Tuesday, April 03, 2007



I didn't know there were Latinos in Wisconsin.ed Oscar Mireles. Madison, WI: Focus
Communications, 1989.
PS 591 H58 I3 1989 - Colección Tloque Nahuaque.




Dear Ms. Eiben:


My subscription of Poets &Writers came to an end with this last issue. To be truthful, as a Chicano poet and writer, initially I hesitated in subscribing as it is difficult to spend part of our budget on magazines that do not relate to me as a Chicano writer and poet. The year is up and I have decided not to renew my subscription. I felt even though I wasn’t going to renew, I wanted to share with you some thoughts that have brought me to this decision.

Given the demographics of America and how its color has changed during the last decade, one would hope that magazines like Poets &Writers might also change to be on this cutting edge and be of real service to poets and writers from all the communities around the country. Challenging the status quo is not easy and can be difficult but worth the effort.

Years ago in San Antonio, I organized and facilitated poetry readings in several locations, but the longest running one was at the Twig Book Shop. I remember clearly how the writer from the San Antonio Express commented that the readings that I organized were very inclusive. He said that he visited several poetry venues in San Antonio and they were all very “white.” He was glad to see that Sunday after Sunday, I was able to bring together poets from the Chicano, Black and Anglo communities as well as maintain equal representation of men and women readers. It was an interesting comment and compliment, as I had felt this to be true, but to hear it from an outsider made it more real.

To be inclusive was something that I consciously made an effort to do. My experience of twenty years as a poet and writer attending poetry readings in cities like Detroit, San Antonio and now Denver, have shown me that most poetry readings are male and colorless. In assuring a cultural mix at the readings, I was creating a new community, because each reader brought their audience with them and the audiences were also always mixed.

I lecture around the country, and teachers inevitably ask me to recommend books and magazines for their students and I am always
looking for material to recommend. More recently on a trip to Mission, San Benito, and McAllen Texas I hesitatingly recommended
literary magazines like Bloomsbury Review and Poets & Writers. I did so recently because of the article “No Silence for the Dreamer, the Stories of Ana Castillo,” in the March/April 2000 issue of Poets & Writers. I did recommend it as I thought the article featured a woman who could be a role model for the young writers especially female writers, I would be addressing during those workshops.

In San Antonio some Anglo friends chided me about wanting to subscribe to your magazine. Their comments basically agreed with me and made a point of telling me just look at the faces in the winners of Grants + Awards and see how many are people of color. I know you are not responsible for this, but I think it points out the covert racism that is still such a great part of the publishing and literary world. And this in the year is 2000.

A few years ago, I participated in a literary festival in Austin, Texas and all the journals and Texas publishers who were “Texas
Literature” there left me angry because of the absence of Tejano, Chicano writers. One would have never thought they were in Texas, a state which not too much earlier had been Mexico. They were all very friendly people, good people, and I’m sure they would have been offended had I brought, this oversight to their attention

What is it that I’m looking for? I suppose rather than feature one Chicana a year, I would have each issue of Poets & Writers with articles featuring Chicano, Black, Asian and your usual fair featured writers. Yes, it might be difficult but I think if you would open up the magazine to new audiences that are looking for literature in which young people of color can see themselves. Is it a lot of work? Yes it is, but I’m sure it would be well worth the effort.

Established writers like Carlos Cumpian, Aberlardo Lalo Delgado (see their articles) would be a good start. Oscar Mireles, has been
publishing poets in the Mid-west for a number of years and would also be a good contact; Angela de Hoyos in San Antonio, Lorna Dee Cervantes in Boulder, Colorado, along with the other names that Carlos refers to in his article, would also be good resources.

Recently I wrote a similar letter to another magazine and the same letter that I had sent to them was rudely sent back to me with three names written on it. I guess it was their way of telling me these were the Chicano writers that they knew or had published. The sad humorous point was I knew one of the names and knew that she was not Chicana!

Enclosed is a copy of a letter addressed to Borders Bookstores. Bookstores are part of this literary world where racism tries to hide its ugly head. It would be great if Poets & Writers could address some of these issues in the public forum not to be complaining but looking for solutions and for change. The outcome of this letter was their representative called to apologize. I assured him that I did not want an apology, what I was asking for was a change in their racist policies. I am also enclosing a copy of a poem which was written during my tenure in San Antonio and related to this issue addressed to Borders.

I would like to see the list of articles by and about Chicanos that you have published. I have taken the time to address this issue with you because I respect what you do and would really like to say, I am happy to renew my subscription
because Poets and Writers addresses some of these issues.


Trinidad S�nchez, Jr.


