Group Activities

Salons. Workshops. Clubs. Collectives. Colonies.

I’ve always been interested in trying to form a group of writers and artists. Something to develop connections, experiment with work, create an audience, and to overall support the individual artist in their work. Unfortunately, it has never worked out. There are numerous of reason for it. In my own case, it was mostly my crippling inability to interact properly with people… at least after a certain length of time. However, I do think there are other causes for my failures.

One big issue is that a group MUST certain around something, and that something is usually political. This was actually one of my early mistakes with a “group” (originally meant to be a small publication) called Burro Char. In this case, it was centered around an idea of a form of literature that was developed out of both the techniques from the Surrealists (Automation) and the Oulipo (Constrained Techniques). I believed that in folding the two together, there could be the possibility of develop a near infinity amount of possibilities for each individual writer. There was also an ill-developed attempt to reflect the “organized-chaos” of our society in there. It never occurred to me that people wouldn’t jump to the idea. It also never occurred to me how many people who attempt to take credit of it. It left too much black and white in a scenario that I envisioned to be the ultimate shades of grey. It gave the impression that one needed to be interested or you get out. Then you have the groups where this IS the case.

There has been many groups in my personal experience that has had this take-it-or-leave-it attitude. I never got along well with them. However, many groups that I just saw perform have much the same mentality. It never made sense to me. It once sense, it’s a marketing ploy like no other. Marketing to who though? The literary industry isn’t, and hasn’t been, one that supports artistic endeavors for the sake of Art. It’s one based high on profits. If a writer can’t sell, what use are they? If this group can only bring in a dozen people, with most of that dozen just regulars attending that venue, then what use are they? Unfortunately, this seems to be driven more by ego. An exercise of ego supporting ego. If something has no monetary prospects, then we must rely the prospects of social status.

The most unfortunate part is that these issues have burrowed their way very early in a writer’s development – through the college system. In my own college, I’ve noticed that there really isn’t a develop group for writers and artists. There is a literary/art magazine, but it seems as if they are on a slight hiatus. Then the English department seems to have no visual representation whatsoever. This is a college that is known for producing some great writers, with a great creative writing program. Nothing.

There seems to be an obvious caution here. Artists, at least in this city, seem too protective of their work. I’ve found myself guilty of this time and time again. Who wants to share their work in an atmosphere where people seem to judge and reject over attempting to understand and interact? I’ve been lucky enough to experience the Graphic Arts community and there is indeed a world of difference. Comic Book Artists, for the most part, are leagues more supportive of each other than nearly any writer could be. Why? Well, there is definitely more money in it. (More money than zero at any case.) There is definitely a more wider and supportive audience. I also think that there is a wide diversity in styles that leave people feeling unchallenged by one another (most of the time). (Unlike writing, that seems to consistently universalize or market a single type of writing).

There should definitely be chances taken. I doubt that there will ever be a well-known group of writers, but there could definitely be one that attempts to develop literature as a whole – something that could attract people of all backgrounds. Who knows…

“I Don’t Like This Book”

Having a negative view on anything seems to always be met with negative views. I don’t there has been several times in this blog where I’ve been negative in one way or another. When I had been especially negative, I always get some push back for it. That’s fine. The issue that seems to be present is the way people look at book.

I’d offer that people tend to look at books with too much respect. Here is an object that took a lot of time to create, or so we imagine, and it must be respected. People really seem absent minded on the sort of system in place today with most publications. Books can be, and have been, and will be, printed out in an instant. There are ways for writers to literally take it right from the first draft, organize it quick, and have it printed the same week. Things even go faster in terms of ebooks, where everything is digitized and runs at the time of your internet connection.

Books have become a marketed form of entertainment. Just like any movie, cartoon, comic, television series, or video game. And this isn’t just the raunchy romance novels you find at the supermarket or pharmacy, this is all books. Even books attempting to get the upmost academic value must have some level of mainstream entertainment in them. Should it be this way? Absolutely not, but that doesn’t change the situation. Yet given this situation, it seems perfectly fine to be able to review a book anyway you like. It’s the consequence of our culture.

