Tag Archives: Joe Pacheco

Miguel Algarin’s Birthday Reading

4 Oct

Poet RA Araya invited me to read at poet Miguel Algarin‘s birthday bash last month at Mama’s Bar in the East Village.  It was such an honor to read for someone who has influenced so many lives.

Miguel has been a major force of influence in poetry, creating space and awareness for ethnic literature and community.  He is a Shakespeare scholar and Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University in New Jersey.  He also co-founded the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in the 1970s, which is one of those sacred New York City literary scenes.

Here’s a section of Algarin’s bio from his website:

Born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, Algarin moved with his family to New York City in the early 1950’s where his love for the written word intensified by the artistic energy radiating from the City streets. Obtaining advance degrees in literature from the University of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania State University, Algarin developed a successful career pursuing his passion for literature. He served as a Professor Emeritus for more than 30 years of service to Rutgers University where he taught Shakespeare, Creative Writing, and United States Ethnic Literature.

The life and work of Algarin spans the universities and the streets, so much so that combining the two resulted in the development of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, a New York City cultural haven within the Lower East Side famed for being creatively drenched with great artistic intensity. Being the founder of such an organization, Algarin’s mission was to create a multi-cultural venue that both nurtures artists and exhibits a variety of artistic works to both enlighten and empower the underclass, it is a mission that has remained true to this day.

When I first moved back to northern New Jersey, after attending college in California, I became friends with a group of people that included many first- and second-generation Puerto Rican Americans and Colombian Americans.  It was through one of them that I first heard about the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.  Nuyorican is an amalgamation of the words “Nueva York” (Spanish for “New York”) and “Puerto Rican,” and the Nuyorican Poets Cafe championed Spanish-language poets and spoken word.  At the time, I had never been to the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, but together my friends and I founded a coffeehouse in suburban New Jersey, where we invited bands, poets, and visual artists to perform.  Most of the people involved were immigrants or children of immigrants–including myself.  As the child of an immigrant father, I have always gravitated toward other immigrants and children of immigrants.  That’s why even though I myself am not Nuyorican, I in many ways relate to the issues of identity and language raised through Nuyorican poetry.

That being the case, one of the highlights of Miguel Algarin’s birthday bash reading was hearing poet Joe Pacheco, whom I had just heard read “The Night Charlie Parker Played Tenor at Montmartre Cafe in Greenwich Village” at David Amram‘s show the week prior, read his poem about the pronunciation of his name and other immigrant people’s names.  I couldn’t help but laugh when he included a Greek name!  With great humor, Pacheco pointed out how people with ethnic names are often perceived by others (“but you speak English so well!”).

Produced by Araya, the reading also included:

  • Brian Omni Dillon
  • Rome Neal
  • Charlie Vazquez
  • Ray DeJesús
  • Danny Shot
  • Jeff Wright
  • Puma Perl
  • Kymberly Brown
  • Carlos Manuel Rivera
  • Lydia Cortes
  • Noah Levin
  • Edwin Torres
  • Nancy Mercado
  • David Henderson
  • Lois Griffith
  • Adam Ash
  • Susan Yung
  • Nancy Mercado

It was really great meeting Edwin Torres, who was huge on the poetry scene when I first came back to the East Coast but has since moved out of the city, making it rarer to get to see him perform.  I enjoy his poetry so much, and he was really down to earth and easy to talk to.

Jeff Wright and I had connected through social media a while back, and it was fun to finally meeting him in person.  He even gave me a copy of Live Mag, which I was really excited about because I had gotten a chance to skim it at John Reed‘s reading at the Guerilla Lit Reading series back in July and really wanted my own copy because it contains poetry by some of my favorite living poets.

Well, I could obviously go on and on about how great everyone was, but really the night was about Miguel Algarin.  I had actually never heard him perform before, so it was awesome hearing him scat!

The last time I saw him, Miguel had told me about how he had known Jack Kerouac and was very interested in having me send a copy of Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, the book I’m coauthoring with Paul Maher Jr., to him.  The photo above, taken by Ra, is of me reading from the book for Miguel’s birthday.

