Celebrate National Poetry Month: Support Local Poets

This blogpost first appeared on the Los Angeles Public Library website on Friday, March 27, 2015: http://www.lapl.org/collections-resources/blogs/lapl/celebrate-national-poetry-month-support-your-local-poets

As the new Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, I’m excited about National Poetry Month, which every year falls on April. This April, I will be visiting libraries and schools as well as take part in the largest gathering of writers and teachers of writing in the country—the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference to be held this year from April 8 to 11 in Minneapolis MN.

One thing that people may not be aware is that Los Angeles is a voracious book town.  In 2012, the Christian Science Monitor declared that L.A. is the “most book crazy” of any U.S. city, with more people buying books and the greatest number of bookstores than cities like New York City, Chicago, Boston, Washington D.C., Philadelphia and San Francisco.

Greater Los Angeles also has wonderful small to medium literary presses, including Kaya Press out of USC (East and South Asian writers), Writ Large, and the renowned Red Hen out of Pasadena, among others. In addition, the L.A. area has important independent bookstores and literary centers still standing—including Vroman’s, Book Soup, Skylight, the Last Bookstore, Eso Won, Beyond Baroque, Libros Schmibros, and the bookstore and cultural space I helped create, Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore in Sylmar.

In fact, I also founded and continue to edit one of L.A.’s internationally respected small presses, Tia Chucha Press, which began in Chicago 26 years ago (it’s been the publishing wing of Tia Chucha’s Cultural Center since 2005). While I published my first book with TCP, since then I’ve only published other poets, by now around 50 (also anthologies and a CD). First from the vibrant Chicago poetry slam scene, where the slams originated, then major U.S. poets such as National Book Award winner Terrance Hayes; President Obama inaugural poet Elizabeth Alexander; International Poetry Slam Champion Patricia Smith; Japanese American writer Kyoko Mori; Cuban American Virgil Suarez; and veteran Chicano poet Richard Sanchez.

We are truly cross-cultural, known for our line of fantastic African American poets, but also Puerto Ricans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Jamaican Americans, LGBT, Irish Americans, Italian Americans… you name it. This year we are introducing the work of Native American poet Deborah A. Miranda (“Raised by Humans”) and Salvadoran American Leticia Hernandez-Linares (“Mucha Muchacha/Too Much Girl”).

I’m mentioning this because I want to encourage lovers of poetry to buy books by TCP and similar presses. The presses and bookstores above and others like them need continual support from individuals, but also colleges, universities, high schools, and libraries. While the canonical poets like Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, William Carlos William, and Alan Ginsberg are taught and pushed all over the place (I personally love those poets), there are strong contemporary poets that should be appreciated and celebrated today.

From southern California alone, TCP has published wordsmiths like Peter J. Harris, Luivette Resto, Melinda Palacio, and Chiwan Choi. They need to be known among those who love great literature; their books should grace the shelves of bookstores and libraries everywhere. 

At this year’s AWP, a number of L.A. small presses will have a booth honoring writers like these. And in 2016, Los Angeles will host the AWP conference at the Convention Center.  I, among others, plan to make an indelible impression about L.A.’s presses and writers on the thousands of attendees who will converge in our great city next year.

We don’t have to wait until a poet is dead to value their work. Living poets, including many new and young voices, are here, now. I’m working with the current Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, 17, who will have a book out soon. And I’ll help Urban Word with the selection of the new Youth Poet Laureate this summer. Extraordinary performance poet Matt Sedillo and I will also do workshops on “The Political and the Personal in Poetry” in surrounding communities. And I will be doing events with John Densmore of the Doors, the East L.A. band Quetzal, the amazing Get Lit Players poetry group, Street Poets, and Revolutionary Poets Brigade, among others, as the year progresses.

And to truly represent our city’s literary life, Tia Chucha Press is working on an anthology of L.A. area poets called “The Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes and Shifts of Los Angeles.” You can get more information about this at the TCP page of www.tiachucha.org. The deadline is July 1, 2015. 

As the assassinated Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton once wrote, “Poetry, like bread, is for everyone.”


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