Friday, August 7, 2015

Youth Poets

On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to meet a group of youth from the South West Youth and Family Services Young Writer's Workshop. I was invited to chat with them about writing and to read some of my work. Every summer they gather to to express the Word -- what is true and beautiful and hard in their lives. The Boot is where their poems are published.

They will celebrate the release of The Boot on August 12th, 2015 at 5:30 in the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center's auditorium in West Seattle. AND, this year The Boot returns to its original print format. Don't miss their performance and get a hold of that chapbook - It is worth every line!

Here is the one of the poems I read for them:

On my way to the Castle

Twice a day
This walk
Past empty corner lots
Liquor stores
Boarded up buildings
Prayer Mission Pentecostal Church
Retired condoms
Stuck in gutters
Lotto tickets littering sidewalks
The reek of despair
From seedy motel rooms
The color TVs can’t hide the stench
Praise Fellowship Christian Church
Twice a day
This walk
Past sullen faces with hawk eyes
Flimsy bodies inside loose garments
Boys, their wings of love lost long ago
Now turned into vermin spirits
Feasting on decay
Center of Hope Community Church
If a soul needs
Or if the weight of things
Becomes unbearable 
Comes in many colors and languages
On Macarthur Boulevard
Available at each block
Between 72thh and 86th streets
Centro Evangelista Bethel
Todos los días
A lump in your throat
Reliving your little brother’s asthma attack
The rape of your 20 year old aunt
The day before
The robbery at gunpoint of your best friend
 Al Islam Community Education Center
At the end of the road
Is a school
It once looked like a medieval
Castle high on a mount
Surrounded by lawn and roses.
Now black spears
Surround its tower
The moat long and narrow
Love Involvement Fellowship Education
This walk
Every day
How to think about factoring integers?
What about the causes of World War I?
Crafting a thesis statement?
All elemental truths
Like the mattress
With guts spilled out
In the middle of the sidewalk
Or the apartment windows
Dressed with stained sheets
Tied at the corners
                  Greater Life Community Outreach Christian Church
Walk and think
How to make yourself invisible
In each one of your classes
Hide your body neatly
Behind the head in front
When the teacher
Calls on you
The lump in your throat throbs
The worms 
Too many to hold back
Can come flying out
Spill out onto the desk
Crawl their hideous crawl 
Vision Ministries
But you are too kind
You spare your classmates the horror
And look back with an empty stare
Smile politely,
Hopefully, earn a pass
You ask yourself
Does anyone ever vomit
Whose wings lift
The grayness of things?

Originally published in Milvia Street  2010

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Summer of Writing

With Luis Alberto Urrea
It started in Truchas, New Mexico with an inspiring three-day long conversation about poetry, readings and sharing with Ilya Kaminsky, Veronica Golos and Jeffrey Levine and poets from Boston, to Los Angeles, Washington to Louisiana.

Then off to Squamish, BC for a week at Quest Writer's Conference with Gregory Orr, Joy Harjo, Alicia Ostriker, Oliver de la Paz and Rebecca Brown. Re-connected with a VONA (Voices of Our Nation) sister and met a cohort of super talented, accomplished writers from Canada and the US.

Port Townsend, WA was my next stop - a week in a gorgeous location in a memoir workshop with the fabulous Wendy Call sharing space and soaking up readings by Luis Alberto Urea, Joseph Stroud, Gary Copeland Lilley and others.

Finally, back in New Mexico at MALCS (Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social) Summer Institute con el corazon en la mano - sharing ideas, cultura, poetry with an extraordinary group of Native American, Chicana and Latina women.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Politics Poetic - Words' Worth. The Official Poetry Program of the Seattle City Council

Why I love Seattle. Reason # 31

How about starting a City Council Meeting with poetry?  Hello! 

LA?  NY?  San Francisco? 

You would think, but no, these cities don't do it.  

Seattle, on the other hand, does. 

Below is a link to the time when I read before a meeting of the 
Housing, Human Services, Health and Culture Committee. 

Words' Worth The official poetry program of the Seattle City Council

And here is the link to the hard copy of the poems I read that day:

Words' Worth - Claudia Castro Luna

Libraries - Why I love Seattle. Reason # 16

When it comes to public investment in the literary arts Seattle does not disappoint. There are 27 branches of the Seattle Public Library tucked in every corner of the city.  At least twice a week, I go to one of the four libraries in my part of town. My kids love them too and this summer, we've decided to visit all of the branches. West Seattle, Delridge, High Point, South West, South Park, Beacon Hill, Ballard, Columbia City and International District branches are already crossed out from our list -- we got an early start during spring break. 

The thing is, Seattle is full of people who like me, love books and libraries. Love them so much that a well endowed public library system is not enough. So it is that the Free Little Library phenom has found well-amended soil here. Two years ago, there were two Little Free Libraries in my neighborhood. Carried in the swell of the idea, I put one in front of my house. Now there are 15, carefully painted, little home-shaped boxes within a ten minute walk from my house.

