A Spanglish blog dedicated to the works, ruminations, and mongrel pyrotechnics of Yago S. Cura, an Argentine-American poet, translator, publisher & futbol cretin. Yago publishes Hinchas de Poesia, an online literary journal, & is the sole proprietor of Hinchas Press.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


On Saturday, May 25th, as part of the La Palabra reading series sponsored by Ave 50 Studios (131 North Ave 50 Los Angeles, CA 90042), the Taco Shop Poets performed at My Taco (6300 York Blvd, Ste 4 Los Angeles, CA 90042) taco shop in Highland Park. The performance, which started promptly at 5:30, starred Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, Tomás Riley, and Adrian Arancibia, and ended an eight-year hiatus from performing together. The host of La Palabra, Puerto Rican poet Luivette Resto, capped off the performance by reading three poems from her first poetry collection, Unfinished Portrait (Tia Chucha Press, 2009).

One of Resto's poems, "No More Tacos in Gwinett County (Georgia)," recounts how county administrators in Gwinett County, Georgie sought to curb Latinos from moving to Gwinett County by eradicating eateries and purveyors of Mexican food. Resto also read "Ode to Menudo," except she made an important distinction between what menudo means for Mexicans versus what menudo means for Puerto Ricans. Resto said, "For Puerto Ricans, Menudo is also the name of the world's first ever boy band: Rene, Johnny, Xavier, Miguel and Ricky," she said, affirming firmly that menudo is not just the popular anti-hangover remedy it is in Los Angeles among Mexicans. Indeed, show me what and how you eat, and I will tell you who you are. For example, Italians think it a crime to not take four hours to process a meal. Americans, in contrast, eat all their meals as if they're being pursued by the ghost of Adam Smith.

The reason the Taco Shop Poets perform in, well, taco shops is because taco shops serve as surrogate hearths for the Latinos that frequent them. For the most part, the ingredients in taco shops are fresh, al dente, and ready to be ordered. The Taco Shop Poets capped off their performance with the call to arms, the rhythm that marks the meter of many of their modes; in other words, under their musical tutelage, we pledged allegiance to the Clave. The Taco Shop Poets used the rhythm of the 3-2 clave to kick their performance off by flanking the restaurant and exclaiming vociferously, "Aaa, Eee, Iii, Ooo, Uuu," while asking the patrons to join in by clapping and repeating the sonorous vowel-clave mantra. It was a festive way to change the atmosphere in the taco shop from that of an eatery to that of an impromptu literary venue, and it clearly delineated the intent of their efforts.

Therefore, in many ways, this performance stands out as an especially emotive, rhythmic, and bombastic group performance of their poetry. At first, it seemed the energy might flag in places because it had been a while since they had performed together. But, Tomás Riley was able to put everyone at ease with several of his cyphers that made it seem as if Riley had Roy Ayers or Digable Planets playing on a continuous loop in the recording booth of his mind. He performed several spoken word poems that displayed his virtuosity; more importantly, Riley read a sestina he composed for Treyvon Martin, the black Florida teenager that was murdered by an overzealous community watch commander. Then, he read a poem called "Hip" that's about hipsters from his book, Post-Chicano Stress Disorder (Tinta Vox, 2011) that made all the non-ethnic people in My Taco feel a little awkward, but they got over it and pulled themselves up from their messenger bags.

Then, Adolfo Guzman-Lopez took the stage and switched the tempo of the thing to a more reflective, pensive mood. And, while he read his first poem, a poem in seven parts about the seven pit stops on the Taco Shop Poets tour circa 2002, forks clanked in the kitchen and the waitress still waltzed with backing-out-of-seats
patrons, and the cashiers still rang their registers taking orders for carnitas french fries or large drinks of Jamaica with little ice. Guzmon-Lopez's performance was characterized by harmony in execution. And, even though Guzman-Lopez is not as loud as Tomas Riley, his pieces were wending their way into our ears and accentuating the air with focused hearing. I especially liked, "Ray-Set-Ta," a recipe-poem, recipoem, that was stark and quixotic, and left me thinking that I was not listening to a poem or a recipe but a new sub-genre of spoken word.

Last to the stage was Adrian Arancibia in a starched white guayabera and an ink pen in his upper chest pocket. His performance, the most heartfelt and heavy, had me on the verge of tears several times, and signified in no short order that this space had now been turned into a place of great healing and verve. Adrian's pieces spoke great truth and induced in us all the great power of the written word. In my Latino immigrant home, the idea of not eating dinner together as an atomic family was unadulterated patrician blasphemy; it had to be okayed by my father, and he held his quiver of yeses close to his chest. My point is that the connection between how we eat and who we are is inextricable.

To be sure, all of the food in a taco shop isn't healthy, but for a taco shop to be successful it has to have fresh ingredients. The Taco Shop Poets brought the freshest of literary ingredients to My Taco taco shop for sure. Need I remind you, Latinos not only eat in taco shops, they use them much like the English used pubs or public houses. The taco shop is the epicenter of the chisme, el cuatro once, and the que es que. Taco shops make sense as venues for poetry because poetry in Latin America is a much more communal affair, just like visiting the taco shop. And, there are lots of flavors there, all lined up and ready for you to try, teasing your salivary glands. All you have to do is open your mouth to listen.

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