A community of diverse poets and writers supporting literary arts in California. Somos en escrito provides a venue for these aspiring poets to feature their poetry, interviews, reviews and promote poetic happenings.
"Let your lips feel what I think/ Deja que tus labios sientan lo que pienso"
Paul Aponte's interview by Lucha Corpi with accompanying poetry
Paul Aponte is a Chicano Poet from Sacramento. He is a member of the writers’ group Escritores del Nuevo Sol. The poet Francisco X. Alarcón was one of the original founders of the group. Paul is also a member of Círculo, a group of poets from various cities in Northern California who come together to produce and promote poetry in workshops & public performances. The group is headed by poets Paul Aponte, Naomi Quiñonez. Lucha Corpi, Adela Najarro, Javier Huerta and Odilia Galván Rodríguez.
Paul has been published in Poetry In Flight (the Tecolote Press Anthology), Un Canto De AmorA Gabriel Garcia Márquez (a publication from the country of Chile), in the Anthology Soñadores - We Came To Dream, in La Bloga (a southwestern U.S. online literary review), and in the Los Angeles Review Volume 20 - Fall 2016, and is now often called upon to be the featured reader around the greater Sacramento and San Francisco Bay areas.
The Beginning: In the mid 90's Paul became a Web Jefe and published his poetry online. He then was an original member of the performance poetry group, Poetas Of The Obsidian Tongue (modeled after the San Diego based group Taco Shop Poets), performing throughout the South SF Bay area. Finally, in 1999 he published his 1st works in the book of poetry entitled Expression Obsession.
IN CONVERSATION Lucha Corpi (LC) and Paul Aponte (PA)
LC: Paul, Tell me something about your earlier years: Themes or subjects of interest, hobbies. Adventures. Misadventures. What path or paths brought you to writing poetry and reading or reciting your poems in public?
PA: I think my real plunge into poetry began in the early 90’s, when I decided to act on my knowledge that life was deep, complex, and filled with nuances beyond most people’s comprehension. Until then, I had felt stagnant and life deprived.
You see, I was a father of two young children and husband to a hard working wife, and I loved them all very much. I was also involved, more or less by default, in a religion that required a lot of my time. I would lead Bible studies, give speeches in various congregations, go preaching door to door, attend meetings 4 times a week, and help the congregation with the financial monthly reports. I did it very well because I was more capable than most. However, father time began wearing through the light coating of satisfaction I would get from helping out, and was replaced by frustration at some of the things I was forced to teach by the religious organization. I always knew the knowledge they shared was flawed, but the momentum of life kept me on this path that was not me.
So, I felt stagnant and life deprived. That is when I began writing every chance I’d get – usually during breaks at work. I kept a binder at work with many thoughts, rants, sketches, and some early (really bad) poetry. Somehow, within all these thoughts, I scribbled the words Expression Obsession, which became the title of my first publication; some of those rantings and words became a part of this book. Even though today some of those poems in my first publication make me cringe, I’m still proud of the fact that I went all out and did it at a time when it wasn’t an easy project to get done, and that I received positive comments from many poets I respected. Among them, Alurista, who by chance came across my book at the MACLA arts center bookstore in San Jose. He was performing later that evening with the group that I was a member of: Poetas Of The Obsidian Tongue. He mentioned that he found a book of poetry that he considered deeply honest and liked the voice of the poet, and asked if we knew him. I was floating on air for the rest of the day.