Recap — with Photos! — of David Amram Reading

10 Sep

 

When musician David Amram introduced me before I read with him at Cornelia Street Cafe on September 3, 2012, he very generously said people should pay attention because one day they’d see me on television.  To me, though, reading with David Amram was a much bigger deal than being on television.  There are countless television shows, but there is only one David Amram.  While there are many fantastic musicians and writers out there whom I’d be honored to read with, there are few who hold such a special place in forming my creative identity as Amram does.

I first became acquainted with Amram through studying Jack Kerouac when I was just a teenager.  I was enamored with his improvised performance as Mezz McGillicuddy in the 1957 Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie film Pull My Daisy.  In fact, this photograph, featuring Larry Rivers, Jack Kerouac, David Amram, Allen Ginsberg, and Gregory Corso, who all collaborated on the film, is probably my all-time favorite photograph of the poets, writers, and artists associated with the Beat Generation.  It seems to so purely capture their friendship: just a couple of people hanging out at a cafe, maybe talking about the arts, or maybe just drinking coffee late into the night and enjoying each other’s company.

Although it was literature that introduced me to Amram, his music fascinated me.  Here was a musician who was more than just skillful.  Amram is an innovator.  He’s someone who experiments, improvises, blends genres, captivates.  He is, quite simply, mesmerizing to watch and listen to.

Through reading biographies on Kerouac and also reading Amram’s own biographies, I came to discover the jazz-poetry readings Amram and Kerouac began doing in the Village in 1957.  These were improvised sets, requiring each to masterfully foresee and adapt to changing tempos and moods in each other’s works.  These jazz-poetry collaborations captured my imagination, challenging my view of art and the way in which it’s created, the musicality of words, and the role of collaboration, improvisation, and performance in literature.  As I read about the collaborations in musty library books, forty-some-odd years after they’d taken place, I envisioned what it must’ve been like to be in the crowd at a painter’s loft or at the Circle in the Square.  Did the people there realize they were part of history?

In 2001, I had the opportunity to ask Amram just that when I interviewed him for some research I was doing at the time.  I sat enthralled, clinging to his every word, as he told me about all the places he used to hang out at in New York, about collaborating with Kerouac, and about how the term “Beat Generation” is just a marketing term that people later attached to the individual artists who each create unique works.  As he talked, answering all of my questions and never rushing me, and later as I read another biography of  his, I realized that Amram is the real deal — a creative genius and also a beatific individual, an artist who inspires and encourages.

Amram has been someone whom I’ve long admired, both on an artistic and a personal level.  Reading about those 1957 jazz-poetry readings he did with Jack Kerouac, I never imagined that one day I would have the opportunity to read the book I’m writing on Jack Kerouac with him.  When my former editor suggested we attend Amram’s show at Cornelia Street Cafe in the Village, I excitedly said yes.  A few days later, I had to email him back to say Amram had invited me to read with him.  It was completely surreal.

The September 3, 2012, show was completely sold out.  I had some friends who were turned away at the door.  Special thanks to Cornelia Street Cafe’s Robin Hirsch and the staff for hosting the reading and for doing such an excellent job in organizing the event.  I read a short selection about Kerouac’s time in Mexico from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, the book I’m co-authoring with Paul Maher, Jr.  It was really exciting because author Larry Closs and painter Jonathan Collins, both of whom I met through the Burning Furiously Beautiful Facebook page, were in the audience.  Poet and producer RA Araya, who has been hugely supportive of my work and whose birthday bash was the premiere reading from Burning Furiously Beautiful, was also there, and graciously provided the photography you see here.  I had some other family and friends there as well and am so appreciative of their support.  It means more to me than most people realize.

As soon as my videographer, Liz Koenig, sends the video, I’ll post it so you can hear me reading with David Amram and his band.  The band, consisting of Amram, Kevin Twigg, and John de Witt played so beautifully — even more of a feat, considering Twigg had hurt his hand before the show.  The music was haunting and fit the piece that I read so perfectly.  I wanted to remain present in the moment, to really hear what they were playing, and savor the moment.  It was one of those times in life that I wanted to tuck into my heart and cherish.

 

 

David Amram, Stephanie Nikolopoulos, Joe Pacheco

Stephanie Nikolopoulos, David Amram, RA Araya