Spelling Bee raises money for literacy

Spelling Bee raises money for literacy
By Laura Salinger
On March 16, Madison-area businesses and organizations competed in a spelling bee to raise money for local literacy and adult education programs. This fourth annual 2005 Adult Spelling Bee for Literacy, which was hosted by CUNA Mutual, will benefit the Madison Area Literacy Council and Omega School. The teams faced off in head-to-head spelling competitions judged by 2004 and 2005 Madison All-City Spelling Bee champion Isabel Jacobson and former Madison schools Principal Booker Gardner.

Sporting bee hats and antennae, spellers took the stage in front of an audience. General Casualty lost the first round to Isthmus Newspaper, after failing to spell p-u-s-i-l-l-a-n-i-m-o-u-s. Madison Metropolitan School District lost to City of Madison Librarians (both were sponsored by the DEMCO Corp.) after failing to spell g-a-z-p-a-c-h-o. The winners of the spelling bee were the City of Madison Librarians, who beat out last year’s winner, Isthmus, and CUNA Mutual, which won the bee in both 2002 and 2003.

CUNA Mutual community-relations manager Renee Ryan said the event is an upbeat, competitive way to raise money for adult literacy.

"We truly want to partner with the community and the good work they do with literacy and adult education," Ryan said. "We believe [that] the impact these programs make in the community [is] very positive."

Omega School provides basic adult education and GED preparation for adults in Dane County at its main facility, in neighborhoods, and in area jails. The school teaches approximately 250 students at any given time in a one-on-one educational setting.

"We help young adults 17 and older work on their GED diplomas," Executive Director Oscar Mireles said. "Our youngest graduate is 17, and our oldest is 86."

Omega School is an option for students who don’t succeed in the traditional high school setting. "If they can’t make it in a traditional setting, we allow them to reconnect with learning and the world," Mireles said. "If you haven’t finished school, you are not connected to your community."

The Madison Area Literacy Council is a nonprofit organization that provides one-on-one tutoring for Dane County adults who wish to gain better reading, writing, and speaking skills. It also offers ESL (English as a Second Language) classes to area Latinos and Hmong.

"We help adults and families improve their literacy skills so they can improve their lives," Madison Area Literacy Council executive director Gregory Markle said. "Our programs are directed at people who read and/or write below a sixth grade level."

The council uses goal-based programming; each individual sets the agenda for the literacy goals s/he wants to accomplish. Goals vary from finding a better job to gaining citizenship in the United States.

Markle said that low-literacy individuals face a number of barriers that significantly reduce their quality of life. "They can experience difficulties [with] anything from reading a bus schedule or job application to reading a note from their child’s teacher," Markle said. "Low-literacy people spend much of their life hiding."

"We are providing people with sustainable skills. Literacy opens the world up for people, and can significantly change their lives," Markle said.

Literacy in the United States is defined as "an individual’s ability to read, write, and speak in English, and compute and solve problems at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job, in the family, and in society."

According to the National Adult Literacy Survey, nearly 100 million adults in the United States lack the basic literacy skills to function successfully in society.

According to the organization Literacy in Wisconsin, 14 percent of Wisconsin’s adult population functions in the lowest level of literacy. Twenty-five percent of Wisconsin’s adults function in the second-lowest level of literacy. Approximately 17,000 adults in Dane County are functionally illiterate, and 30,000 did not complete high school.

Low literacy in Wisconsin’s prisons and jails is much more prevalent than in the general population. Seven out of 10 prisoners function below a high school level, and 1 in 5 prisoners nationwide read at or below the eighth grade level. Spending for corrections nearly doubled in Wisconsin in the past 10 years, while literacy-program advocates say they are fighting for every dollar. Teaching adults basic literacy skills, they say, can keep people functioning in society and out of prison.

Adults whose first language is not English, may fall into low-level literacy category. While most are literate in their native language, they face the difficulty of learning a new language and a new culture. Almost 8 percent of Wisconsin residents — 368,712 people over age 5 speak a language other than English at home. Wisconsin’s Latino population more than doubled from 1990 to 2000. Nearly 8 percent of the state’s growth in the last decade (35,928 residents) is due to Asian immigrants and their children.

No matter what your background or education level, organizations like the Madison Area Literacy Council and Omega School will try to help you improve your life through training and education. From gaining reading ability to earning a high school diploma, you can get on the track to success with the help of these organizations.

Madison Area Literacy Council trains volunteer tutors to work one-one-one with both ESL and U.S.-born learners. For more information, call 244-3911


Area literacy organizations work with adult learners

Area literacy organizations work with adult learners
Adult illiteracy is still an issue in our modern age. How one Madison-area organization is catering to adult learners on improving their literacy, and for some, teaching them the skill for the first time

By Kacy Gadberry

After ten years of hiding her secret from friends, family members and even her spouse, Mary* finally decided to admit her problem and seek help. She wasn't an addict, an abuser, or criminal. Far from it. She was a hard working married woman with a family, living in Madison. Her secret? She couldn't read.

