Juan Felipe Herrera visits the Hispanic Division and discusses some rare Cuban treasures from the Ediciones Vigía Collection with chief Georgette Dorn. View the webcast, read the Poet Laureate’s poem response, and learn more about the collection from the curator.
In 1985, in the culturally thick city of Matanzas, the land of La Rumba, just east of Havana, Cuba, Vigía, the hand-crafted, (or construction or assemblage or collage), collectively created volume was born. One artist, Rolando Estévez and one poet, Alftedo Zaldivar co-founded the tactile, multi-hued, stringy magazine, if we can call it that. You can see and touch Vigía for yourself here at the Library of Congress. Being an ever evolving project, each series features major poets like Borges and Lorca and it also spotlights an array of contributing community writers from all literary arenas of the globe. La Vigía or "Watch Tower," the one that is on "vigil" keeping its keen eye on the expressive globe—is kind of a poetic arts blog of the working-class world. Keeping your eyeball on the explosive art around you, in an way, means you love art, literature and poetry and you love your community and you sense the urgent pulse of the people. If it is for the people, you put your hands on whatever material you can find—and you provide a handsome, raw and provocative page for the artists. Right? In the early 80's, in San Francisco's Mission District, on Capp Street, I thought about this too; so, I put together the provocative and truly raw Red Trapeze, (with poets Victor Martinez and Francisco X. Alarcón ). It was a one-sheet, "Mono-Poem" (one-poem) "magazine" featuring one poet's poem per month—a "Mono-poem Magazine" for the superb price of 25 cents! This incredibly affordable mag was printed at the Galería de la Raza where I worked teaching a poetry and graphics workshop (funded by the California Arts Council) printing the Trapeze on a Gestetner machine, a small electric barrel-shaped printer that burned images and rolled out ink-colored sheets like tortillas. Red Trapeze became a humble sensation in Mexico City, Guadalajara and the Bay Area. This was the necessary work of a poet, I said to myself—hand-crafting literary projects with whatever materials and machines available in the immediate environment—for the people, at an affordable price (mostly free). Now—it is your turn to be superb and incredible and to watch for the creative genius of your community. What materials will you use, what poems? Vigía Tip: one hole puncher, string, or yarn, found cardboard with found lettering, leaky pens, smudgy pencils, paste, images... and poems galore! (Don't forget the poster paint).
Angels of Celery, Lorca ( a Vigía Edition, Unpublished)
Swashbuckling down Haight --
With Afro's & George Harrison weeping guitars
Smear me on your pages - make them
The kind you can swipe at Ginsberg's supermarket
You here me Whitman?
Pluck, plak-plak at Dolores Park
Biala & Babatunde's conga - if you can
Drop it on my cover's tiny spirit & cosmic shimmy sidewalkin'
That's it. You got it
It it night. Multi-night as Celán would say
We are carving through the bullfighter bones buttered
Still on the walls of Fuente Vaqueros &
gypsy reddish thighs of Andalucía goatherders
Find this & tape it
Make it translucent so we can brush it
Spring comes in piano boots
Skips & tumbles down a nervy joker in plaid
That's the plaid stage that contains our lives
So many ruby-emerald-straw colors
Broken & separated. Fond in their own pages
Our explosions above all this going into
Juan Felipe Herrera
21st Poet Laureate of the United States
It was a singular pleasure to welcome our Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera in the Hispanic Reading Room. He is doing wonderful work exploring the nooks and crannies of this great Library and discovering treasures for his poetry.
As the Chief of the Hispanic Division and the Curator of the Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape, I had the privilege to converse with Juan Felipe and show him examples from Ediciones Vigía from Cuba. An artist community in Matanzas, Cuba, publishes the Vigía, and it was named after a historic house in the city of Matanzas. After a bumpy start in themed-1980s, Vigía publications are now sought after in the whole world. Their small publications on common paper, are often collages with poems written on the pages. Some collages are made of seashells, string, photos glued to the pages. Some of the poems in these publications are by well-known authors such Borges others are by Cuban poets. The Library’s Rare Book and Special Collections Division has one of largest collections of Vigía works.
Chief, Hispanic Division