Barker Center Hosts National Latino/a Poetry Now Event

“Stout, Apache-dark, curious and quick, he builds up the bridge of his nose with clay,” read Eduardo C. Corral. “In the small of his back, I bury my hands.”

Corral and fellow poets Rosa Alcalá and Aracelis Girmay were the featured speakers at the inaugural Latino/a Poetry Now event held Tuesday night at the Barker Center. The reading drew an audience of 30, many of them members of the Cambridge community.

“Our goal is to feature distinct, dynamic voices from the Latino poetry community,” said event organizer Francisco Aragón about the initiative, which will feature 15 poets in total.

“We want to deepen the conversation around Latino poetry by giving the audience a taste of how diverse Latino voices can be,” he said.

The artists’ poetry touched on topics as varied as cultural traditions, poverty, and sexuality, but they expressed frustration about often being artistically pigeonholed based on their race. Corral recalled a colleague asking to see his “field worker poems.”

Alcalá, who is currently a creative writing teacher in the Bilingual MFA program at the University of Texas at El Paso, told the story of her journey to academia after growing up as a self-described “working class kid.” Her poems expressed her experiences growing up in New Jersey as the daughter of Spanish immigrants.

Working in higher education, she said, was “the first time no one I knew worked in a factory.”

“Factory is both fact and act and mere letters away from face and story,” Alcalá recited.

Girmay, an assistant professor at Hampshire College, read a poem about assimilating in elementary school without losing her identity.

“It is as if I handed [my teacher] all my familiar trees and flowers, and she used her English to make an axe and try to chop them down,” she said.

The next event in the series will take place at Georgetown University and feature different poets.

“It was wonderful,” said Josslyn J. Luckett, a student at the Divinity School. “I didn’t know these poets before tonight, but I love them now.”

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