For over 17, 000 Dane County adults whose literacy skills are below the fifth-grade level, such a scenario is familiar (Center on Wisconsin Strategy, 2002). Worldwide, illiteracy is a real problem. According to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, over eight hundred million individuals worldwide can't pen a letter or read above a third grade level.

While that statistic may seem far removed from the progressive, intellectually driven Madison area, the fact remains that numerous Madison area individuals suffer under the weight of illiteracy.

Fortunately, there is at least one Madison organization that addresses literacy issues. The Madison Area Literacy Council (MLC) helps over one thousand individuals a year improve their reading abilities. The MLC realizes that teaching people to read empowers them to reach their larger goals in life such as a better paying job, advanced education, or simply an improved quality of life. The MLC believes that reading is the cornerstone from which a fuller life is built.

Framing: The Support Beams for Financial Independence

Gregory Markle, executive director of the MLC, says that "most of the one thousand learners who come to MLC each year want to get and maintain jobs, or secure promotions at work." Without a doubt, nearly all jobs require at least a basic reading level; for example, assembly line workers examine product manuals, gas station attendants fill out purchase orders, and cleaners record their daily tasks.

Cindy Walker, a volunteer with the MLC, recalls one learner who maintained her job as a prep cook by claiming every waitress had illegible handwriting. When the orders came in, she would laugh and ask them to read what they had written because she couldn't read their handwriting. With Walker's help, the woman's literacy skills improved, and she moved on to a higher paying position.

Raising the Walls: Planning for Long Term Success

An increased reading level often raises a learner's self-confidence. As Walker puts it, "helping people learn to read gives them a feeling of empowerment. They realize what once seemed impossible is now feasible."

For some learners, that translates into a desire for further education. While the MLC focuses on "functional literacy" (basic reading skills required for daily tasks), the organization does encourage motivated learners to seek further education.

"Depending on their goals, we refer individuals to programs such as the Omega School or Madison Area Technical College," says Markle. Through these programs, adults can receive their GED, or high school equivalency diploma. Typically, more education often results in better career prospects and a better quality of life. Oscar Mireles, executive director of the Omega School states, "it isn't about a piece of paper. It is about changing lives."

Capping the Project: The Simple Joys of a New Beginning

While gainful employment and continuing education are two noble byproducts of an increased literacy level, the daily joys which reading affords are in themselves rewarding. Who hasn't snuggled down to a page turning John Grisham novel on a snowy winter's night? Who hasn't acted out all of the silly voices in a pop-up book to squeals of delight from an eager five-year-old? Who hasn't shed a tear at the conclusion of a classic such as Charlotte's Web or Old Yeller?

Fortunately, those who haven't are slowly becoming those who have thanks to the efforts

of Madison-area literacy and education programs.

Walker of the MLC recounts the day she had a breakthrough with Mary, the adult learner described earlier. As they were reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie, Mary exclaimed, "I can see it! Do you know that? When we are reading, I can close my eyes and see Laura and Mary! I can see them! What is that?"

"Your imagination," Walker replied. "It is your imagination!"

"Wow, there is a whole world inside this book!"

Madison literacy organizations are not only helping to unlock the mysteries of the written word, but also improving the quality of life for residents one page at a time.

*Name changed to protect privacy.


A year's worth of favorite books

Fundamental reading
A year's worth of favorite books
on Thursday 12/07/2006,

For years — 29 of them, in fact — the Isthmus year-end book wrap-up was written by avid reader and Broom Street Theater director Joel Gersmann. His list was a departure from most year-end book picks in that he did not restrict himself to new books published within the last year. In his memory, we continue the tradition he started: If you read it during the previous year, it’s fair game. We asked a number of Madison-area writers and readers to share a few of the books that made their year.

Men and boys
by Oscar Mireles

Poems by Father and Son
By Trinidad Sanchez Jr. (Renaissance Publications)

I exchanged poetry chapbooks with Trinidad “Trino” Sanchez Jr. over 20 years ago. I put his book away in my files at the time, and decided to read it this year after his recent death. Trino Sanchez was a get-in-your-face poet, always looking for a way to share poetry with prisoners or at community centers and making a mark. In his book, he wrote a poem about Death:

we futurized
of our death
how we would want it
celebrated without being present.
Good memories —
And no one cries.

He died without health insurance, with over $500,000 in medical bills. If there ever was a good reason to initiate universal health care, Trino would be a major one.

