Sunday, November 30, 2014

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Tomorrow is the first day of December, and many of us have already experienced winter weather, so I thought that you would enjoy photographer Juan F. Tituaña and poet Jerry A. Scuderi's collaboration inspired by Juan's recent trip to Puerto Rico.  His essay will serve as an introduction as will the photograph of a city street in Old San Juan, the historic part of the capital.
Photography by Juan Tituaña

October 2013 – A week in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico (by Juan F. Tituaña)
The minute I left the airport heading to my hotel, I was engulfed with the friendly lifestyle and warm salsa beat of the island. It looked and felt as if I was in a foreign country, so I could not get it out of my mind that I was still in the United States where I didn’t need to worry about a passport or exchanging my American dollars.
I was attending an annual conference my company had planned on October of last year.  Did I object to going?  Who would?  I arrived 4 days before the conference began and stayed 4 days afterwards so I could to travel and roam the city with my camera and gear. 
The city compelled me to get out of my hotel and explore. By 7am, I was having breakfast nearby at Cafeteria Mallorca – a favorite of the locals. After my daily breakfast ritual, I made my way through miles and miles of narrow cobbled stoned streets.  I searched and found many favorite spots to photograph I talked with many locals – a construction worker gutting one of the historic row houses, a young couple relaxing by the sea, a man by bar who described a baseball game on TV that night – one of their own, a professional baseball player was playing in the semi-finals of the World Series (see photo).  I met a local chef and ended up having dinner at his restaurant the following night.  (see kitchen photo) The manager of The Poet’s Passage – a popular poetry recital place, gave me a historical perspective of the city. (see photo)  
For the avid photographer, the city provided many other casual encounters with the locals and found that some of my best photo shots were always around every corner.  Interacting with the locals is a must, it is essential – in my case – to capture the city, its people and the soul of the island, with my camera.  Puerto Rico is a haven for photographers!  The colorful palette of the city streets and its people made the trip worthwhile but there was more I wanted see and do but could not.  For once, it’s nice to have “unfinished business” – more reasons to return to the old city – my Old San Juan.  
 Photography by Juan Tituaña

Photography by Juan Tituaña
Photography by Juan Tituaña
With these two photographs from The Poet's Passage, a coffee bar and artisan's shop in Old San Juan, I think that it's time for a little poetry. Even if it's not Tuesday night yet.  Enjoy Jerry A. Scuderi's "Salsa Island":

 Salsa Island   

 Run Puerto Rican maiden
over cobblestone streets ;
glow radiant girl
to all whom you meet .

 Bake braided missy,
pass city stone walls .
Awed tourists trolley
as history calls .

 Smile vendors attentive
to your bronze emblazoned face .
Glory floral island
benevolent to haste .

 Tap steel drums nimbly
through your blooming slim lines .
Seek out festivity
with suitors in mind .

 Unfurl salsa island
local flavors and flairs .
Pastel promenade spirits
are inviting you there .
                                               Jerry A. Scuderi 11-27-14    

Let's return to Juan's images from Old San Juan.  In the next few images, people are very important, and being fluent in Spanish, Juan was able to interact with them.

 Photography by Juan Tituaña

Photography by Juan Tituaña
Photography by Juan Tituaña
Photography by Juan Tituaña
We'll finish the exhibits of Juan's photographs with images taken by the water.  

Photography by Juan Tituaña
Photography by Juan Tituaña

I know that you would like to know where Juan took these photographs.  Here are the notes that he sent me to include:

Photos in Old San Juan  
1: Street bus in a busy narrow street – bus rides are free in Old San Juan.

2: Local government building with Puerto Rico and US flags

3: Facade of the popular “Poets Passage” building and entrance 

4: Sala Poetica (Poetry hall) sign inside “Poets Passage”

5: Local bar where I hanged out most nights - college age students with their weekend gigs. They played and sang great salsa/pop music while locals danced right outside in the street.  Since we became almost regulars for a week, we started getting good discounts on food and drinks.   

6: Man and I talked for a while - he said that night the outside bar was full to capacity with locals - I asked him why - he said because one of their own was playing professionally in the semi-finals of the World Series

7: A chef in his kitchen.  The night prior a colleague friend and I casually met his photographer wife while she was shooting a large ship docked in pier.  We ended up having dinner at his restaurant the following night – awesome Caribbean atmosphere and food.  

