“Dual [writing] Citizenship” and other news

I’m in Chicago this week at the AWP 2012 Conference, and I have to say, I’m loving it (granted, it’s only my first day).

This is the first time I attend  such a conference (most of my conference experiences deal strictly with fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or children’s writing, in mostly workshop form. This, however, is a different experience. For starters, it’s no small event. There are over 10,000 (if I misremember the number, please excuse me) attendees, dozens of lectures/panels happening simultaneously across two hotels, and an impressive celebrity author lineup.

Additionally, though, this conference is great because it encompasses two of my loves: writing and teaching. The lectures/panels that are available broach a wide variety of subjects that pertain to writing and writing programs. The beauty of this combination is that, in one place, I can get tools or listen to conversations about the kids of writing that I do and the classes that I teach. It’s awesome.

The title of this post is in reference to one of the panels I attended today that was titled: “Dual Citizenship: Writing for Both Children and Adults.” It was fabulous and I think it really nailed a problem I’ve been encountering, a sort of snobbery if you will. We’ve been so conditioned to accept a reality of labels that we constantly feel the need to fit into one of those labels, as if writing could be contained in such a way. We don’t have to have just one writing identity (the poet, the fiction writer, the memoirist, the kid lit writer); it’s perfectly okay in embracing this multiple personality effect!

I know that when I get asked the pivotal question,”What do you write?” I stumble sometimes because, well, I like writing it all (though not necessarily all with the same strength)! I don’t want to be known just as a fiction writer or a memoirist or a YA or PB author. I want to write it all. I want to strive to be, like one of the panelists said, Julia Alvarez. Why settle for just one writing identity when you can have several (and be good at several)? It makes perfect sense. Still, whenever I do say I write more than one genre or for more than one age group, I tend to get an “Oh” with a glazed look, as if saying I just haven’t made up my mind what I want to write, that I have to find one niche and stay there.

Well, I refuse.

I enjoy writing. Period. So I will write whatever it is that turns me upside down, inside out. Whatever fills me with excitement. Whatever decides to be what I must write right now. Then, when I’m done with that, I’ll move onto the next project that again commands my attention. Because I think that’s what writers should do. Write what they just absolutely have to write and not what they think they should write. That, I think, should be one of the main writing commandments.

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I Am

I Am – by A. P. Alessandri

I am from the Andes and the Amazon rainforest,
and from the warm sands of SoFla.
A mountain girl in the magic city,
bred with frijoles, sancocho and Burger King.
A speaker of romance whose tongue
becomes a contortionist–
Erre con erre cigarro, erre con erre barril.
Roll your tongue, mija, ole, niña.
A gringa among my people.
A Latina among my people.
Often confused for a stranger.
A hyphen in a world that devalues hyphens.
A hyphen in a world that overvalues hyphens.
A Paisa and Miamian born in Queens,
who celebrates Noche Buena with
buñuelos and natilla and El Niño Dios
then spends Christmas morning
unwrapping Santa Claus under the
six-foot fraiser fir from somewhere up north.

My father used to say in Latin,
de gustibus et coloribus non disputatum,
but we still argued about our differences
and the colors of our people.

I am my mother’s daughter,
a pseudo- perfectionist
who dreams of the Blue Ridge Mountains,
while moving to Cumbia and Vallenato.
I am my father’s daughter,
a seeker of justice
torn between the Ave Maria‘s and
the duplicity of the Church.

I am me.
Broken, idealistic, indecisive, strong, whole.
I am my mother’s mother and my father’s father.
Or my mother’s father and my father’s mother.
I am them, and yet I am not them.
I define binary opposites.

I am.

I Stopped Writing Poetry

11/2010

I stopped writing poetry
because I had a day job and night job
and both left little time for socializing,
so I sacrificed poetry in order to
go to late night movies, to travel,
veg out in front of a TV because
I didn’t want to feel – I was over it –
and poetry made me feel.

I stopped writing poetry because I fell in love
And everything I wrote was clichéd, Hallmark
Versions of serious poetry, and
If I couldn’t write serious poetry, then
why write poetry at all?

I stopped writing poetry when the
Scribbled verses I clutched in my lined paper
Were savagely stricken with black ink
By a “real” poet who told me I was no poet;
He circled only two words in those four verses
And said, “Here, you may have a poem.”

I stopped writing poetry when
Every poem I wrote fell into a
Been-there, done-that
Category. No originality,
The “real” poet told me. You’re
Too late. Find something new.
Writing about a Latino identity is so
Nineteen-eighties. Perhaps if I’d been
In my twenties, or thirties then, and
Not still in elementary school,
Well, maybe then I would’ve kept writing poetry.

I stopped writing poetry when I started
Writing prose, because I was a good writer,
but a bad poet. I had stories to tell and
Those took more white space than a poem did,
though I never really stopped writing poems.
Nestled in my prose, were poems,
But not poems of a “real” poet, so I stopped writing
Deliberate poems

Except when I hurt
Or when the hurdle of emotions become
Too much to write in prose.
When I have to seek the better evil of
Writing or paying someone for my sanity.
Then I write poems.