The Catcher in the Rye
By J.D. Salinger (Back Bay)

My son Sergio was reading this for his AP American English class, and I was sure I had read it when I was in high school, but I was mistaken. I was struck by the way Salinger used language to create the main character, Holden Caulfield, especially repeated phrases like “phonies” and “if you want to know the truth” and “that kills me.” It is hard to believe that this book was published in 1951, and the action takes place in the 1940s. Yet I can see how this book continues to appeal to teenagers.

The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons From Falling Behind in School and Life
By Michael Gurian and Kathy Stevens (Jossey-Bass)

This book makes the argument that there are biological and environmental reasons why we should try to make schools “boy-friendly” and surround young men with a male support system of family and friends, to help them navigate educational and social challenges as they move toward adulthood. The book shares many strategies for reaching the underachieving male student. As I work at Omega School with young males, it’s clear to me that with some guidance, support and direction they can achieve educational success.

Thirteen Moons: A Novel
By Charles Frazier (Random House)

Thirteen Moons shares the story of orphan Will Cooper. He works as an indentured servant, becomes a successful merchant and befriends the Cherokee Nation at the time of the Trail of Tears. The character is based loosely on the real-life exploits of a William Holland Thomas. I was surprised to find out that during that time, some members of Cherokee Nation owned land off the reservation and were slave owners. I was also shocked to read that many of the slaves were forced to leave North Carolina during the Trail of Tears as well. Frazier makes the Smoky Mountains come alive, and history intertwines with small stories and recipes that evoke the area’s rich history, culture and food.

Oscar Mireles is a poet, director of the Omega School and the editor of I Didn’t Know There Were Latinos in Wisconsin, vols. I and II.


Latino Arts expands its low-key approach to showcasing Hispanic artists

A vision unfolds

Latino Arts expands its low-key approach to showcasing Hispanic artists


Posted: Oct. 4, 2003

They sat together, talking about fabric and stitches and their families. They had never met, but quickly were laughing with the familiarity of sisters.

Some of the women are regulars at a senior center on Milwaukee's south side who pass time together, often visiting with children and making things, like quilts.

The other women were quilt-makers from an isolated village in Alabama, poor and unschooled descendants of slaves. Their quilts were on view at a big art show across town.

This meeting was not like the big do at the Milwaukee Art Museum, which had taken place the night before, at $250 a head, to launch "The Quilts of Gee's Bend" show. It was a simple, almost impromptu get-together among women. Despite cultural differences, the Alabama and south side quilters shared similar life struggles. But their connection would not have been what it was had the women not shared one thing: art.

This is the kind of low-key, yet deeply meaningful event that has been a tradition for Latino Arts Inc., an arts group separate from but housed within the United Community Center, 1028 S. 9th St. The group started humbly, often forging ties with other arts groups in order to schedule add-on events with artists already in town.

"Things shine in a very natural way here," said Zulay Oszkay, the group's current artistic director. "Given the opportunity to bring those seniors from Alabama here so they can see what a beautiful job we are doing . . . that's what they told us. It was very affirming."

Still, the 18-year-old organization does far more than piggyback events with places like the art museum. It also stages as many as four visual arts exhibits, two theater performances and four musical performances of its own each year, usually scheduled around festivals and holidays dear to various Hispanic cultures.

Reaching out

Latino Arts is the only institution in the state solely dedicated to showcasing the visual and performing arts of Hispanic artists, and the organization has in recent years been placing increased emphasis on the variety and quality of its own programming.

With a recently completed $2.5 million expansion that includes an art gallery, auditorium and lobby, Latino Arts leaders believe they are poised to capture a larger general audience and to compete more directly with many of the city's arts venues. The annual budget for the non-profit group is about $500,000.

The implication: If the group is successful at further cementing its reputation in the area, it may be Milwaukee's best shot at ongoing exposure to good Hispanic art and artists.

The leadership of Walter Sava, the former director of the UCC who in June took over Latino Arts, is also a force behind efforts to raise the organization's stature.

"I've always known that Walter had that vision, but I saw him moving forward more in that direction when he became director of Latino Arts," said Christine Rodriguez, a Latino Arts board member and president of state and community relations at Rockwell Automation.

This year's schedule includes an array of solidly respectable events, many of which blend traditional forms and those that might also be more familiar to a general audience. Art gallery admission is free; performance events are reasonably priced, between $5 and $15.

Last year, about 10,000 people attended Latino Arts events. Performances were attended by as many as 350 and art openings were attended by about 100 guests. Latino Arts also hosts special events in conjunction with the UCC, including the annual Fiesta, which is attended by as many as 4,000 people and highlights Latino culture, music and food.

Humble beginnings

Originally, arts events were planned to complement educational and recreational programming at the UCC. Founded about 30 years ago as a teen center called The Spot, the UCC has evolved into a complex that today includes an elementary school, a middle school, senior housing, a day center for seniors, a cafe, recreation programs, a fitness center and treatment centers for addiction and abuse.