All over Seattle the peculiar boxes await to delight the passerby. I see them in front of  apartment buildings, churches, restaurants, bars. Once on a rainy afternoon, lost in the streets of the Columbia City neighborhood I found one with a nest egg of poetry books. I could not help myself and took three books instead of one. I drove back to it a few weeks later with books to replace the ones taken, but I could not find the street again. Somehow, that wonderful little library got thrown into the mosh pit of my library addicted brain. Solution:  carry in the car a few books I wish to donate, just in case I come across another irresistible find. Living in Seattle I know I will. 

Not better than this

I go for a walk
come back with a book
blue slate and gray
the weather conspires
and chases away
all glare on the page

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Jack Straw Writers

It has been an amazing experience to be part of this years Jack Straw Writers Program!

Each year twelve writers/writing teams are selected by a curator out of dozens of applicants, based on artistic excellence, diversity of literary genres, and a cohesive grouping of writers. Live readings are recorded, and selected portions are produced for podcasts and radio broadcast.

The 2014 Jack Straw Writers are Laurel AlbinaClaudia Castro LunaMargot KahnLoreen Lilyn Lee,Susan MeyersJohn MullenMichelle PeñalozaGigi RosenbergRaúl SánchezAnastacia Tolbert,Jane Wong, and Kristen Millares Young.

For now this year's anthology can be obtained from Jack Straw ( soon it will be in some local bookstores. 


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Gente de Fuego - People of Fire

The news from El Salvador these past couple of weeks have revolved around volcano eruptions and the upcoming presidential election.  And though dissimilar in their nature, upon closer inspection, they reveal a connection -- even if the connection is a poetic one.

Chaparrastique is the volcano in San Miguel that spewed gas and ashes this past December. 1,653 individuals were evacuated from the area around the volcano as a preventive measure in case a harsher eruption followed. President Mauricio Funes asked that the event not be used as election fodder and that instead the focus be on protecting the residents that could be affected by the volcano's eruptions.

The upcoming elections was the main topic of a talk sponsored by Seattle CISPES and given by Francisca Iraheta Romero, a school principal in El Salvador, and a member of ANDES, the Salvadoran Teacher's Union. She spoke eloquently and with great warmth about the importance of US neutrality in the upcoming elections. The people of El Salvador, she argued, need to decide on their own who their next president will be.

According El Salvador's Instituto Universitario de Opinion Publica, the election is very close. Salvador Sanchez Ceren, a former teacher and the FMLN candidate leads with 38.4 percentage points while the ARENA candidate, Norman Quijano, trails with 33.4 percent. The last presidential election (2009) was a watershed moment in Salvadoran history. It was the first time that a fair election was held and the voice of the people honored.

There are 23 volcanoes in El Salvador. The country's soil has many times been wetted by the scorching, angry tongue leaping from the center of the earth. The earth's red mantle has covered valleys, ravines, dipped in rivers, made the coast's silky black sand, made our genes quick to spark. It has made us a fiery people. Somos gente de fuego. Red the lava from the volcanoes and red the blood of our compatriots who fell in colonial wars, the massacre of 1932, the Civil War, and the ongoing senseless murders fueled by gang rivalries. 

This election, if held without outside interventions, will offer a chance for us to ignite a new course, to dial a new cycle in our history. Maybe then the color of Peace will spill over our small land.

Claribel Alegria in her poem, Flores del Volcan, eloquently brings together our volcanos and the turbulence of our political struggles. I copy it here in the hope that a new cycle will soon begin. 

Flores Del Volcan 
       por Claribel Alegria

Catorce volcanes se levantan
en mi pais memoria
en mi pais de mito
que dia a dia invento
catorce volcanes de follaje y piedra
donde nubes extrañas se detienen
y a veces el chillido
de un pajaro extraviado.
Quien dijo que era verde mi país?
es mas rojo
es mas gris
es mas violento:
el Izalco que ruge
exigiendo mas vidas
los eternos chacmol
que recogen la sangre
del chacmol
y los huerfanos grises
y el volcan babeando
toda esa lava incandescente
el guerrillero muerto
y los mil rostros traicionados
y los niños que miran
para contar la historia. 
No nos quedo un reino
uno a uno cayeron
a lo largo de America
el acero sonaba
en los palacios en las calles 
en los bosques
y saqueaban el templo
los centauros
y se alejaba el oro
y se sigue alejando
en barcos yanquis
el oro del cafe
mezclado con la sangre
mezclado con el latigo
y la sangre.
El sacerdote huia
dando gritos
en medio de la noche
convocaba a sus fieles
y abrian el pecho como un guerrero
para ofrecerle al Chac
su corazón humeante.
Nadie cree en Izalco
que Tlaloc este muerto
por mas televisores
el ciclo ya se acerca
es extrano el silencio del volcan
desde que dejo de respirar
Centroamerica tiembla
se derrumbo Managua
se hundio Guatemala
el huracan Fifi
arraso con Honduras
dicen que los yanquis lo desviaron
que iba hacia Florida
y lo desviaron
el oro del cafe
desembarca en New York
allí to tuestan
lo envasan
y le ponen un precio.
"Siete de Junio
noche fatal
bailando el tango
la capital."
Desde la terraza ensombrecida
se domina el volcan de San Salvador
le suben por los flancos
mansiones de dos pisos
protegidas por muros
de cuatro metros de alto
le suben rejas y jardines
con rosas de Inglaterra
y araucarias enanas 
y pinos de Uruguay
un poco mas arriba
ya en el crater
hundido en el crater
viven gentes del pueblo
que cultivan sus flores
y envian a sus niños a venderlas.
El ciclo ya se acerca
las flores cuscatlecas
se llevan bien con la ceniza
crecen grandes y fuertes
y lustrosas
bajan los niños del volcán
bajan como la lava
con sus ramos de flores
como raíces bajan
como rios
se va acercando el ciclo
los que viven en casas de dos pinos
protegidas del robo por los muros
se asoman al balcon
ven esa ola roja
que desciende
y ahogan en whisky su temor
solo son pobres niños
con flores del volcan
con jacintos
y pascuas
y mulatas
pero crece la ola
que se los va a tragar
porque el chacmol de turno
sigue exigiendo sangre
porque se acerca el ciclo 
porque Tlaloc no ha muerto.