The religious organization excommunicated me for my “new” way of thinking, and I found myself free to be who I am. A free-thinking writer, a loving father and husband, and a flawed but generally loving human being (god I hate Prius drivers). LC: When I was six I was asked to memorize and recite poems at school and in public. I had no idea I would one day write poems of my own. But it took a series of painful events in my life as a young divorced woman and mother, and as a cultural transplant in the U.S., learning a second language to force open the gates of literary dams and let the streams flow and reveal what was in my heart, mind and soul. This is my experience. How about yours? When did you start writing
PA: Hah-hah! I can see you reciting poetry as a cute little girl in school! It would be great to time travel and look back at those events. I think I was about 7 or 8 when I was taught by my uncle to recite with my brother a poem for my Mother, who was visiting us from the states. She was impressed and shed tears, but that was the first and only poem I remember being involved in as a child. My writing really began on its own. It flowed from the aforementioned life stagnancy, but also from the losses of family members that I loved and respected. I think mainly, though, from my openness to a great desire to write. For me, somehow, out of nowhere, I get a thought or even a complete poem in my head, and I stop whatever I’m doing and write. I feel lucky or tortured (still not sure) that I have to write.
Poet Paul Aponte at 2 years old.
LC: Between ages 6 and 12, what kinds of subjects more than interested and impacted you?
PA: There were two subjects that still interest me to this day. Oddly on the surface they appear to have nothing to do with words or poetry. They are arithmetic-mathematics-geometry, and ancient artifacts and ruins of the ancient peoples of southern Mexico.
About math, I just love the honesty and truth in numbers. There can be no lies, and no matter how complex the problem, there is always a solution, even if that is zero or null. I like the process of chipping away at a mountainous conglomeration of words and numbers, organizing it into several pieces, and then resolving those pieces to put together towards the final solution. I’m not a genius at Math, and I don’t always get it, but do enjoy it.
About my love of ancient ruins: You see, I lived in La Plaza De Las Tres Culturas, in 1960's Nonoalco, Tlatelolco, México D.F. "Las Tres Culturas" was the Aztec, Spanish, and the Mestizo, as seen thru their architecture. We always had one lookout for the "tecolotes" (brown-suited police) who would surely arrest all of us, if they could catch us. Actually, one or two were usually caught, but it was way too much fun. We'd play spider-man. Climbing and clinging to the lava rock walls of the Aztec ruins, jumping from one wall to another, and hoping our grip was as good as our courage.
We would often find obsidian knives and arrows, along with clay figurines, in the evenings at dig sites around this area where they were laying down plumbing or repairing something down below level ground. It amazed me that so much life and history was here so long ago, and that then conquerors changed the area to what we knew today.
This same area was the site of many a conflict between the "estudiantes" and "granaderos". I was living there, in the middle of the conflict. Molotov Cocktails going off, bullets flying, students running, granaderos giving chase. We would sleep in the hallway, to ensure stray bullets had a chance to be stopped by a 2nd wall, but no bullets ever came near our 2nd floor apartment at San Juan de Letrán 402, Edificio C-11, Entrada 5, Departamento 201. At a time when every corner, every building entrance, every building top, had a fully armed soldier my uncles opted to put my brother and I on a bus to Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, to live with my maternal grandparents - Jesús and Casimira Canchola.
I was deeply impressed by my having lived there during my formative years.
LC: Have any of those subjects, hobbies, themes still resonate in you at present?
P.A. It is what I know about myself. I feel I am a child and a grown-up. A mature, intelligent, fully formed 6 year old, and a playful, giddy, un-focused 60 year old. I am all times in my life, I was now – then, and am then - now. I don’t want to forget or erase any pains, but forgive all and live to the fullest today, and I keep coming across the same path in different forms. My life is on a Mobius strip.
Yes. Those themes resonate with me to this day.
LC: When did you start playing music and what role has it played in your poetic production?
PA: As a child, I saw my father and my brother Louie sing and play guitar. My mother sang beautifully as she worked around the house. When I moved to Mexico City with my uncles, I was 5, and my Tío Ángel, played guitar and sang corridos. I naturally progressed to wanting to learn to play. Later, when my voice changed in my early teens, I began to explore singing and took guitar lessons in high school. To this day, I enjoy playing and singing. This is its own creative outlet, and my experiences and creativity come from different sources for music vs. writing. However, there may be a fine thread between poetry and some of the very few songs I’ve composed, but that is pretty much it. I’ve often been at poetry events where music is available to be played with my words, and I usually opt out.
LC: Have you set any of your poems to music? Written songs?