UCC leaders believed that local Latinos knew little of their own Hispanic cultural traditions. So, the first goal was to introduce the Latino population in the surrounding south side neighborhood to art, theater, dance and music programs.

Local artists were invited to play guitar during a meal or to teach a dance lesson.

"Actually, I was the first person to perform in the cafe," said Felipe Rodriguez, a musician who still plays on Friday nights at the UCC's Cafe El Sol. "They said, 'We're cooking some fish, how would you like to come down?' "

Cesar Pabon, who coordinated recreational programming in the early 1980s, started setting aside space for musical practice sessions. Not all kids were interested in athletics, he figured. Pabon eventually started a music group for kids, thinking that, like sports, it too would be good for team building.

Piano and guitar lessons were offered by 1984, and the youth musical group collaborated with other artists for Hispanic and jazz concerts. Classes in the visual arts and creative writing also began at that time.

"If you saw how we started out . . . we'd try to get 30 or 50 friends to sell a few tickets each," said Oscar Mireles, who was responsible for some of the early arts programming.

"The (Milwaukee Art Museum) did an exhibit on bullfighters about 20 years ago and we hosted a reception, bringing our people over there," said Mireles, who also arranged collaborative events with the Charles Allis Art Museum, the Milwaukee Public Museum and the Milwaukee Public Library. "People said it was the first time they had literally stepped into the art museum."

On a mission

By 1985, Latino Arts became a distinct entity. Its stated mission at the time was to strengthen the cultural identity of local Latinos. A secondary goal was to enrich the greater Milwaukee area.

Having an arts group distinct from the UCC and yet enmeshed with it was thought to be a novel way to reach more Latinos. Latino Arts had a built-in audience at the UCC (and the groups shared staff as well). But additional local Latinos might be attracted to purely cultural events, especially in a comfortable, non-intimidating, nearby place, group leaders thought.

Many Latinos in the area didn't go to arts events in Milwaukee at that time, according to "Nuestro Milwaukee: The Making of the United Community Center," a history published in 2000. Often, there was little interest and a lack of transportation. Language barriers and admission costs were issues as well, the book states.

"Many of us typically have not been exposed to the fine arts," said Christine Rodriguez, who was recently named co-chair for the annual United Performing Arts Fund campaign. "(Latino Arts) is a way to engage the Hispanic community."

Having a separate arts organization also opened fund-raising doors, making it possible for Latino Arts to seek support from private foundations, corporations, individuals and public arts organizations interested primarily in the arts. Some of the group's major funding has come from Heartland Arts Fund, Milwaukee County, Milwaukee Arts Board, the National Endowment for the Arts, the United Performing Arts Fund, the Wisconsin Arts Board and the Wisconsin Humanities Council.

A few years after Latino Arts was created, an expansion of the UCC made it possible for space to be set aside to show visual arts and present performances. Before that, events were held in spots like the UCC gymnasium.

While the majority of artists who participate in Latino Arts events are Mexican and Puerto Rican, reflecting the population of Latinos in Milwaukee, the group has in recent years placed increasing emphasis on a diversity of Latino and Hispanic art from countries such as Venezuela, Brazil, El Salvador, Cuba and Spain.

Nearly 100,000 Latinos live in the Milwaukee area, according to Latino Arts, and the Latino population has grown to almost 9% in Milwaukee County.

Every exhibit and show is scrutinized carefully by Oszkay, the artistic director, who is a visual artist and has lived in Venezuela, Europe and California.

"I'll see something where I am traveling, and I say, 'Wow, we have to bring this show out.' "

Today, artists lobby to be included in the group's programming, Oszkay said.

"It is the pre-eminent place for Latino artists," said musician Felipe Rodriguez. "It has also given us artists exposure in the community, which is really key."

One highlight came in 1999, when Journal Sentinel classical music and dance critic Tom Strini named Noche Flamenca, with more than 75 dancers, musicians and chorus members, his third best classical music / dance event of the year.

Two years later, he called Tangokinesis the year's best concert. That show featured Ana Maria Stekelman, who, according to Strini, retained "all the grit and sexual heat of the traditional tango" while blending it with modern dance. Both events were co-sponsored by the UCC and held at the Pabst Theater.

Some competition

Despite its good work, one neighbor thinks the scope of Latino Arts has been limited.

"I have really felt that Latino Arts was focused almost exclusively on Latino artists and addressing itself to the Latino community," said Linda Corbin-Pardee of Walker's Point Center for the Arts, a group that's also in the neighborhood and focuses on exhibits and shows by artists of color.

"I have thought of them as a little more insular, so Latino-focused," she said, adding that she didn't believe officials at Latino Arts were very interested in the work of Walker's Point.