          Taken from Esto Soy, Concultura, San Salvador, 2004

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Last thought: Pope Francis I

Last night, by sheer coincidence, I ended up reading two articles about Pope Francis that made me consider my own feelings toward the new Pope and my relationship with the Catholic Church during the past four years.

In the Salvadoran paper El Faro the writer Ricardo Ribera gives a moving, at times funny, personal account of his strained relationship with the Catholic Church. He muses on the fact that one of his middle names is Francisco and considers the implications of sharing his name with the Pope. Ribera writes that after years of distance from the Catholic Church the Pope's humble ways, his critique of unbridled capitalism, his solidarity with the poor, his message of inclusivity, is slowly working in him to consider the Church in a different light. It is not so bad, even if insignificant in the scope of things, Ribera concludes, to share his middle name with the new Pope.

Writing in the The New Yorker John Carroll's article is not as personal or as humorous as Ribera's, but it gives an in-depth account of Francis' papacy thus far. Carroll describes the subtle and not so subtle ways in which Pope Francis is challenging the ways of the Vatican. On the subtle: shunning the luxury of the Vatican for more practical, and every day, ways of being like wearing regular black shoes instead of the red handmade slip ons Popes have worn or driving a Ford Focus instead of a Mercedes. On the not so subtle: appointing a group of cardinals from all continents to an advisory group instead of relying on the advise of the insular Vatican Curia.

I am not a church going person and struggle with the positions of the Catholic Church with respect to women, abortion and contraceptive use.  I became a full catholic as an adult and for a while I attended mass regularly, despite my concerns with the issues mentioned.  When it became clear that the Church actively supported the anti-gay marriage Prop 8 initiative in California I stopped going altogether. That things have changed in California and gays can now marry is beside the point. The sour taste has lingered in my mouth.

Yet, since Pope Francis took office, I like Mr. Ribera, have felt the stirrings of the faith. When Pope Francis responded to Antonio Spadaro, on a question about gays with, "Who am I to judge?" I started to pay attention, maybe even to soften my stance vis a vis the Church.

I was taught 30 plus years ago, in the parochial school I attended in El Salvador, that the church is the people. A church without a congregation, no matter how beautiful, is just a building. An empty hull. It is people with their hearts and their spirits that make up the Church. That moment during mass when we open up our hands to say the Lord's Prayer, that sublime moment, when I can feel spirit dancing on my open palms; the energy of the congregation, that is the Church. And because the Church is people - of all backgrounds and sexual orientations - the obligation of the Church must be with its congregants not with itself. I believe Pope Francis is getting at this fact when he exhorts everyone to remember the poor, to honor the plight of immigrants, to remember incarcerated youth and when he says, "Who am I to judge?"

As ambivalent as I am about the Catholic Church, the fact is that it is part of my cultural identity and a vessel of personal memory. Both of my grandmothers were deeply spiritual and religious women. When I enter a Catholic church and kneel in prayer, I kneel alongside my grandmothers. With every bit of a tamal pisque I eat during Holy Week I remember my childhood, my parents, my country. When I enter the church at five in the morning on the Feast Day of the Virgen de Guadalupe with hundreds of others I am bigger than myself; I am filled with deep sympathy and love.

The way is long for the Church to be a truly inclusive body and to tend to the needs of the weakest among us. But it is refreshing to see that finally there is someone at the helm who might understand this. What Pope Francis is doing and saying is hugely important even when imperfect. For me it means that instead of focusing on all the ways in which the Church has wronged and exploited and repressed, I can contemplate the possibility of coming together with others, on seeking common ground, on being close to my departed, and in a way, on being closer to myself.