The Operating System and Liminal Lab

POETRY MONTH 30/30/30: Inspiration, Community, Tradition: DAY 28 :: Roxanne Hoffman on Urayoán Noel

As an active participant of the New York poetry scene since about 2004, as a writer, performer, frequenter of open mics, writing workshop participant, reading series host and small press publisher, I like to think of myself and the other familiar faces on the local poetry circuit as a movement, a not so quiet conspiratorial insurgency, the proverbial flea buzzing in the ear of the silent sleepy majority.

We are the defenders of free speech, free expression, freedom of the press, the right of the individual, and the power of minority opinion.  Influence is what we do.  We aim to move not only hearts and provoke minds with our little rants but to wake the sleepers to action. While we may make these wake-up calls with charm and style  and great humor we never forget for one second  it’s all about  conveying that subliminal message. What’s the message? Maybe it’s just that we count simply because all human beings can create something of value and interest with a little observation, a little introspection , a little craft, the gift of vocal chords, a pen and a notebook  and not much else (though many of us now write on laptops and iPads, even reading off them on the circuit.) 

One of my favorite co-conspirators is Nuyorican poet Urayoán Noel.  Author of three poetry collections — Hi-Density Politics(BlazeVOX, 2010), Boringkén (Ediciones Callejón/La Tertulia, 2008), and Kool Logic/La lógica kool (Bilingual Press, 2005); Assistant Professor of English at SUNY; a Bronx Council on the Arts fellow in poetry, as well as a Ford Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, he has firmly established his foothold in the mainstream, and continues to facilitate the message.  His latest project is a book-length study of Nuyorican poetry and its performance from the 1960s to the present.  Not only is he making the wake-up call, he is documenting it, never forgetting he is part of a movement.
Admittedly, he might have been a momentary flash on my retina in 2004, but since we were traveling in the same circles, and I was invited by a mutual friend to attend Noel’s 2005 book launch for Kool Logic at a Gathering of the Tribes, and that was the place to be, I went.  We sat in a circle, some of us on folding chairs, some on the floor. He took center stage and started to recite a poem — actually recite in the sense of performance, not just reading — the poem became a lyric, a song, a chant that we swayed to, tapped our feet to, hummed in our heads. We even chanted his choruses — and he was emblazed on the back of my retina — to be seen — and heard — when I returned home — my eyes closed for the night — and replayed from then on whenever I wanted:  a  voice that said this is important;  this is the truth. Let’s gather. Let’s converse. Let’s have a party. 
I bought his book and invited him to feature at the readings I was then hosting at The Bank Fence and The Cornelia Street Café because I want to continue that conversation.   I wanted to hear his song.
There had been something so familiar in the structure of his poems — something I had just about forgotten.  It was his use of Spanish syllabic forms:  the words in English but with the melody of the Spanish language.  Spanish, my first language, though unlearned, buried by the time I was 4, by my mother’s effort to Americanize my older teenage sister, insisting we speak only English at home.  And although I may have forgotten the language, I continued to sing its melody in my head, felt calmed whenever I heard it spoken, and with this happy realization that I too could write the Spanish forms in English, and regain this lost connection, I received a gift from Noel, perhaps given to me unintentionally and unknowingly — a gift for which I have ever since been grateful.  For I continue to write these forms in English, and more frequently than not, sing my poems as lyrics. And that melody gets people’s attention and they want to continue the conversation.  Another person wakes up, that giant drunken worm in tequila wriggles, the jumping beans shake, our fists and sickles go up as in a Diego mural. Influence is what we do. We are so happy, so filled with delight, we sing.  Every day is a party.  We dance.  We write poetry.



syncopated playing in the park down by the apartment with the drawn curtains where immigrants are born and die solos in the twilight ether sounds askew the neighbors downbeat the orle the garland synapse and starlightthe perfect score to the streetlit teleplay stowed in garbage trucks the all-nite donut countertop spot check pass the mic and live thru the murder within sidewinding the bum note how’s everything? security no homelandnever better why? reality check cashing cash only realty dead in the city they wouldn’t have made it families in freefall shy boys like tombstones in fluorescent diner somersault I / quotidian We no.nation in pronominationassertoric flow / flaw adult diapers on cable he who has E.D. needs G.E.D. needs G’s is spotted trained to kill the impulse within to overload the shopping cart to flood the express line with price check items voided coupons as afternoon gives in to cruising eyes AAAA “Love to Love You Baby” fun while you wait to decompose daily on premises the face in the mirror stage dive creosote babies bound by the variable rate of deception I speak of the self and its limits its mullet phase its postindustrial complex unserviceable sector invisibility TV now comes with wireless with no comes a where to multidimensional mass movement unmappedcould never be captured in tekne the hackneyed delivery the wack flow still blows away the week-kneed audience incipience of / and / as community the only kind the rest is special interest focus group granolasubprime midnite madness at the drive-in pixelation fest nomad daemons emailaise whatever its foibles I tell you the city still swings / seems / fumes the highrise imposes the diner odorizes diasporan flaneurs the 80s freestyle still oozes from overlit clothing stores “Forget Me Nots” still plays at least four times per day on the dance station as does “Le Freak”    AAAA   communities of saturation iteration stops not later on Saturday the storebought beauty of want and dream and busted hustle and bus stop breakups angry-assed repentant or simply pent and who killed the republic? say the bells whose public? …sad futuric bells fidget with the grim / the grime / the word whose sad chapel? tolls for us its cavernous enormity enough of intimacy i’m into my city shared pensive expansive we’re still here all of us citizens of din denizens of now many-festooned destiny in songs always about to forgo