Corbin-Pardee said she views Walker's Point, rather, as a "bridge between communities," and anticipates increased competition from Latino Arts for funding.

The Modjeska Theatre, 1124 W. Mitchell St., also on the near south side, may eventually enter the fund-raising fray as well. The theater has had long-standing plans to transform itself into a center for the arts that could include galleries, meeting rooms, theaters and a day care center. Recently, a consultant was hired to make plans for a capital campaign, roughly projected to be between $6 million and $10 million.

"I think that there are those funds for the arts that will see us as doing the same service," said Corbin-Pardee of south side arts organizations that work with low-income children and with artists of color.

Latino Arts still needs to raise $500,000 to complete its recent capital campaign.


Poetry for the people

Poetry for the people
In Madison, it's out on the street and in your face

By John Lehman

Poetry is back from the grave it dug itself into and kicking up its heels in Madison.

Poetry may not grab the attention the local music scene does or be as widely reviewed as last week's Hollywood turkey. But that's okay. There's something going on here more intense than a polite reading at the library or an obscure chapbook that sneaks its way onto a bookstore shelf. Ron Wallace, head of the UW's Creative Writing Department, says, "Literature may not save us. But if it can't save us, it's at least one thing that makes us worth saving." And in Madison the "salvation" poetry offers is fast, loud, in your face and fun.

Open-mike readings are proliferating, with regular series all over town. Madison has an effervescent new poet laureate and an abundance of new publishers, journals, festivals, contests, chapbooks and web sites.

The scene is much stronger than it was 20 years ago, when I was first published in Abraxas and the Cardinal Bar was one of only two major venues for readings in town. Or even 10 years ago, when I started the literary magazine Rosebud. Poetry is no longer exclusively in the hands of the pretentious few but has become, as the poet Wallace Stevens said, "the voice that's great within us all."

The first stop for anyone interested in the Madison poetry scene should be the comprehensive guide at www.madpoetry.org. The handiwork of visual artist Jeannie Bergmann, it includes monthly calendars, workshops, listings of publications, profiles of poets, poetry, reviews, links and information on writing groups. Bergmann developed her site, she says, "because there was no central clearinghouse for area poetry information." Her effort exemplifies the "just do it" attitude behind the rebirth of Madison poetry.

As for local readings, the rowdiest is the perennial favorite, Cheap at Any Price, held the first and third Tuesdays of every month at Café Montmartre. Anyone can sign up for the open mike (reading for three to five minutes), which starts around 8 p.m. Once a month or so it is followed by a poetry slam. On a good night there are 50 to 60 in the audience of the faux-Left Bank wine bar and 10 to 12 presenting. Regulars are met with good-natured Wisconsin joshing, but there's always warm, supportive applause for first-time readers (even for those whose nervous voices make their words indecipherable despite a PA system). It's a quick audience that appreciates a particularly good line or an especially apt metaphor. Experienced poets use this opportunity to fine-tune new pieces, and for listeners it's as exciting as watching a name comic try out material in a small club.

When it's time for the slam (a kind of elimination play-off between two teams, often judged more by audience reaction than subtlety of content), much of the beer-drinking crowd have reached football frenzy. It's reminiscent of the jeering, laughing, weeping theater crowd in Shakespeare in Love. The audience becomes as much a part of the performance as the poet. Suddenly poetry is out of the tower and back in the streets with people, where it belongs.

Rusty Russell, the wry Cabaret-like MC and organizer of Cheap at Any Price for the past 11 years, says, "I'm trying to get more people involved through a newsletter, posters and direct invitations to groups, like the Latino community. There are an awful lot of folks who don't know we do this craziness two times a month. We want them to experience it, and at least once sample the vitality of performance poetry for themselves. Here there's a direct connection between writing and being heard. In three or four minutes a poet can create a whole world that you can step into and feel. That's what's exciting."

Russell contends that even slam poetry, which is fast, showy, often funny (and sometimes shallow and politically righteous), is pure entertainment. "It's a contest," he admits, "and if a poet wants to win, or get to the next round, he or she has to work the crowd into a froth."

Russell makes a passionate case for the relevance of his Cheap at Any Price events. "The essence of poetry is not the particular form, but emotion that you feel and evoke in others through language. We may not be comfortable feeling and expressing emotion in public, but recent events have shown how important this is."

Andrea Musher succeeded John Tuschen as Madison's official poet laureate last year. Tuschen had been appointed by Paul Soglin in the '70s. One of Musher's pieces appeared in that same 1981 Abraxas magazine that published my early poem. "Back then," she says, "poetry was active, but fragmented. You were black, feminist, gay, academic, etc. Your poetry proselytized to people already committed to the cause. It was exclusive, rather than inclusive. And the mark of success was getting your work printed in literary magazines and academic journals which themselves were becoming elitist."

