Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thursday Evening in Downtown Brooklyn: 29th Annual Literary Arts Festival at City Tech, featuring Willie Perdomo

This evening we went to very familiar Jay Street in downtown Brooklyn, to City Tech's 29th annual Literary Arts Festival.

This year, in addition to student awards and student performances and readings, the featured writer was the great Nuyorican poet and author Willie Perdomo.

In case you didn't know,
Willie Perdomo is the author of Where a Nickel Costs a Dime and Smoking Lovely, which received a PEN America Beyond Margins Award. He has also been published in The New York Times Magazine and Bomb and his children's book, Visiting Langston, received a Coretta Scott King Honor. He is a NYFA Arts Fellowship winner, Pushcart Prize nominee, a Urban Artists Initiative/NYC grant recipient and was recently a Woolrich Fellow in Creative Writing at Columbia University. He is currently Artist-in-Residence, Workspace, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. He is co-founder/publisher of Cypher Books.

You could tell how much the students could relate to what Willie said and enjoyed his funny, profound and daring poems. As Junot Diaz said, "Perdomo is the hurricane we all write home about. He is to the word what lightning is to the sky. . . what he knows about being of color, being between languages, being poor, being a man, being in trouble, could save your life."

Our favorite was his final poem, "Notes for a slow jam":
This is the poem
you always wanted
I've turned into
a fire -can crooner
to sing you this
slow jam
a farewell greeting
no sooner than the sun
set on our meeting
I had a song for you
but first
I had to sample
from the midnight
quiet storm
break up to make up and
make up to break up and
break up to wake up!
I was a three time loser
persistent fell in
heart over head
not even a chance
to carve the initials
of our romance
on the bark of a tree

There was nothing
no one left
to point at
and say
"its all because of you"
so I have an encounter session
with the bathroom mirror
the black crescents
that real makeup
under my eyes
couldnt cover
the cries
of walking down the street
falling of the park
of a broken heart binge
had to get high
so i buy a bag
to cure my love jones
and soothe my aching bones
I walked into a social club
and found the answer
boiling in the jukebox_
pick a song _
hip hoppin through life
I use to think that salsa
was just for the rice and beans
I was wrong
it' a remedy for those
strung-out love fiends
Would you think i was high
if i told you that Tito Rojas
was a greek playwright?
I'm saying that Euripides
sang salsa
for real
check it out
the tragic hero
is chillin on the corner
love epics and shit
spilling from his mouth
the chorus
is on the rooftop
giving echo to his pain
listen to the sound
of a heart breaking

aye aye aye
aye aye aye
y dicen que los hombres
nunca nunca nunca
deben lloran

and they say that
the men
should never never


I look into mirror
one more time
before i chase you away
and just in case
you dont speak spanish
ileave you sinking
into some muddy waters

you cant spend what you ain't got
you can lose what you ain't never had

My pockets are empty
and i'm letting you go
without a fight
but before you go
heres the poem
you always wanted

Our cell phone pics in the dark auditorium were blurry to the point of making people faceless, so forgive us our cheap technology. We didn't catch the name of the MC, but the young man handled his duties with real grace, humor and aplomb. After Willie got off to huge applause, there were some performances by students: Chino did some rap rhymes and Lee sang a song, "I Wanna Be Your Spider-Man" that made certain females sitting near us a bit wild.

Then there was the awards ceremony from City Tech's wonderful English Department (okay, we know folks who work there and they are all terrific writers) starting with awards for the best research paper and for excellence in English to Zachariah and Stanislaw respectively.

After that were the awards for those writers who are featured in the new, fifth annual issue of City Tech Writer, "the only undergraduate journal across disciplines in Brooklyn." There were three or four winners in each category, and first-place winners like Natrelle for poetry ("Urban Epidemic") and Nick for fiction (a story set in Calcutta) read from their works.

Other winners included John for drama, Anthony for humor, Laran for New York City essay, and Carl Garcia got the leadership award. (We probably screwed up some of these students' first names and didn't always catch their last names, so if someone can give us corrections, we'd be grateful.)

Finally, the faculty winner, Bernadette (McComish?) read her poems "Slipstream" and "Take Me On," the latter a riff on the '80s a-ha song "Take On Me.".

Kudos to the chair of the City Tech Literary Arts Festival, Prof. Caroline Hellman, and everyone involved.

People enjoyed some food and talked at the reception in the gym after we all left Kiltgore Auditorium.

We're always impressed with the creative drive and talent of CUNY undergraduate students, including not least the ones we've been lucky enough to teach, off and on, since 1978.

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