PA: No. I’ve only written songs for music, and separately written poetry. It would be a dream come true if a professional musician would use my poetic words for a recording, but I don’t have that capability, that skill.
LC: As far back as you can remember, when was the first time the “muse” spoke to you or the “duende” (a spirit) tricked you into writing a poem, although you might not have called it a poem?
PA : Well, el “duende” was me because I wanted to impress a girl (who later became my wife) and so I wrote my first poem when I was 16 years old. I’m pretty sure I still have that poster with a poem. I also water-colored a rose on it, and called it “La Rosa Inmarchitable” and later wrote a song by the same name (but completely different words).
LC: How/when/where did you come to realize you were a poet? Was there an instant of revelation, or a déjà vu moment--something you had felt all along but hadn’t yet named? Something that was as common as nourishment/a meal?
PA: I knew that I was not only a poet, but a Chicano Poet, after I went to the Chicano Poetry workshop led by Marc David Pinate in San Jose, California. I think it was 1996.
LC: How many of those earlier feelings, predilections, revelations, negative or positive experiences still move you to write?
PA: My connection to the Aztec culture can still be an influence, because the boundary of a forward moving time capsule disappeared for me with my experiences around their ancient ruins, and I feel very connected to it. I like to point to the mural depicting the market of Tlatelolco and the ancient Aztec city by Diego Rivera as the place where I lived about 500 years later.
LC: You must also feel very connected and perhaps you identify more closely with Odysseus as I noticed that you have titled one of your poems, a great poem, as “Ithaca.” If I remember correctly, it is the kingdom and home of one of the heroes in The Illiad. He is the main character-hero Odysseus in the classic epic poem The Odyssey by Homer. Odysseus has been considered by many critics and writers as the prototypical, common man, an existential man, a modern man: inquisitive, willing to take calculated risks, adventurous and smart. In the end, he is also a man bound by duty to family and country. How is all this significant for you if so, since your life, as you have related here, has also been a kind of “odyssey?”
PA:Interesting that you caught this to ask a question. It’s about all the things you mention in your question about Odysseus. However, I was deeply impressed by Odysseus’ adventures, which were really an exploration of the unconscious, and his subsequent “awakening” to the realization of who he was and where he belonged. That “awakening” was my experience. I came to know that I would never find home if I didn’t live life with truth and honesty to my knowledge and acquired wisdom. Now that I do, now that I am in the realm of the conscious, I have found my home in a truly amazing love, my life partner and wife, Anita.
LC: Any future plans, publications, readings or other programs worth mentioning here? Please do tell us.
PA. Maybe this year or next year I plan to put together much of my poetry in one final book. I’ve also been considering writing an adventure novel that would require more time than I have available right now, but I am excited about it. That may have to wait until I retire, and as things are, it will not be anytime soon.
LC. Gracias, Paul. It has been a most enjoyable and rewarding conversation with you. I look forward to reading more of your poetry, and of course listening to you reading it for a total enjoyment.
PASSION THAT FOLDS Kiss me with your eyes Touch me with your mind Vibrate like a silenced alarm
Let your lips feel what I think Let your torso note the caresses of my perceptions Your buttocks my strong hands that lift you on to my thighs of passion That scream for your sliding heat and moans and sighs with low tones that call the flames and the tireless rhythm
Until the physical rejections due to the unrestricted and growing explosive pleasure
Until then when you close your doors and bend your beautiful body in pleasure that pleads for the end Only then Do I love you again.
PASIÓN QUE DOBLA Bésame con tus ojos Tócame con tu mente Vibra como alarma en silencio
Deja que tus labios sientan lo que pienso Que tu torso note las acaricias de mis percepciones Tus glúteos mis manos fuertes que te levantan sobre mis muslos de pasión Que gritan por tu calor deslizante Y gemidos Y suspiros con tonos bajos que llaman las llamas y el incansable ritmo
Hasta los rechazos físicos por el irrestricto y creciente placer explosivo
Hasta entonces que cierras tus puertas y doblas tu hermoso cuerpo en placer que ruega fin
Sólo entonces te vuelvo a amar.