So it always baffles me when I see someone become negative at someone’s negative review. Unless it goes out to literally attack someone on a personal level, to the point where there would be negative consequences to that person’s life (not just hurt feelings), then what’s the issue? Sure, there needs to be informed reviews with some rigorous standard. And sure, our current ratings systems (usually 1-5 stars) is inadequate in any book discussion. However, it makes more sense to me to subvert such a system rather than outward complain against some readers. If someone doesn’t like something, and it’s all subjective, then that’s it. Fuck it. One needs to grow some tough skin, as a reader and a writer. Further down the line, if the book/writer is deserving of praise, don’t we just laugh at those negative reviews? Don’t we find it funny when a great master belittles a masterpiece for petty reasons?

At the end, one needs to consider themselves. If someone really cares about writing, then they should think about what they say about some books. I’m definitely judging myself here on that regard. One of my main blog posts, that seems to always be clicked on, is my little rant on Junot Diaz. My opinions haven’t really change on Diaz, but I do think I can explain them better. I do think it is important to develop my skills in reviewing. So, I will be adopting a standard in which to review books by. The advice I was given was to only review books I thought were good, as to keep things positive and only focus on the beauty of things. I can’t see myself doing that. There is a lot of issues with writing today, and in my view they need to be discussed. Hopefully some of these reviews will be an outlet to that goal. In my first attempt, I will be reviewing Rafael Campo’s What the Body Told.

Take care,

Isa Guzman.

Aesthetic Distance

Continuing from a thought I was having in my last post, it seemed to me that some writers (maybe most of the writing scene) doesn’t really push themselves in their craft. There will be a beautiful sentence that seems to just fall flat. An image that is explored, only for a brief second, before it is taken away from the reader and replaced with something else or something else. It becomes like following television ads on mute; there is a narrative line that flows, but it is nearly impossible to follow.

During a class yesterday, we continued the discussion we were having on Rafael Campo’s What the Body Told. Coincidentally enough we discussed “Safe Sex,” which was the poem I mentioned of having a beautiful first line that fell flat after the enjambment. To my surprise, there was such a focus on this one poem. The professor even went as far as saying that it revolutionized the Elizabethan sonnet. It was such a strong claim. What really punctuated the class was the next poem we looked at, “Kelly” [Click here:]. The interesting commentary that came out just gripped me throughout the rest of the day. The professor stated that the poem seems the least poetic of the collection. It every much is. Yet there was a student whom was vehement in saying that it was the least poetic was somehow “absurd.”

Most of the class discussion on this poem was what made it poetic. The conclusion was that the poem really came to life during the last few lines, especially with the enjambment near the end of the poem (“Pregnancy / Tests…”). It was the moment of shock for the narrator/doctor, and for us as readers; only to lead up to the bigger shock, and the final conclusion. However, my issue with this poem is that there was nothing that grabbed me initially. Yes, the big shock factor at the end obviously touches on a very important personal/political/social point. Rape is an important issue that isn’t spoken upon enough at a public level. However, I don’t judge a poem quality solely based off the content. There was nothing that made me emotionally or aesthetically attached to this poem. It falls very flat. Perhaps that was the main intention of the piece, especially if the narrator is speaking from his professional point of view. For that, it deserves some respect. However, it just isn’t my taste.

In thinking back to that quality I believe a poem should have, the initial beauty that keeps the reader enthralled, I was once again reminded of the idea of aesthetic distance – the distance a writer must have between themselves and their subject. This idea came from another professor, a well-known author, whom has made it a point to discuss the idea several times throughout this semester. She usually points it out in the parts of a novel that brings up issues with the narrative. For example, there are two characters whom become intimately involved with one another. You would expect the two characters to have connected at some level. If the two characters are too opposite of one another, then it brings to question of why the author chose these two characters to be together. Likely, this relationship happened because the author wanted to force it for some personal reason. This tends to interfere with the storytelling and bring the reader out of it. Much I think is the same for poetry. When I speak on the initial beauty, I am mostly speaking about craft. Most poets, from the readings I have attending to the conversations I hear, tend to sacrifice craft for the personal. It’s the American conception of the poem as only being an emotional outlet, which further devalues poetry in the overall culture. So what happens is that most poems tend to have similar crafts, competing amongst themselves with emotions. Yet at the same time, poems are judged harshly for being too sentimental – too emotional. It’s this strange, harsh contradiction that causes a very turbulent poetry scene. Some writers succeed, but mostly through connections and networking. Talented writers fail because they don’t meet these impossible (and boring) standards that are described as poetry. At the end, it becomes a nearly unviable profession to pursue.

