Celebrating Poetry, Celebrating Ideas, Celebrating Creativity | Los Angeles Public Library
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Celebrating Poetry, Celebrating Ideas, Celebrating Creativity

Luis J. Rodriguez, Poet Laureate of Los Angeles,
Luis J Rodriguez at a Poetry Reading Event

The music from the stage at the Pacoima City Hall in June pulled a small crowd onto a makeshift seating area during the “Celebrating Words” Festival, sponsored by Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore—the only annual outdoor literacy & arts festival in the San Fernando Valley.

Las Bandidas, a group of women donning “Charo” garb, danced and sang in the “banda” style popular in Mexico and many parts of the United States. That stage also held an alternative rock band, a Cumbia band, Son Jarocho performers, Hip Hop, spoken word performers, poets, and much more. There were also vendor booths of artists, artisans and community service organizations. Temachtia Quetzalcoatl, Tia Chucha’s resident Mexika danza group (so-called Aztec dancers) opened up the event.

Books were sold and you could take a photo with book titles honoring Chicano/a writers like Sandra Cisneros and Rudy Anaya. A special section for children brought many families. At various times during the day perhaps some 800 to 1,000 people came by.

The languages spoken, performed or sung included English, Spanish, and in some cases Nahuatl (the large native language of Mexico and parts of Central America). While predominantly Mexican and Central American, we had performers and participants from the African American, Asian, Armenian, and white communities.

I read poetry that day in my role as L.A.’s poet laureate and also to promote the city’s Big Read program and this year’s selection, “Into the Beautiful North” by Luis Alberto Urrea. I’m also cofounder of Tia Chucha’s and “Celebrating Words.”

There was no violence, no fights, no disrespect in a community often known for poverty and crime. There was nothing but good music, powerful words, dance, literature, and exploding culture.

As is often the case, except for some Spanish-language media, no major media outlets covered this event, despite Tia Chucha’s doing this for ten years without one mishap in Sylmar Park, Mission Community College, Ritchie Valens Park in Pacoima, and now Pacoima City Hall. The city’s Department of Cultural Affairs helped fund the festival from the beginning and the California Arts Council has also provided funding along with local businesses, politicians, and community members.

I’m sure if someone had been shot, the media would have been all over the place.

Celebrating Words” is one of the highlights of my tenure so far as poet laureate that began in January of this year (although Mayor Eric Garcetti announced I would be the next Poet Laureate in October of 2014, things didn’t officially kick off until the start of 2015).

And in six months, what a ride it’s been!

From January to the end of June, I’ve spoken, read or taught in some 70 events at libraries, schools, festivals, book fests, graduations, cafes, and museums. I engaged around 10,000 people with millions more reached through the English and Spanish language media that did interview me. I’ve read poetry twice at City Council chambers and I’ve written monthly blogs for the Los Angeles Public Library website. I wrote a poem for the city, which I submitted along with other new poems for a chapbook by Curbstone/Northwestern University Press to be published next spring.

And I helped initiate a new poetry anthology called “The Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes and Shifts of Los Angeles,” scheduled for release during the national Associated Writers and Writing Programs conference in Los Angeles next March that is expected to bring close to 12,000 people to our city. Four editors at Tia Chucha Press are presently going over more than 150 submissions after the extended deadline of July 10.

Everywhere I went—Watts, Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, the Union Station, Downtown, Echo Park, Westwood, Venice, Crenshaw District, West Adams District, Culver City, Pasadena, Long Beach, Leimert Park, Little Tokyo, El Sereno, Cypress Park, East L.A., Highland Park, San Gabriel, Bell, Santa Monica, Hollywood, throughout the San Fernando Valley—I found talented poets and writers. I found slam poets, open mic partakers, rappers, and wordsmiths of all hues and flavors.

And I’ve only touched the surface; there are many communities yet to be reached. No worries, there’s still time to request my presence by sending official proposals to LuisPoetLaureate@gmail.com. Remember I’m doing this for two years.

So poetry, literary consciousness and powerful language are alive and kicking in Los Angeles. Too bad much of the media is not there—but then again, as long as community is strengthened, voices heard, stories told, and people come together across social, cultural or gender lines, we establish solid ground to do more.

All I’ve seen so far of this great metropolitan area humbles me. Yes, there are growing homeless encampments, income inequality, police violence, and other issues—all of which must be addressed. At the same time, Los Angeles is a uniquely multi-dimensional city that totally rocks.