MY ITHACA, MY HOME The gentle, cool breeze. The shade under this lush tree. Laying upon bay leaves. Your beautiful feet on my thighs. Your smile. All. Pillow of my being, my Ithaca.
MI ÍTACA, MI HOGAR El viento lento y fresco. La sombra bajo este frondoso árbol. Reposando sobre hojas de laurel. Tus pies bellos sobre mis muslos. Tu sonrisa. Todo. Almohada de mi ser, mi Ítaca.
FRANCISCO X. ALARCON WORKSHOP Flower and song blooms birthing spirit teachers learning flourishing
Poetic mint plant love's gift to relax and cure spreading and growing
A magical feast motivating soul and mind Expansion of love creating spirit teachers an Earth cleansed with In lak'ech
EAST SIDE Checkalo: Super Taqueria, Century 21 turned into a Mercado, Mervyn's Home Depot. Story Rd with no more stories.
The home of memories standing, The orchards & morning fog gone. Old pachanga and gathering places replaced.
Chicanos y hueros ahora más revueltos con Tortas y Pho y Tikka Masala.
The low riders resting in garages, The cars of the streets angry, claustrophobic, and green light deprived. The old panaderias y mercados paved over with unoriginal shopping centers with expensive coffee and bumptious pastries.
But we're still there. On clear blue skies Alum Rock Park beckons or el Happy Hollow. The car covers come off. The dark glasses and slicked back hair come on. The moves are on, and we join nuestros carnales en el parque porque ya aprendimos a hacer arrachera, and to eat frijoles y salsa with nan, and start with a rice noodle vegetable soup, y nos encanta.
Las noches pasan. Los árboles se marchitan. La vida se estremece. La Madre Tierra rompe en llantos. La industria se cuelga. Lento, lento. Apretando el nudo. Asfixiando su vida, y toda vida, y los déspotas sonríen.
The nights go by. The trees wilt. Life shudders. Mother Earth breaks into tears. Industry hangs itself. Slow, slow. Tightening the noose. Asphyxiating its life, and all life, and the despots smile.
Feathers, sonidos de cascabeles & voices of protest. Words for a better tomorrow, and chatting about Pepe y la Goya, and tonight’s pachanga.
Mistress of my soul, cultura Chicana, Mestiza, Mexicana, Abuelo y Abuela, Nana y la Nena.
Vertical, sobre pies, marchando, ergidos. Marcha de acuerdo, unidad, en manifestación y lucha.
“What do we want JUSTICE!!! When do we want it NOW!!!”
Drumming & danza and calls to action. Pre Columbian art & musings at Southside Park, in Cesar Chavez’ energy, in RCAF’s spirit, in the shade of past battles fought.
“Los pueblos, unidos, ¡jamás serán vencidos!”, y los cascabeles suenan como lluvia fuerte que no para.
Lucha Corpi, born in México, came to Berkeley as a student wife in 1964. She is the author of two collections of poetry, two bilingual children’s books,six novels, four of which feature Chicana detective Gloria Damasco, and her latest, Confessions of a Book Burner: Personal Essays and Storiesissued in 2014. She has been the recipient of numerous awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts, an Oakland Cultural Arts fellowship, and the PEN-Oakland Josephine Miles and Multicultural Publishers Exchange Literary Award. A retired teacher, she resides in Oakland, California.
Paul Aponte is a Chicano Poet from Sacramento. He is a member of the writers groups Círculo and Escritores Del Nuevo Sol (Writers Of The New Sun). He has been published in the El Tecolote Press Anthology Poetry in flight, Un Canto De Amor A Gabriel Garcia Márquez, a publication from the country of Chile, in the anthology Soñadores - We Came To Dream; La Bloga, "Los Angeles Review Volume 20 - Fall 2016," and in Escritores del Nuevo Sol / Writers of the New Sun: Anthology. Much of his poetry can also be found in Facebook.