Today, Musher says, poetry is more immediate. "There's radio, the Internet, coffeehouse/bookstore readings, cassettes and self-published chapbooks. There are good poetry groups, like the local Fellowship of Wisconsin Poets chapter, and numerous critiquing groups at the bookstores. The beauty is, you don't even have to belong to anything to participate. And not only can everyone be a poet but, as Marshall McLuhan said, thanks to the copy machine everyone can now be a publisher."

Musher's own pet project, the Poetry Buzz, sponsored in part by a Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission grant, is in the process of recording 52 Madison-area poets, including Andrea Potos, Dennis Trudell, Tenaya Darlington, Robin Chapman, Ruth Nichols, Lynn Patrick Smith, Richard Roe, Jeri McCormick, Oscar Mireles, Ron Ellis, Tom Neale, Ken Haynes, Francine Conley, Ron Wallace, Jeannie Bergmann, John Tuschen and dozens more, even me. A poet can be heard each Monday at 8:30 a.m. on WORT or at the Poetry Buzz web site at www.netphoria.com/wort/poetrybuzz, where you can read along with the spoken words. At the end of the year the project will be released as a CD.

Musher, along with Richard Roe and Robin Chapman, is a preliminary judge in the first annual poetry contest by the Wisconsin Academy Review, published here in Madison. The first prize of $500 is the biggest in the state; the deadline is Dec. 1. (See www.wisconsinacademy.org for details). State poet laureate Ellen Kort is the final judge.

Musher, a sort of frizzy-haired big sister to all Madison poets, is also co-editor (along with me) of a new free Madison quarterly called Cup of Poetry and a Side of Prose. Patterned after New York City's Literal Latte, each issue will feature two poems by 10 area poets and one or two pages of prose. It's available at local coffeehouses, bookstores and libraries. "Since the major daily and weekly newspapers and magazines of Madison don't publish poetry," Musher says, "we feel there's a need for this kind of outlet. The first issue focuses on sorrow and healing."

Other local poetry publications include Abraxas, the area's oldest independent publication; the Madison Review, published by the University of Wisconsin Creative Writing Department; my own Rosebud, now the third-largest-circulation literary magazine in the country; Mobius, whose fiction and poetry deal with social change; Modern Haiku, an international journal of English haiku and criticism; NeoVictorian/Cochlea, a magazine favoring traditional poetry, but also open to well formed free verse; and Sun-Optikos of Mount Horeb.

As for Madison-area publishers of poetry books, there's the UW-affiliated Parallel Press, which since 1998 has produced a string of quality chapbooks featuring many Madison poets; Ghost Pony Press; Silver Buckle Press; Eureka Publications; and Zelda Wilde Publishing, which will soon offer a biographical collection of letters and poems by Lorine Niedecker, perhaps Wisconsin's most internationally acclaimed poet (2003 marks the 100th anniversary of her birth).

Another relatively new publisher is Premiere Generation Ink (www.premieregeneration.com), which produces books and a biannual magazine besides organizing popular readings. Sachin Pandya, one of the founders of Premiere Generation Ink along with Yogesh Chawla and John Ejaife II, explains that he and his partners are first-generation Americans. "My parents came here from India 27 years ago," he says. "They saw it as a fit place to raise a family. But now, getting to their age, I've found myself becoming upset and certain that things are much worse than they ought to be, and that the mission of Premiere Generation Ink -- to foster cross-cultural communication -- has at no time been more necessary."

Pandya believes art should be cheap and accessible and help make each moment worthwhile. "Poetry is the most basic form of communication: words written and spoken," he says. "Every time we speak and express ourselves there is poetry in what we say and the way we live our lives. Poetry readings bring people together and get them to interact and share ideas. They create community and get us out of our houses, out from under our televisions, and speaking to each other face to face like real people."

Like Pandya, Bill Rodriguez wants poetry to be vital and immediate. An innovative member of Memorial High School's English Department, he has organized the popular Dane County Youth Poetry Festival for the past 15 years. When he moved here 20 years ago from the South Bronx he ran poetry readings Monday nights at the Creperie restaurant.

"Poetry was struggling in the schools in the '80s and '90s," he says, "but all of a sudden it has taken off. It may be that rap music has made the spoken word popular again."

At the annual festival hosted by his school, Rodriguez doesn't find rap influence in the poems' content, but in their intensity. "The rap kids are into the music scene," he says. "Those who write poetry concentrate on things like adolescent angst. It's the strong desire to find and communicate feelings through words that's new."

More than 70 schools participate in the Youth Poetry Festival. "And this year," Rodriguez says, "we had the first Isthmus Poetry Slam Project, held at the Civic Center during the Isthmus Jazz Festival." Seasoned poets Oscar Mireles and Fabu Carter Mogaka visited Memorial to prep students who wanted to perform.

