturday since 7 p.m., in its lovely backyard, even when the chefs no longer made their own pastas or baked their own bread from scratch, when the Café Poesía cocktail vanished from the menu, and when I was no longer granted a complementary drink.

“There´s poetry for everyone,” I said over and over. Now, as I remember a great, local stage actress, Alejandra Argoytia, reading Segismundo´s second soliloquy in Calderón de la Barca´s La vida es sueño; Israel Lara reading Primo Levi in Italian; Ciprián Cabrera Jasso travelling to Mérida from Tabasco only to present his last collection of poems in Café Poesía before passing away; Agustín Monsreal reading a highly emotional poem about la lluvia, contained in his “Diccionario al Desnudo. No ilustrado;” Jonathan Harrington reading his English translations of Mayan poets; Lope Ávila reading my Spanish translation of Jonathan Harrington´s A Rain of Bicycles, so excited about how much he likes it; Yazmín Gaspar dramatizing Rosario Castellanos´ feminist poems; Balam Ricardo reading his poems about life in Mexico´s Southern borderlands; Cesar Love reading his poem Trespasser´s Shoes and myself thinking that I had to translate it into Spanish, which I did;

myself reading my Spanish versions of amazing poems by Don Cellini, Jeff Wright, and Crystal Tittey; and then someone doing spoken word, and someone else doing performance art and sound poetry… I just know that the readings themselves have proved me right on that, most certainly, hay poesía para todos.

We also had Raúl Renán, Daniel Torres, Óscar Wong, Óscar Palacios, Brígido Redondo, Alice Jennings, and most local poets, some narrators, and some stage actors as feature readers in Café Poesía. Since people didn´t have to read works of their own, there were, on the other hand, many people facing poetry for the first time in their lives, or who had an exciting first-time experience reading in front of an audience. Some of the readers´ favorite canonical poets were Jaime Sabines, Pablo Neruda, Rubén Darío, Lorca, Sor Juana… Love poems weren´t among the reader´s favorites but there was at least one married couple who first met in Café Poesía.

Another pet phrase: “Café Poesía—as life itself—is what you make of it.” And I also meant that. I was ready to give it all up in August of 2012 but a number of readers decided to step forward and to volunteer with me as moderators. As talented, young writers who happened to be my students at the School of Creative Writing of the State Center of Fine Arts, and who also happened be literature students at Univesridad Autónoma de Yucatán, they incorporated other literary genres into Café Poesía: one came up with Café Narrativa, then Café Dramaturgia, and even Café Ensayo, to read literary essays. Unappealing though it may sound, they made it work—of course, one could always take the mic and read poetry on those Saturdays. Finally, maestro Lope Ávila had Café Poesía para niños on the last Saturday of every month, with children as feature poets. This whole initiative was wonderful and gave a new dimension to Café Poesía which became even more of a community event.

During its first couple of years, Café Poesía gained regional popularity. I was invited to write articles about it for different publications, such as UNAM´s Periódico de Poesía; I was interviewed by a few different radio stations and TV channels; Café Poesías facebook group reached over 850 members and people keep on joining it… It was just something different in town, a concept that was new here; and now it´s up to others to start new independent projects and, hopefully, to engage the audiences as active participants as was proved possible in Café Poesía without begging for public funds.

Yes, sometimes the designated moderator failed to show up. Sometimes the feature poet arrived late to her/his own reading. Sometimes I had to ask the manager to ask the chefs to turn down their radio, and there would be the occasional stage huggers. Indeed, sometimes the reader had to stop in mid poetry to wait for the red light outside to turn green, so that some loud car could ride away. It´s also true that I would stubbornly start at 7 (or at ten after) with only two people and that most readers would come after 8. The social construction that we call Mexico is also what one makes of it and many chose to make it like that. In part that´s why I´m tired. Yet, I sure will miss it.

Poetry will endure for, as another of Café Poesía´s pet phrases went, “where two or three gather in her name, there poetry is with them”. By the way, Café Poesía is where I met one of its most constant and punctual readers who shared many great poems and songs over the years: Cher Bibler, creator of In Other Words: Merida!

 

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Fer de la Cruz is a Yucatecan poet born in 1971. He has received two national, two regional, and one state-wide poetry awards in Mexico and is a member of the founding faculty at the School of Creative Writing of the State Center of Fine Arts, in Mérida. He is also coordinator of the Historic Mérida branch of Centro de Idiomas del Sureste, where he was a teacher for 20 years. He holds an MA in Spanish from Ohio University and a BA in Philosophy. As an independent editor, writer, translator, and cultural promoter, he has participated in cultural festivals, conferences, and book fairs in Mexico, Cuba, France, and the United States. His poems appeared in the books “Redentora la voz” (Ayuntamiento de Mérida, 2010) and “Aliteletras. De la A a la que quieras” (Dante, 2011), as well as in the chapbooks “La cuenta regresiva. Radiografía urbana mesozoica” (El Drenaje, 2012) and “Seven Songs of Silent, Singing Fireflies” (JKPublishing, 2008): delacrux@hotmail.com.

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Artist Nannette Guinto Amorado

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