It’s unfortunate. The only thing left for a poet to earn is ego, and little else.

Take care,

Isa Guzman

The Neglect of American Poetry

I’ve concluded that Contemporary American poetry, from the 90s onward, simply doesn’t go as far as it used to. Recently, I’ve come to read a few contemporary poetry collections; the same issue has come up within all of them. There will be an image, a sentence, that seems to be penetrating something deep and meaningful (maybe even original), but then it quickly releases itself into a curse word or an idiom. I don’t really understand why.

Nick Mount, speaking on T.S. Eliot and the idea of fragments, said “if fragments are all we have left, then we will make art of fragments.” It’s such a beautiful idea, and one that has been thoroughly adopted into American poetry. In one of those recent contemporary collections, nearly every poem had a fragment of a completely different subject or experience interwoven into it. It seems to me a technique that is done to either add depth, weight, or distance into a poem. What I mean by depth, weight, and distance is very simple. Take the example of a poem about an abusive relationship. The direct event of abuse becomes the skeleton of the piece. To add depth, or muscles, the poet could either add details of the abuse or of their own emotions; interconnecting other events taking place during the abuse. To add in weight, or skin (in my analogy), bring in past events of abuse by other people or maybe even the reverse (the narrator fighting fact); to flesh out the story; bring out the imperfections of the human experience. To add distance, or mobility (I’m making this up as I go along), is to relate the issue to a wider view; relate the abuse to trends within a family, a culture, a society. The problem with the technique is that it is overly and sloppily utilized. Something beautiful could really come out of constructing a poem in the way I just stated, but it takes a command to really bring it to full realization.

This could either be a problem with me (as it is a bias) or the overall mentality with the poetry community (as I see it). It just seems as if building up writing skills, understand the techniques, understanding the history of poetry, reading the classics, or even attempting to grapple with the human condition is labeled as an absurd thing to do. Writing poetry must come quick. Collections must be made at rapid pace. Getting your personality, or your political stance, out there is much more important. It’s the only explanation to some of the celebrated writers out there today. However, I’m not saying that if you do have the skills and knowledge that you’re automatically a good poet; nor am I saying if you have the opposite you can’t be a good poet. Sometimes those too stuck with rigid practices make the worst poems, while those inexperienced (especially kids) make poems that give you pause. I just think that the overall scene promotes sides to be taken, when we really should be considering the quality of a work.

I’ll end this with one example. I am currently reading Rafael Campo’s What the Body Told. He is a Cuban-American writer and doctor. He has won a few awards and been published in several magazines and anthologies. His work mostly focuses on the Medical Humanities. Here is a small excerpt:

Protected in your arms, I dreamed while death
Passed overhead. I guessed I was alive,
Because I heard how faintly in your breath
My name kept being said. We fell in love
When love was not protection in itself; […]

“Safe Sex”

It’s a nice beginning to a decent poem. However, it seems to become too simplistic. It was the first line that blew me away… or I should say it the way I read it wrongly. I read it as: “Protected in your arms, I dreamed while death.” The enjambment really does the poem a disservice. It just becomes something close to cliché, though the subject is what sets it apart from other poems (Homosexuality, AIDS). And overall, that has been my issue with this book. In and of themselves, the poems must be dissected thoroughly to bring out the beauty. I think a poem is definitely fuller if it attempts to grab the writer at the get go, but continues to be beautiful the further the poem is read into. It is a quality nearly every classic poem has. So why not strive to reach that mark?
Well, that’s all I have to say on this for now.

Take care,
Isa Guzman

A Quick Reflection on the Avant-Garde

Returning to this blog, I wish to just give a quick and concise reflection on my issues between the past and current avant-garde scene. A theme this blog as approached before, but I wish to just add to the things I’ve already said.

Today I spent some time watching some short movies from the avant-garde film director Storm de Hirsch. No particular reason beyond her name appearing on a list of underground film directors. What also interested me was a quick read from her wiki-page: “She had been a poet and published a number of works in the early 60’s. She wanted to find a new mode of expression of her thoughts that went beyond words on the page, which is when she turned to filmmaking.” Being a poet myself, and having been attracted to film many times, I couldn’t resist in wanted to see what she made. Here I want to focus on two films in particular: “Divinations” and “Peyote.”