Can poetry be taught? Rodriguez says, "You can help people avoid beginners' mistakes, support their growth and accept their individuality. As a listener I want to be awed. I like Hazlitt's theory: `Art has gusto!' By reading your poems aloud you can tell whether or not they're good enough. The ear is the best teacher. For a while we forgot that."

So is the Madison poetry scene truly entering a golden age?

"I'd love to see a time when people go to a bar to hear the spoken word, as much as they do to hear yet another blues band," says Rusty Russell. "In Madison, we're almost there."

This article originally appeared in the Isthmus on November 30, 2001.


Racine News Briefs from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Posted: Sept. 14, 2003

Library, group set aside day for Hispanic heritage

Racine - The Racine Public Library is joining forces with the Hispanic Roundtable to sponsor "Latino/Latina Voices: An Open Stage Gallery" to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month (Monday through Oct. 15).

"Latino/Latina Voices" will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesdays from Sept. 16 to Oct. 14 in the Meeting Room.

Guests are invited to read poetry or short stories, sing a song, display artwork or listen to others. Refreshments will be provided. The series will wrap up Oct. 14 with poet Oscar Mireles, the editor of "I Didn't Know There Were Latinos in Wisconsin: An Anthology of Hispanic Poetry."

The Hispanic Roundtable is seeking original art by local artists for display in the Meeting Room during Hispanic Heritage Month. To participate, call (262) 635-9791.

All programs are free and open to everyone. No reservations are necessary. A sign language interpreter is available by calling (262) 636-9217 one week in advance.


"Writers in the Round: Latino Voices"

Finally, Luana Monteiro, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison's master of fine arts program in creative writing, will read from her short story collection "Little Star of Bela Lua" with poets Oscar Mireles and Ruben Medina as part of the "Writers in the Round: Latino Voices" at 7 p.m. Nov. 29. The free presentation will be offered in the Wisconsin Studio in the Overture Center, 201 State St.


Latino writers illustrate different styles, cultures in forum

Latino writers illustrate different styles, cultures in forum
November 16, 2005
by Barbara Wolff

A trio of Hispanic writers representing a variety of Latino cultures will bring their distinctive, powerful voices to a reading forum at Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts on Tuesday, Nov. 29.

“We chose these writers because each has a distinct writing style and represents a specific cultural background within the Latino world. I admire them all for their work,” says Joan Fischer, associate director of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, which is organizing the event.

One of the participants is a Madison educator, another is from Mexico City and the third was born and raised in Brazil. They are:

Oscar Mireles, principal/executive director of Omega School, an alternative school in Madison, which has assisted more than 1,500 young adults to prepare for and complete their GED. He also is a member of the Minds Eye Radio Collective in Madison, which produces a show of spoken word poetry on WORT radio (89.9 FM), airing at 11 p.m. the first Friday of the month.

Mireles has been writing for 25 years, publishing a chapbook, “Second Generation” (Focus Communications, 1985) and editing two anthologies, “I Didn’t Know There Were Latinos in Wisconsin: 20 Hispanic Poets” (Focus Communications, 1989) and “I Didn’t Know There Were Latinos in Wisconsin: 30 Hispanic Poets” (Focus Communications, 1999). He has published more than 50 of his own poems in anthologies and journals.

Ruben Medina, from Mexico City, is a UW-Madison associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese and Chican@ and Latin@ studies. Medina has written a book of poetry, “Nomadic Nation/nacio’n no’mada” and a study of Nobel Prize-winning writer Octavio Paz (Escritura y Poetica de Octavio Paz, Mexico: El Colegio de Mexico, 1999). He currently is at work on a book of short stories, “El silencio del salvaje,” and a collection of essays on Mexican and Chicana/o literature and film.

Luana Monteiro, originally from Brazil, is an alumna of UW-Madison’s creative writing program. Her first book of short stories is “Little Star of Bela Lua” (Delphinium Books, 2005). “UW-Madison students will find her particularly inspiring. She was one of the first graduates of the university’s MFA program in creative writing,” Fischer says.

She adds that the three presenters also are primed to learn a good deal about each other’s work.

“The three of them represent not only a diversity of cultural backgrounds but also of age and gender,” she says.

The main presentation will begin at 7 p.m. in the Overture Center, 201 State St. Tickets are suggested to ensure seating and are available free at the Overture Center’s James Watrous Gallery.

The forum, part of the Wisconsin Academy’s Evenings at Overture series, is sponsored by UW-Madison, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation, M&I Bank, the Isthmus, Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek SC and individual donors. For more information contact Barb Sanford at 263-1692 or bsanford@wisconsinacademy.org, or visit http://www.wisconsinacademy.org.

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