Death and Taxes

The housewives laugh at what they can’t avoid:
In single file, buckling one by one
Under the weight of the late summer sun,
They drop their bags, they twitch, and are destroyed.
He hears a voice (there is a bust of Freud
Carved on the mountainside). He tucks the gun
Under his rented beard and starts to run.
(“The housewives laugh at what they can’t avoid.”)
Like She-bears fettered to a rusted moon
They crawl across the parking lot and shed
Tearblood. The office park is closing soon.
Night falls. The neighborhood buries its dead
And changes channels—Zap! Ah, the purity
Of death and taxes and Social Security.

[Ed: here’s a nice little piece on Noel in Jacket Magazine, only a few days ago. There’s quite a bit of his audio and mixed media work available online, as well. You can start here, at the SAMPLES page of his website.]

One of Roxanne’s poems inspired by Urayoan Noel (here in English and in Spanish) originally appeared in Danse Macabre, DM 23 Une Nuit à l’Opéra, under the pen name Marie Pluas.
What fine warbling is this?
It grabs me like a kiss.

I hear him calling.
I hear him calling.
Her name carried with the wind.
He wonders where she’s been.
His voice is soaring.
His tone imploring.
His song skipping like a stone,
Across the river,
From yonder mountain.
To catch me all alone.
It makes me shiver,
It leaves me wanting.
I hear him calling:
Come home, my darling.”
Wings flapping, she appears.
I hear her answer loud and clear:
Coming home.”
Coming home.”
Hurry home, my darling.”
The nighttime’s falling.”
Coming home.”
Coming home.”
I see her soaring.
I see her soaring.
Going home.
Going home.
Across the river.
To yonder mountain.
She stops her roaming.
He will forgive her.
She’ll never doubt him.
Heading home.
Heading home.
For love!
For love!


¿Qué música fina es ésta?
Me toma como un beso.
Lo oigo llamando.
Lo oigo llamando.
El nombre de ella llevado por  el viento. 
Es la pregunta donde ella ha estado.
Su voz asciende.
Su tono que pide.
Su canción que salta como una piedra,
a través del río,
de la montaña lejana,
Para encontrarme todo solita.
Cuando él me deja estoy temblando.
Estoy llorando. Estoy queriendo.
Lo oigo llamando:
“¡Regreso a casa, luz de mis ojos!”
“¡Regreso a casa, mi querida!”
Con las alas aleteando, ella aparece.
Oigo su respuesta alta y clara:
“Vengo a casa.”
“Vengo a casa.”
¡Prisa, mi querida!”
La noche está bajando.”
“Vengo a casa.”
“Vengo a casa.”
La veo altísima.
La veo altísima.
Volando a casa.
Volando a casa.
A través del río,
A la montaña lejana,
Ella termina su búsqueda
Él la perdonará.
Ella nunca lo dudará.
Regresando a casa.
Regresando a casa.
¡Para el amor!
¡Para el amor!

Roxanne Hoffman 
worked on Wall Street, now answers a patient hotline for a New York home healthcare provider. Her words can be found on and off the net in such journals as Amaze: The Cinquain JournalClockwise CatDanse MacabreThe Fib ReviewHospital DriveLips MagazineLucid RhythmsMobius: The Poetry MagazineThe New Verse NewsThe Pedestal Magazing and Shaking Like a Mountain; the indie flick Love and the Vampire; and several anthologies including The Bandana Republic: A Literary Anthology by Gang Members and Their Affiliates (Soft Skill Press), Love After 70 (Wising Up Press), and It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure (Harper Perennial). She has run the small press, Poets Wear Prada, since 2006. She blogs at  and
[Editor’s note: Oh Chapbook Festival, you were too good to me. Don’t be fooled, such an event is at least as much about creating and strengthening connections as it is about selling (or trading) publications. When Jack Cooper and I connected he immediately said, “You must meet Roxy,” the founder of Poets Wear Prada, for whom he also works. And so it was. We were immediately simpatico in our rabid belief in the power of the poetry movement, as she writes above. I am so glad to have her among our ranks.]

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