Both films are very interesting, though strangely simplistic. Just a series of images, as if a mind in reflection. They both displayed very interested techniques in cinematography, though at the same time very simple. I’m not going to call the effects surreal, though it very well has a connection with the mind and thoughts and maybe even emotion. Some called it psychedelic, which I wouldn’t call it that either. This is what the avant-garde is about. Products without a distinct description or label. It could be connected with plenty of thoughts or ideas, but outwardly displays none.

And then I couldn’t help but think about the things that are considered avant-garde today (including many of the things I complained about before). I believe the major essence that separates the two is their relation to the audience. Watching these two films, I know that they weren’t aimed for my viewer. However, there was a power in them that attracted me to it. Undoubtedly, many other people felt this same strange attraction. Many of the avant-garde that are running about today seem to do whatever they can to distract from the audience. So instead of being an open process of which people from all backgrounds can view and hopefully create a dialogue, we get a bunch of people huddled in a mass-mess claiming some sort of authority about something. And unfortunately they are absolutely blind to this close-mindedness. This king-lear blindness reveals more about the person, the so-called artists, in their more practical goals – to promote themselves or some sort of ideology. And though it is noble that the artists today seek to do more outreach, the whole exercise is corrupted by the insidious parts of society we don’t seek to mention (specifically our mainstream culture and social attitudes). We’re a very individualistic society, but the individual is in dire need to belong to some sort of community. This idea of fractured identity becomes the main issue of modern society.

The old avant-garde seem to have predicted this. In attempting to address it, a new audience can come to question and discuss it. The new avant-garde seems more interested to ignore the issue or use it as a prop. At the end, Art is the one to suffer. Art and Anti-Art are now both of the same enterprise – commodity based with little to no innovation. A mass-produced copy machine printing out a single page over and over with the word Art typed on it, fading with the decreasing levels of ink until the blank one receives the same response as all the others.

Juan Mirador

Semester Review

This will be quick.

Heading back into college has really brought to light several issues I have with it. One of the glaring issues at hand was how my creativity felt sapped as the semester waned. This semester I decided to surround myself with only literature (or literary related) courses. It was clear to me, from the beginning, that I would do lots of reading. Half the time, I couldn’t even get all of it done – having scheduled my time horribly. That’s a lesson learned, but reflecting on the pieces I had to read brought up another issue – I didn’t mind many of the works particularly interesting.

I studied Romanticism, Mixed (Race) Literature, Latino Literature (written in English), and Literary Criticism. These subjects were interesting within themselves and provided a lot of thought-provoking discussions. The issue was that the work assigned, half the time, was unnecessary beyond just the random references. There was also way too many pieces to cover – I was avalanched several times by works that were greatly different from one another. This is, however, how college works.

So I guess my concerns fall under the way college works. Today is officially my last day of the semester. I had in my final paper, do my final exam. I don’t feel incredibly satisfied with the semester. One class, which was meant to cover Puerto Rican history, actually did a lot of harm to my interest in history overall. It was the way the classrooms were structured. Even though many of the professors seem resistant to this, everything was about the grade. Unfortunately, I decided before the semester started to not give a single iota of a damn about grades. It wasn’t because I didn’t believe I could do the work, quite the opposite, what I wanted most was to learn. If you’re not learning, you’re not going to get good grades. So why care about the grades? Learn and good grades will come naturally. Did it for me? Absolutely.

Yet that was really the only focus among many of my peers. The policies within CUNY, which I am mentioning here cautiously, though I’ve heard many a “rumor,” are being less and less enforced. Ask me how many time attendance was taken… ask me how many times a professor was absent… I don’t want to focus too much on it, but needless to say it was definitely different than when I was in college a few years ago. It is concerning. Is CUNY becoming like a for-profit college? Or is it already there? I’ll have to see as my next semester comes up.

It was a very enlightening semester. It brought in some inspirational ideas and goals, but I think that my inclination to have a career away from Academia, though I am an English major, is correct. Writing is not valued in our society. It is something Academia must accept. The students that go into it are handicapped, unless they think really creatively. I’m going to take my education into my own hands, while continuing to attend college. I want to focus on the basics, especially Grammar, and really look at all my possible options.