Broken

Broken

The aluminum shingles of the trailer
are bent, uneven, black; mildew
is now part of the structure,
the aged door on rusty hinges lies
silent, and shards of broken glass
silhouette the window:
mine
home,
sanctuary.
A quarter smile on her ebony face,
on her wrinkled lips, parched,
a single message clutched
against the jacket and
mismatched shirt and pants
that protect her body from the cold.
Her sneakers are torn and untied;
she has forgotten
fashion, colors, comfort,
bubble baths before bed,
pot roast for dinner,
champagne for a toast; she’s
weary
sluggish
disheveled.
She knows it’s coming, but she’s not
afraid. She fears him more, he who had
gone, discarded her. She lowers herself
on the worn-out rocking chair
and closes her eyes,
broken.

I remember

I remember a collage of my father’s stories. I don’t remember then in complete form, although I wish I did. But I do remember some pieces.

When my father was young, I want to say twelve, although I don’t know if this is exact or not, my father started smoking homemade cigarettes. He and his cousin would hide in the sotano of his home and there, by a motorcycle, would roll up some cigarettes. What exactly he used, I’m not sure. I wish I would’ve asked him before he died, though. There’s so much I would ask now.

I remember another story. He was a priest now with a disdaining vice. This vice could get him kicked out of the seminary in a heart beat. He was a smoker. He would hide his cigarettes in his sotana and would sneak in a smoke whenever possible.

I remember him always smoking. He smoked Winston cigarettes or a Colombian brand. No other cigarettes would do. He wouldn’t smoke in the house, though; my mom had put a stop to that when I was young in our Westchester home. He would go outside. Of course, back when he drove, he would smoke in his cars: the beat-up old vomit-green Chrysler or the two-door once-white stick shift car. I don’t remember the make or model of that one. Los carros viejos, my mom used to call them. The old cars. My dad only like the old stuff. That was good stuff. Give him old cars, old furniture, old appliances, and he was happy. He didn’t like new things – new stuff didn’t last, wasn’t made well. He was an old man even then, clinging on to a past he could never get back. I wonder if being a priest made him that way, or perhaps, he was a priest because he was that way.

What I remember the most, though, was him in his wheel-chair, post amputation. He had gone almost three months without a cigarette. My mom and I whispered behind his back that he was finally cured. He had even stopped asking for them. Then, when he was let out, the first thing he said to my mom was: “Ole, bring me my cigarettes.” And he kept on smoking. If the doctors asked him, he’d get angry, saying, “What do they care anyway!” And he stopped wanting to go to the doctors because then he’d have to tell them the truth.

My mom took to restricting his smoking. He now received an allowance of three cigarettes a day, and an extra one for special occasions. After breakfast, lunch and dinner, he would call out to my mom: “Ole, my cigarette!” while he put his shirt on (he was always shirt-less at home). And my mom would sigh, slowly rise from the sofa, go to her closet where she hid them in a place only she knew (she had to change them a few times because my dad would look for them and, occasionally, find them) and grudgingly bring him his prize. He would chuckle, place the cigarette in his front shirt pocket along with the lighter, and roll his way out the front door. He would stay there for ten, maybe fifteen minutes, contemplating every inhale of nicotine, and then he’d slowly roll back inside, the scent of smoke lingering around him. Everything about him smelled like smoke.

A Poem: God, why hast thou forsaken us?

*Note: this is still a work in progress; this is a second draft.

She is silent, a small and still frame by the river’s edge.
She is half-submerged in the obscure waters,
surrounded by desolation, anguish, destruction.
God, why hast thou forsaken us?

She hears whimpers and screams on the water’s surface.
Muddied souls, near death, surround her;
She is their pain; she is their suffering.
God, why hast thou forsaken us?

She sees hooded figures, shadows of dark robes,
wrinkled by the day’s calling. They reach for her
and for those around her.
God, why hast thou forsaken us?

She looks at them, knowing them,
half frightened, part curious,
but she is still, waiting.
God, why hast thou forsaken us?

She tries to fall on her knees,
to cry out towards the heavens
in indignation, anger, and fear.
God, why hast thou forsaken us?

She tries to speak the words she’s
desperate to say: God, why?
but the question evaporates
before it has time to condense into sound.
She pleads, her eyes fixed
on the clouds above her,
sparse cotton painting the azure sky.
She receives silence from above,
but below her, the ground rumbles,
trembles fiercely; the earth moves,
cracks, crumbles, collapses.
The river rises.
Mama, she whispers. Papa.
But the first waters had taken them home.
She’s going to join them soon.
God, why hast thou forsaken me?

She is silent now, her eyes resting.
The wind cools her but she’s not afraid.
She sees Mama and Papa coming for her;
they are smiling.
God, you have not forsaken me.