8. Young couple by the sea.  I approached them and asked if I could take their picture.  With great smiles they said of course.  They were so easy to talk to and said they came a lot to this same spot to watch the sunset. They were thinking of getting married in a few years.

9: "Paseo de la Princesa" (The Princess' Promenade) at the old tall fort wall that surrounds the city. At night this promenade is full of couples - young and old, joggers and tourists.   A walk, a stroll, along here is common any day or night of the week.  The view of the sea at different times of the day is spectacular.

10. Scenic shot from nearby beach of “Paseo de la Princesa” at night. 

Juan also sent along the lyrics to  "En Mi Viejo San Juan" (Spanish and English), a classical bolero song, which, as he notes, is "considered like a national anthem for all Puerto Ricans living abroad and in USA."  The English translation is his own.

En mi Viejo San Juan (In my Old San Juan)

En mi viejo San Juan
cuantos sueños forjé
en mis noches de infancia,
mi primera ilusión
y mis cuitas de amor
son recuerdos del alma.

Una tarde me fuí
hacia extraña nación,
pues lo quiso el destino,
pero mi corazón
se quedó frente al mar
en mi viejo San Juan

Adiós (adiós adiós)
Borinquen querida.
Adios (adios adios)
mi diosa del mar,
me voy
pero un dia volveré
a buscar mi querer,
a soñar otra vez,
en mi viejo San Juan.

Pero el tiempo pasó
y el destino burló
mi terrible nostalgia,
y no pude volver
al San Juan que yo amé,
pedacito de patria.

Mi cabello blanqueó
y mi vida se va
ya la muerte me llama,
y no quiero morir
alejado de ti
Puerto Rico del alma.

In my Old San Juan,
where I forged
​ ​    
many dreams
in my childhood years.
My first illusion
​      my sorrows ​
of love
are but memories of the soul.
One afternoon I left
for a foreign country,
as fate would have it,
but my heart
remained facing the sea,
in my Old San Juan.

my dear Borinquen;
my goddess of the Sea.

I'm leaving now,
but one day I'll return
to search for my love,
and to dream once again
in my Old San Juan.

But time passed by,
and destiny fooled
my aching nostalgia.
And I could not return
to the San Juan I loved,
that little piece of my land.
My hair has turned gray,
life is leaving me,
death is calling me.
and I do not want to die
so far away from you,
Puerto Rico of my soul!

So that you may hear what this song sounds like, here is a link to Trio Los Panchos y Javier Solis' rendition :

The link below takes you to the history of the song *and* a video of its author singing it.

I'd also like to include a performance by the Puerto Rican drummer Giovanni Hidalgo at the Puerto Rican Jazz Festival:

This video is more informal:

Let's finish with the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band's performance of "Manteca" and "St. Thomas":

Juan F. Tituaña is currently the Director at ELS Language Centers (a Berlitz International company) in Washington DC.  ELS Language Centers, Inc. is the world’s largest network of English language instruction and university preparation centers, with more than 65 locations in the USA, Canada, Panama, India, China and Australia. This year, ELS will place thousands of international students in university degree programs at more than 600 universities in the country. He received his graduate degrees in Education (Master’s and Doctorate) from the University of Maryland with Minors in Latin American History, Languages and Educational Communications.  He is also President of JFT Enterprises, LLC and specializes in media content translations, transcriptions and photography. He previously held positions as Manager and Director of Translations at one of the international divisions of the National Geographic Society. He has travelled and given presentations on the importance of learning English and translations in the present global market place to international students throughout the US, London, Paris, Cannes, Rome, Madrid and Buenos Aires.  He has taught Education theory, communications and photography courses at the University of Maryland, and adult ESL, GED, and US citizenship classes at local high schools in Montgomery County.  His passion is photography but also loves travelling, hiking, reading, listening to international music, trying new ethnic restaurants, watching international films and playing chess.  He likes meeting and learning from international students and people of other cultures.  At every chance, he likes to perfect his skills with languages so he reads books in Spanish, Italian and French

Enjoy!  Juan will be exhibiting more images from Puerto Rico in December.  These will be from the countryside so that you will be able to see more of this fascinating island.  

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Joan McNerney's Poems about Monk, Picasso, Van Gogh, and the Buddha

Although I hope that you will want to learn more about the new contest in memory of Michael Brown (, let's return to our fall contest with Joan McNerney's poem honoring Monk.

