Walk down Avenue C on a given day, past 9th Street, and you will be greeted by a vibrant multicultural and multilingual community, by gardens on two corners, by a brunch spot that once served as a post-Nuyorican Friday slam hangout for poets, and by literary history.
Loisaida, the neighborhood nickname from which The Loisaida Center gets its name, was coined by the Nuyorican poet Bimbo Rivas. Allen Ginsberg lived and died a block away from here. Miguel Algarín and Steve Cannon founded their respective institutions here. And now, at the Loisaida Center (co-founded by Nuyorican poet and playwright Tato Laviera), La Sopa NYC, a school based on the movement poetics and performance of the 70’s up to present day, is proudly in residence.
Week one of La Sopa is always my favorite: the students get to see one another’s work, hear one another’s voices, and figure out what we’re trying to do as a group. We have crafted a set of group goals, based on what the students told us they want to get from the workshop, and we’ll be spending the next few weeks working on them systematically. Overwhelmingly and unreservedly, this group wants to grow out of their comfort zones; accordingly, we’re going to explore each other’s work in the circle, using June Jordan’s guidelines for poetry critique, and we’re going to put some formal exercises to work to generate some new and challenging poems.
We went over figurative language, and the idea that metaphors and image-based writing is not a way to hide truth, but rather should serve to illuminate, to reveal truth. To that end, we gave everyone a copy of “Kitchenette Building,” by Gwendolyn Brooks, a portrait of life in a subdivided apartment building in Brooks’ Chicago. The challege this week: to write a poem based upon a building, or in the voice of one.
Guru Papo Swiggity led our performance workshop by introducing the theories of social Jack Katz into the countercultural systems of movement poetics—of the Nuyorican, Black Arts, and Beat movements at the center of our pedagogy. In performance spaces here in our communities, the question becomes, how do become intentionally disruptive of institutions and cultures? What are we putting into the universe as performers of our work?
We put these ideas to the test in an open mic setting: the performance, says Papo, starts the moment your name is called. The energy you choose to place in the space is yours. We can take a conventional approach to the mic, or we can choose to flip the script. We can be ourselves, or we can assume a character. Each student read a poem, and their classmates reacted, from mic call to the moment they got off stage. And these students delivered, channeling past mentors, forging new voices, and challenging themselves for the first of what will be many times during this summer cycle.
Week two’s session fast approaches! Current students, have a look in your inboxes for information about this week’s online office hours. For everyone else, if you want more information about what we do, or to inquire about drop-in rates for classes this summer, shoot an email to email@example.com.
La Sopa is on, sancochando sabrosita and in fellowship on the Lower East Side!
for La Sopa NYC