Dismay filled the Student Union East with tales of passion, paranoia and unfulfilled dreams. Baja poets and writers gathered at SWC as part of The Guest Writers Series’ final two events of its 2015 Spring Literary Festival.
“Baja Writers,” the first event, was sponsored in part by Acanto y Laurel, a UABC radio program that features discussions and interviews with Latino authors. Three writers were part of the panel: journalist Josué Camacho, poet Jhonnatan Curiel and author Javier Hernandez Quezada.
Camacho, a reporter for El Mexicano newspaper, read an excerpt from his first novel “Habitar En Vano” (“Living in Vain”), which tells the story of a single mother and her children living in Tijuana. Their dreams, aspirations and fears cast upon the inky borderlands of Tijuana.
“I got the idea for the book in a very apocalyptic dream,” he said. “Fire was raining down from the sky, the moon had turned to blood. Another thing that inspired me was thinking about everything we say about others behind their back that we wouldn’t dare say to their face.”
In the excerpt from the book, “Confesiones de Eva” (“Eva’s Confessions”), a woman begins to have suspicions about her neighbors.
Author Quezada read a segment called “Gravedad (Fracturas III)” (“Serious Illness” (Broken Bones III)” from his newest novel “Kanji.” He said the segment could be read as a stand alone short story or in the context of the larger novel.
Curiel read three of his poems.
“Each of these poems is from a different phase in my writing career,” he said.
In “Narcofrío,” he writes, “El narcopolicía llega a su narcocasa / lo recibe impaciente su narcoesposa / mientras sus narcoshijos corren hacia él / para pedirle narcobilletes y gastarlos rápido/ en la narcotiendita de la esquina.” (“The narcopolice arrives at his drug house / His drugwife is very impatient / meanwhile, his drugkids run to him / to ask for drug money to spend quickly / in the drug store at the corner.”)
Five Latino poets from San Diego and Tijuana read selections of their work published in the San Diego Poetry Annual, 2014-15 Bilingual Edition, subtitled “Frontera Piel” (“Skin Border”), in the second event.
Present were Latino poets Curiel, Monica Morales Rocha, Amaranta Caballero, Sonia Gutiérrez, Alberto Paz Tenorio, editor Olga García and “Editor En Jefe,” publisher William Harry Harding.
Harding said that it was an honor to have the event at SWC.
“It is great to get poetry to younger generation,” he said, “and we have been well received.”
Each poet took turns reading their own work and selections from other poets featured in the book that were not able to attend.
Gutiérrez read a poem titled “Dicen” (“They Say”) which tells of the inhumanities perpetuated against animals.
“Dicen que los animals no sienten. / ¿Pero has visto la Mirada del tigre / sin garras en su casa de vidrio?” (“They say animals don’t feel. / But have you seen the stare of the declawed / tiger in his house made of glass?” (Translation by the author).
Further topics explored in the poems included unrequited love, genocidal war, child prostitution and finding one’s place in the cosmos.
At one point, all the poets on stage conducted a group reading of EnriKetta Luissi’s poem “Collage,” an ode to Mexico’s 43 missing students. The poem contained all the names of the children and each poet took turns reading names.
“Amantísimo / un dedo roto / exhibe miles de cráneos / amantísima / la bandera Narco-estado / sobre los 43.” (“With great love / a broken finger / gives rise to thousands of skulls / with great love / the flag of the Narco-state / over the 43 bodies.” (Translation by Olga García).
Not everything was doom and gloom, though. Some laughs shot like beams of sunshine through the grimness.
Gutiérrez read David Shook’s “Soneto La Carpio,” an ode to his “cock.”
“Mi gallo come tres veces al día / Mi gallo es emperador de toda la Cueva del Sapo. / Mi gallo ha aesinado a ocho gallos más débiles. / Mi gallo es padre de trece hujos gallos. / Mi gallo canta soprano. / Mi gallo parece avestruz.” (“My cock eats three times a day. / My cock is emperor of the entire Cueva del Sapo. / My cock has murdered eight weaker cocks. / My cock sings soprano. / My cock looks like an ostrich.” (Translated by Paul Holzman.)
Bringing things back to serious matters, García said that poetry is an extremely important art form.
“It is imperative that one listen closely to the words in poetry, especially in Latino poetry,” she said. “Poetry can be very uplifting or it can be very depressing. It plays on the emotions like no other art form.”