Holy man of keys
sacred of emery and ivory.
Holy man of improv
swinging through space
Holy man of smooth
sliding over blue heartbeats.
Holy man of scync
sending us to beyond

In addition, Joan sent me some of her poems on art (two very famous paintings and one sculpture of the Buddha), so I thought you'd like to see them.

Pablo Picasso

Night Fishing at Antibes (1939)

What sort of night is this?
Demons are loose.  How
diabolically the sun shines
on this green ocean.

Is all the world upside down?
Fish fly in mountains while
respectable ladies bicycle
on rooftops.

Look!  A fisherman has struck
his spear into a whale, what
a nice warlock's stew!

Joan McNerney

Vincent Van Gogh

Starry Night (1889)

Circular wind wrapped
with sky and skull
Bulging fists of stars
blaze frantically.
Hurricane of the mind
split moon.

Cypress tree swirls through
liquid hills rapid sky.
Motionless lies the
faint town in hesitant

Joan McNerney

On Viewing Buddha in the Museum

Ommmm, cool Buddha
how  relaxing you are!
Your legs in lotus position
as you sit on jewel of flower.
Your right hand telling me
"be not afraid".
Your left giving me the universe,
sly fox!
I will spend this short hour with you.
Ah, you seem to wink at me.
I will then tickle your cozy toes,
tease you out of Nirvana.
Ommmm, holy, wise one.

Joan McNerney

Now that we've enjoyed these words and images, let's also listen to a few more songs by Thelonious Monk.  

Here is his "Brilliant Corners," which fits our artistic theme:

This version of "Evidence" is from Japan in 1963:

"Epistrophy" is from that same performance:

We'll finish with his "Blue Bolivar Blues (Take 2)" from Monk's Dream (1963):

Enjoy the poems from the fall contests, but be sure to take note of our new contest:

I will be interspersing some of the new poems with the old, especially once the semester is over and I have more time.

New Contest (Deadline March 15, 2015)

This is harder than I imagined, but I would like to start a new contest in memory of Michael Brown and in sorrow at the recent verdict.   I know that many are upset, and I believe that this contest is the right thing to do, especially if I want to continue to honor African-Americans such as Thelonious Monk, Ron Carter, and Robert Glasper.  Otherwise, these contests are very hollow.

I am looking for poetry that mourns, that bears witness, and that calls for change.  I am not looking for violent or gratuitous poetry.  I am not looking to attack the police who are protecting their community and acting appropriately. The Song Is.. may not be a family-friendly space, but I hope that it can be a multiracial space.

The deadline for the contest will be March 15.  

Thank you for your assistance in promoting this contest.

Here is some poetry from Gwendolyn Brooks to inspire you:

And here is some music for you:

Ambrose Akinmusire's "Oscar Grant":

Finally, how different are these young men from Missouri?

Tonight the fall contests will continue with Joan McNerney's poems.

Monday, November 24, 2014

After Mario Bencastro’s Algo tiene el otoño

This evening, as we end a remarkably warm and sunny November day and prepare for Wednesday's snow and rain, I thought I'd post translator and poet Allyson Lima's "After Mario Bencastro's Algo tiene el otoño."   

After Mario Bencastro’s  Algo tiene el otoño


leaves tremble

twirl veins in last light

let go sun-saturated off branches

spin on the wind—tease gravity

dazzling language of colors speak

of other goodbyes

loosed in air


Landscape goes Van Gogh yellow

Matisse red

Gauguin orange

Chagall’s green

evening sky goes indigo

moonlight spills her silver dreams

over our warring planet


sun lifts radiant morning into day

gives life to birds and flowers

says to humans Get up! Go

unearth dreams, plant seeds

for silent spying Spring.

                                                                 Allyson Lima  11-04-2014

Allyson is currently collaborating with noted author Mario Bencastro on a book of translations of his poetry.  Her poem above will be included in their book.  Next summer she will also present a paper on a Bencastro's fiction at an international conference on Latin American Literature in San Salvador this July. 

Discussing her own work, she has stated: "I am interested in the power of visual objects in art and in literature, that when read in relationship, generate new meanings. "

The painting above is Van Gogh's "Falling Autumn Leaves," one of a pair of paintings from 1888.  

Let's close with some music to evoke memories of the fall.

