Let me say what I have to say. Let me say what I think you haven’t heard but assumed and let me at least try to help you understand where I’m coming from. Give me a chance to ask some questions. Questions like, Where does a brown poet exist in the canon of American Poetry, or Why do I want so bad to be a part a voice within a country that metaphorically and even geographically, places me on its edges and away from its heart. Let me explain how I am both Mexican American and American Mexican, as much as that makes you purse your lips with bitterness like you just tried Limon7 for the first time. Let me tell you, about poetry.
Poetry is a collection of words. It’s lines, form, metaphor, similes and at the same time, it is none of those things. Poetry is an experience, a look inside of the soul that isn’t caged or weight down by plot points or a beginning, middle and end. Odd however, that even without these things, without a three-act structure and everything else you like to see, I can still tell you my story. Poetry is a tool for me to explain to you how I swim in your “melting pot”. Because I can flex, boast and even mock you with emulations of your great American authors to show you that I know what you know and that I, like you, can respect and aspire to be your heroes just as much as you can. And with the weight of my words and my work, I can show you that despite the color of my skin I can be like Walt Whitman and write about grass in a country where you think all I can do with grass is mow it.
Because they are not your American authors, are they? Because one thing poetry cannot be is owned by any one group of people; it can’t be enslaved, can’t be deported, can’t be put in cages and above all else, cannot be silenced. Poetry isn’t exclusive, it isn’t close minded but instead inspires growth. The growth of people, the growth of the poet, the growth of communities. Because communities are not broken down by poetry but instead, they are created and flourish because of it. Poetry exists because of these communities and not in spite of them.
Listen, I think we got off on the wrong foot. What I am not trying to do is draw a line between us and push you out of what I claim to be universal. Really, I mean it. Tell me about how beautiful Pacific Coast Highway is in the summer. I want to hear all about it. Tell me about what a nice piece of Americana it is, and how it represents the glitz and glamour of California. I promise I’ll say nice things like that’s interesting, I didn’t know that, and I guess I never really looked at it that way. Mostly because I’ve never driven down Pacific Coast Highway. But hey, that’s why there has to be more than one person that writes poetry. More than that two people should probably write it now that I think about it. Maybe three people should write, or four, or five, or actually, I think everyone should write poetry. It’s how we’ll move forward. It’s how I can begin to understand you and you can begin to understand me. And together, we can begin to make sense of current American chaos that begins with division.
Make poetry, not tweets.
Make poetry, not Facebook comments.
Because online, all people ever want to talk about is other people. They want to get angry and fight with each other and express not who they are but who they are not. So why not use poetry to fill in the blanks? How about this, how about everyone get offline for just a week, and instead of posting comments, they write a poem. Write a poem about their childhood, about the people that raised them, about their teachers, their influences, their news anchors, their hopes, their dreams and their tragedies. Too much? I’m sorry, I thought you liked John Lennon. He wasn’t “American” by the way, just looked the part.
But at the same time, aren’t you a little curious about the people you’ve made to feel so unwelcome? Don’t you care even a little bit about how much they respect your “American Dream”? You really don’t care? About the dreamers, the disenfranchised, the murdered, the caged, the poor, the other? Poetry will make you care. Poetry will show you why you should care. Poetry will make you feel what it’s like to be the other. Poetry is a teacher. It’ll teach you like it taught me. Here I was, thinking that America’s problems were centuries ago when really, they are still just an arm’s reach away. But it will also arm you, motivate you and inspire you to bring upon change.
Learn with me, learn that the heart of America needs ventricles of color to keep it beating. Read poems and discover that the pieces of the American puzzle that you’ve been chucking in the trash, convinced they didn’t fit, did fit, but you were looking at the puzzle all wrong. Now you can see the bigger picture. A picture that’s only going to continue to grow and expand in the face of bigotry.
Let me invite you to Lady Liberty’s Quinceañera. The invitation says ANYONE can speak when it’s time to give a toast. Because contemporary poetry, especially in America, is going to become poetry for anyone by everyone. And if you have something to say you better say it because everyone needs to hear it. Everyone needs to hear why American Poetry doesn’t just belong to “Americans” anymore, but instead belongs to Mexican Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans and every other person that doesn’t even get a chance to exist on your government forms.
I want so bad for these words to be true. I want poetry and publishers to less exclusive and more open and accepting. In an ideal world, I imagine Mexican poets being published without having to jump through hoops and cross their fingers to be at the right place at the right time. I hope that eventually, there are more right places and right times. I want for people like me to be able to find open doors and not doors that they have to break down just to make a living. I hope that the great American Puzzle is solved and that every piece is seen and admired for its own unique beauty and contribution.
And that’s where we are. We want to be heard. I want to be heard. Because if you can hear us, if everyone can hear us, then all the people that look like me can hear me. Kids that write in journals but don’t think their work is worth a damn can hear me and realize that yes, it actually is worth more than they could ever realize. I hope for more poets. So, with these final words in this manifesto I plead with readers to keep on reading and for writers to keep on writing.
I recognize that this isn’t the ideal ending for a manifesto. It might even feel slightly underwhelming. But what I will say is that much like fight to break out of the fringes and into the world of American poetry and literature, this manifesto is not an end but a beginning.