Take care,


Too often people confuse pontification with poetry or art. What do I mean? Well, I’ve noticed that far too often there is a need to add in politics to some artistic piece. Be it a fiery poem about misogyny or homophobia, or a direct proclamation of change. I’ve heard quite a few writers say that politics is in their work because politics is life. I believe that is something backwards about this view, especially in our time period.

The best example I can think of, in another genre of artistic expression, has been the recent piece by Kara Walker. “A Subtlety, or Marvelous Sugar Baby,” currently housed in the old Domino Sugar Refinery, in my neighborhood of Williamsburg, caused an interesting conversation between myself and my girlfriend. It is making a message, “salted with meaning” as one reviewer put it, but the whole project feels rather off. “Off” is an interesting word. It turned me off, but it felt off/awkward. The only question that continually pounded in my head was: “Why here?” Why at the Domino Sugar Refinery? Why in Williamsburg of all places? The common generalization is that this place is a very artistic place. That’s a lie. If anything, this area is sanitized – depending on the absence of art. The gentrifying community here wants a monopoly over this area’s history and culture – what Williamsburg represents. Generations of people have been living here. Now communities are slowly disappearing because we’re being priced out, or just plain forced to move. Many families are desperate to make it here. Many people my age have turned to crime, with a shooting likely to happen every week. There is simply not time or desire to create art here, in my community, because there is just too much to worry about. So why here? Why put piece that is meant to express a horrible history intrinsic to the very formation of this country in an area that has become an analogy for those same despicable behavior in modern times? If you want to speak out against Systematic Racism, why put it in an area whose very development depends on Systematic Racism?

And here’s the point. Pontifications are meant to rally a people, but only for a short time. If there is nothing structured, or no deep rationalization behind it, then it falls flat. Many poetic pontification – and especially those that are least poetic – tend to fall under two intentions (possibly more, but I’m keeping it to two): 1) As a valve to release anger 2) As a means of promotion. In Kara Walkers case, it feels like promotion. Put it in Williamsburg, you’re going to attract a certain crowd. Put it anywhere else, like a predominantly black community, then it will likely not get any attention or will attract a strange audience into a community that will become wary of the whole thing. I’m not assigning any specific judgments. There has to be an understanding. To live as an artist is the most difficult thing to do. To support yourself, either monetarily or mentally, U.S. society almost makes you sacrifice something for it. So the pontifications, in all artistic forms, will likely still remain the norm. However, I believe artists need to consider getting away from it as best they can. Push for creating fantastical narratives. Leave a slight divide between the political and the artistic.

Take care,

Finding a Space

It has been a very busy time heading back into college and doing all the work. It hasn’t been the main reason I’ve kept away from the blog, but it was more on the more nagging reasons. I’ve come to realize that it is – of some importance – to sit on a personal piece of prose before sending it out there. Our society seems to want to find any reason to post about something: from the honest observation of strange prevalent social norms, to the plain ridiculous, to the absolute disgusting. For myself, I’ve always seen the affair as a method of validation. Someone has to, for example, post up a pic of their last meal to validate the fact they are about to eat a delicious, healthy, or comforting meal. I’ve never been interested in that, but if I’m being honest that was exactly what this blog was about. I was attempting to validate (or even gauge the popularity of) my opinions as a writer. At the end, it wasn’t really that meaningful.

So the break was taken. I threw my energies, once again, to my poetry. I’ve been very lucky to been published in several more places, including an anthology connected to Columbia University. I believe I’ve come a really interesting way in that development, and I am still growing day after day. Daily, I have to work on something. It is either something working itself out through thoughts or on the page. I am also working with this workshop – absolutely amazing – of brilliant and diverse writers. I’ve also gone back to this one particular project, with its preliminary title “The Forest of Suicide,” which I initially abandoned long ago because of reactions toward it. So the break was definitely worth taking. There was a need to refocus and further expand my knowledge and work. Far too often, this blog was more reactionary to one issue or another, without much considered thought, and with plenty of anger. I hope to get away from that.