I'll start with Miles Davis' version of "Autumn Leaves":

The Damian Latin Jazz Project perform "Autumn Leaves" live in New York:

Here is a Latin Jazz version of "Autumn in New York":

I'll finish with Luis Gasca's version of "Calle Doce":


Friday, November 21, 2014

Monk & Iyer

Somewhere along the way I've lost a day, so I am hurrying to post Martin Willits, Jr.'s tribute to Monk, "Ugly Beauty," and Felino A. Soriano's "Underneath," a response to the music of Vijay Iyer, a contemporary jazz (and classical) pianist and composer.

Martin, in fact, wrote "Ugly Beauty" in response to a video of Monk's work that I posted on this site earlier this fall.

Ugly Beauty

                Based on the music by Thelonious Monk and written while listening to it, stopping where it stopped

Such ugly beauty underground, like an alto sax

tangled in piano keys, but necessary

for the times when timing is off, like say,

a woman says not tonight baby and winter

is cold as her cheek. The dripping faucet is a bass,

and someone is banging on the coils

of the radiator trying to bring heat to reason,

but like a landlord, there’s no reasoning with it.

I tried once, and I was evicted, acknowledging

the moon coming from the sax end of a bad day.

Black roses is ugly beauty, like a heart skip

before an attack, all nightshades drawn down

to the underground where subways lose time

and you got nowhere to go in a hurry

six feet under. No place to be. It is colder than snow,

colder than the woman walking away

with another man after saying no to your needs.

Are your needs ever met? I once forced a drip back

into its faucet, and it made bass notes

coiling into the sky, like snow falling upwards.

or heat rises, or heart rate escalates, or arguments.

I hear her stiletto shoes like radiator clangs,

like no place to shelter, and where she takes the night

is shady, black petals, and where you need not go.

These are some versions of "Ugly Beauty" to accompany Martin's words:

Kenny Drew, Jr. performs "Ugly Beauty":

Gretchen Parlato perform another version in Germany:

Here Monk dances:

I can't find a freely available picture of Monk dancing, but I thought you might like this below.  It appears to be a still from Straight No Chaser.

I also wanted to include links to some of Martin's many chapbooks.  As he is a former musician, a number of his poems are inspired by music.  You may enjoy  his *free* chapbook "Late All Night Sessions with Charlie "the Bird" Parker and the Members of Birdland, in Take-Three" (A Kind of Hurricane Press,2013)
Another recent book is "Playing the Pauses in the Absence of Stars," available from Main Street Rag:  Flutter Press has also published his "Before Anything, There Was Mystery," which includes, among other poems, the Celtic astrology series that initially intrigued me:


Here is Felino A. Soriano's "Underneath" in response to Vijay Iyer, whom Felino classifies as "one of my current favorite pianists--up there with Moran and Glasper."  "Underneath" is part of Felino's new, five-part project, Forms, migrating, specifically the section ""The circumference of silences", which consists of all short, prose poems."


I want to live, experiment with focuses, rearrange fragmentations.
Create alternate apparitions, converse across patterned puddles
attempting silent art into an acclimation of open structure.  I’d
live then, if each year didn’t curtail with predetermined fallacies of
bruised resolutions.  I listen, then; the perfect option among voices
hitching and holding onto stories delving, if by thrown, and the sequencing
of truth singing and louder, singing into the dark halls of my eyes’ misplaced

This evening Felino sent me another response to Iyer,this time as the pianist performed with his sextet.  Both the poem and performance intrigued me.

Morning, this

Swing diagram
deliberate grin.  Her
visual cue said
the crow never
rose higher than the 2nd
version of a moment’s
agonizing realization.
Toward verb my listening
altered.  Running.  Impulse
common her

                             intuition to inspire with voice modulations, concise diction
                             appropriate in the melody of a father’s roaming gather.  Here
                             we speak as do feathers’ neighboring conjoining—aligned or

                             halved in idea and function of purpose. 

Felino's most recent books include Of isolated limning (Fowlpox Press, 2014); Mathematics (Nostrovia! Poetry, 2014), and Espials (Fowlpox Press, 2014).  Links to each of these books and his others are available here:


Below is a picture of Vijay Iyer playing the piano.

This is the performance of the Vijay Iyer Sextet that inspired Felino to write "Morning, this":

It led me to revisit Iyer's work with guitar hero Prasanna and tabla player Nitin Mitta:

The Vijay Iyer Trio plays "Historicity":

They play "Accelerando" here:

We'll finish with their version of "Human Nature":