(Pictured, Lucky Garcia, Resistencia: Round 2)
I missed the first one, regrettably. But last night’s “Resistencia: Round 2” at Uptown Arts Bar may have been the most focused, hard-hitting and intimate poetry reading I’ve ever attended. Part of it were the headlines (and lack of headlines) in the current news. The bombing of Syria while our country refuses its refugees and criminalizes its own people with attacks on free speech (see, among so many like them, deportation threats against Maru Mora-Villalpando for speaking out about ICE raids, the imprisonment of Reverend Ed Pinkney for fighting the corporate takeovers of his community, and the arrest of journalist Jenni Monet speaking out about Standing Rock).
At the reading, another journalist (poet/artist…) MG Salazar explicitly tied the crop dusting of protesters at Standing Rock to the gas attacks in Syria. Salazar’s reporting from Standing Rock has taken the form of a book, Striking the Black Snake: Poems from Standing Rock. Fighting a terrible cold, Salazar read from that book, making us feel the gritty realities of those struggles. A migrant farmworker as a child, Miguel Morales acknowledged his own experiences facing crop-dusters as an intrinsic, terrifying part of his childhood. Iraq war veteran Lucky Garcia carried these parallels even further, in one poem mirroring her experiences in Iraq with daily dread living on the east side of Kansas City.
Garcia, who called herself the “rookie” of the group, pointed out that she can still be “called up any time” before reading a poem, “Dear Mama,” about what the war had done to her. Things that, despite all the love in the world for her daughter, her mother could never understand. The house shook with her imagery, such as her tying the scent of her mother’s morning bacon to the smell of an IED explosion. She closed with a portrait of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a tour-de-force building all of the details around the framework of those four letters—P and T and S and D.
But the politics of the evening took many forms. Emcee of the evening’s events, Alex Martinez kicked things off with a poem called “Glass Breaker,” which drove home ways in which one’s very own identity, being one’s self, necessitates a form of resistance. Miguel Morales echoed a poem Martinez read about the complexities of living in a body misunderstood and maligned by the power structure, closing one poem with the line, “This body is a borderland.” Although Morales said he wasn’t going to read his more political work that night, as he had during the first Resistencia, his tender, dignified portraits of working class life (and his two directly contrasting takes on Cinco de Mayo) were, in many ways, more political than anything that’s on this morning’s talking head TV.
Similarly, Jessica Ayala began with her overtly political work—speaking of the 43 disappeared Mexican students and her book’s title track, “Huelga.” But so much of the politics in Ayala’s set served as a celebration of the resistance inherent in artistic expression. She began by singing, and during her heart-shattering tribute to her father and music (named for the great Columbian musician Joe Arroyo) she tied the movement in Afro-Cuban rhythms to the resistance of all enslaved people. And if it’s not clear I’m saying she made it universal, let me underscore that point. If she didn’t dance during this reading, it seemed as if she did, bringing the reading to an exalted climax well before it was over.
Many of the night’s poems were love poems. The role of love in resistance was something no one had to explain. Guest reader Huascar Medina even delivered a twisted but beautiful love poem to Sylvia Plath. His final poem, “My Siren,” about the loss of a loved one to addiction, underscored just how high the stakes can be—the first political struggle always being the fight to find the love that keeps us from doing ourselves in. The whole evening fed that hunger in endlessly inspiring ways.