So the break, at the end of the day, was trying to reevaluate my space – this blog. Questioning how I wanted to present myself, my work, and my ideas. And while I feel my entire blog isn’t a lost cause, which some glimpses of thoughtful/meaningful idea, I do however realize there were many flaws. There still will be, but I’ll be keeping a closer eye to it. There will definitely not be a schedule to my postings, but I hope to post regularly each week. I will cover various topics, focusing more often on the literary, but I definitely do want to cover some controversial topic that are affecting the writers/students currently. I thank all those who’ve absent-mindedly kept following, and I hope to get more readers in the future. I hope to develop, for myself, and maybe for others, a sense of community within the artistic/literary scene.


Story: Bangs on a Patio

It starts off with a scene. A wide road of risen asphalt curving down a hill toward a highway. There are large cement houses, with wooden window frames, taking up big portions of land next to the road. There is absolutely no glass. There is barely a car on the road or at the highway – with only a motorbike or two buzzing through at high speeds. I sit at the wall lining up my new property, staring around the street, basking in the white heat of the sun.

Sitting with me was a family. A little girl with blond hair. I ask her if it is always this quiet, she answers a simple no. I try to ask her about the neighborhood, but I can’t make out a single answer she gives me. A sheet of sun falls right into my eyes, but I turn my head to the house right in front of me. It is a two story house, with many windows on all sides, very open. Right across the street from where I was sitting, there was the garage, lined with tar metal gates. It leads right to the kitchen, where I see a slender Korean woman fixing up the house, while her kids pass by her hip, further into the house. There are so many windows a ledges to the house that one could climb up it, to the roof, rather easily. One of the children attempts to do this, but is told to come down by the mother.

Before I could ask the little blond girl who they were, a small group of children come into the scene from the highway. They immediately begin to climb the house, looking for a kid, calling out his name over and over again – Solo. The guy, no older than twelve, appears with his mother attempting to hold him back. The group seems to have some sort of issue with the kids. It appeared as if there was a previous fight between them and someone from the group. I keep staring intently, but soon two kids from the group appear in front of me. They aren’t any older then thirteen, wearing wife-beater, showing off their non-existent muscles under their tanned flesh. They looked Puerto Rican, taking a striking resemblance to my cousin when he was little. He started showing me his boxing moves and stances, making my mother, who would appear suddenly behind me, laugh in all ways.

It was at that moment that I noticed two more kids appeared. They were definitely related to those in the group, but they were dressed differently. One specifically wore a hoodie, which was over his head, with a ball cap underneath. It was absurd looking on the kid, who had to be thirteen himself. He grips the kid away from his mother, who is trying to understand what is going on, but now the kids have gathered around the son. Then the first bang.

Five terrifying bangs, along with the screams of everyone around me, ripped through this dream. The child was being shot, in front of his mother, and I was just sitting there watching what was happening. I wasn’t worried about anything. I wasn’t shocked by it. I don’t see the body drop, nor the blood, but I see a smile come across all the children’s faces. Soon the kid with the gun turns to me, shaking his aim right at my face. So it’s come to this, I say. With that, the child slowly pulls the trigger, but with another bang everyone is gone. I’m there, alone again, looking over the road from the wall lining my property. The white heat blinding my eyes, freezing my arms.

I wake up in a cold sweat.

Envision of an Angel

The bottle couldn’t be put down soon enough, but the effects were already ringing through me with every heartbeat. It had been drinking the whole night, drinking in memory, until I couldn’t feel the cold of this alley anymore. When the effects started in, I leaned myself against a wall between a large green bin and weathered grey trash cans. I didn’t want to hold myself up, not even in my suit, but I instinctively struggled for it. I just wanted to be knocked out. Wanted to be completely away from all this. A person should only handle one death at a time. I miss her scent. I miss the playful things she wore, the jewelry she even made herself, and the room just clouded in perfume. My arms imitate all the times I wrapped them around her, but there is nothing there anymore. I drop my head back and look up. I don’t even want to think about the kid.

It was then that a wincing light fell right to my eyes. I tried to block it, but it shined all over. A cop, likely, but I grumbled for them to go away. Then I saw where the light was emulating from. A woman, in shining white rags, skin of night, and eyes of diamond slowly came upon me. Kneeling down, a rush of sadness flowed through me. Tears drench my cheeks, droplets to my blazer. I can’t contain myself. She smiles at me. Putting her hand on my cheek, she whispers something delicately. Her words fall onto my ear like bits of snow. She says: “This too shall pass.” When she is done, she slowly stands up – simply towering over me – turns and walks through the rest of the alley. What did I just see? ¿Quien?