by Danielle Champiet-Coronado
Braving the winter chill and the rain, I found a friendly face waiting in the Starbucks café at Barnes and Noble. It was Tuesday, the last Tuesday, and soon poets and poetry lovers would be gathering for the open mic session that evening. Fortune favors the bold and it certainly did! Waiting inside was our featured poet, Carlos Reyes, for coffee and a chat.
In the rush of the day, I forgot to look him up online to see what he looked like. As it turned out, there was no need; the man with the Hopi world on his ear was quite distinct amongst the café patrons. His demeanor was quiet and laidback, like a lion. As we talked about Pablo Neruda, writing and the many countries he’s visited, his eyes lit up like the night sky, twinkling brightly as he recounted his experiences. Ireland in particular has been a second home to Mr. Reyes. He had a house there for many years and much of his poetry is infused with traits of Ireland. The same can be said for the many other countries he’s been to for their influence is born of his love for world and his strong social conscience. Laidback as a lion he is also the sand in the oyster shell; poking and shaking things up until a beautiful pearl is produced. Mr. Reyes’ visceral style allows you to feel first-hand the life and the land that he’s writing about; to walk the streets with him and experience the life of the people be it mundane or extraordinary. In addition to great poetry, Mr. Reyes gives us the world.
With a 40 year career of writing and editing Carlos Reyes is the most prolific writer that I’ve met to date. His latest collection, Guilt in Our Pockets, is the perfect confluence of travel, great writing and social awakening. Detailing his travels to Bangalore, Mr. Reyes’ poetry reflects the beauty and hardship of daily life in India. Bangalore, officially known as Bengaluru, is the capital of Karnataka in Southern India just off of the Arabian Sea. Known as the Silicon Valley of India, that title is in stark contrast to the experiences depicted in Guilt in Our Pockets. Like the frames in a moving picture, his artful fragments paint pictures that Mr. Reyes strings eloquently together to tell a story; of hard work, hardship, pride, grace, celebration and connection.
Upon entering our poetry nook, we were treated with a pleasant surprise; walls of vividly colored pictures created by students from local schools. Their spectacular displays made the walls pop with emotion and life, a perfect backdrop and mirror for Mr. Reyes’ reading and poetry. The laidback lion I had enjoyed during our interview transformed into a jovial and dynamic performer as he took the mic. His warmth and heart embraced the room as he shared his selected prose, each one an homage to the proletariat. Humorous and interesting backstories accompanied each poem capturing the attention of passerby and drawing them in to our reading.
Mr. Reyes began with a poem titled ‘Namaste,’ and educated us on the word’s beautiful meaning; I recognize the spirituality in you. He followed this with examples of how in America we have all but commercialized the meaning out of that lovely word. This was not the only contrast noted by his visit either. In the United States, the majority of manual labor, particularly the heavy manual labor, is done by men whereas in India it is the opposite. There it is the women performing those physically challenging tasks. He went on to share a poem about a woman elegantly and gracefully carrying a large bowl of sand on her head which she mixed with mortar with the same care she used to make her family’s meals. One of his more touching pieces was about “people hand-picking cotton until green and white were no longer distinguishable under the light of the moon.” Mr. Reyes shared how painful and difficult it is to hand-pick cotton; the long days of prying cotton out of sharp shells that cut the hands. Despite the injuries, they show up day after day because that is what puts food on their table. A consideration that rarely comes to us in our industrialized world but is “something to think about when you hear someone complaining about thread-count.” A point with which I whole-heartedly agree; we should give more thought and appreciation to those who worked so hard to make the many things we enjoy just as we love for our work to be valued and appreciated.
Labor was not the only subject that caught his attention. He also shared a charming piece about some boys in a dirt field trying to fly a hand-made kite and another about a group of men gambling after a wedding. The people of India are very connected to nature and conservation is a huge part of their culture. Animal sanctuaries can be found throughout the country. I once saw a documentary about how one town put in a bridge for monkeys to cross and one man used his own money to plant trees and other foliage to restore a dying sandbar. Mr. Reyes masterfully captured this love of the wild in his prose about an elephant sanctuary and the breath-taking experience of watching one devour the top of a tree. Also shared was the sacredness of cows and how insanely busy traffic will freeze on the spot to allow a cow to cross. At the end he mused that the best way to cross the street is with a cow.
Please enjoy the video of Carlos Reyes’ fantastic reading. On March 27th our featured was John Brehm and his latest anthology, The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy. Unfortunately, Mr. Brehm was not able to join us on that date however selections from his book will be read by the Last Tuesdays Poetry Group’s hosts; David, Cathie and myself. This will also be the debut of the most recent addition to our hosting team, Cathie Padgett. Our readings are a community event to which all are welcome, and if they wish, may share a family-friendly poem during our open mic sessions. If once a month is not enough for you, one of our members and open mic contributors, Joyce Colson, hosts a reading at the Paper Tiger on Grand Ave in Vancouver, WA on the third Wednesday of each month.
Our featured books are available for purchase at local Barnes and Noble stores as well as their website: