A Conversation with Miguel Algarín

Lois Elaine Griffith, Karen Jaime, and Jehan L. Roberson

Conversation with Miguel Algarín in December 2018 at ArchCare at Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center in El Barrio/Spanish Harlem, NY.

Lois Elaine Griffith, Karen Jaime, and Jehan L. Roberson in conversation with Miguel Algarín in December 2018 at ArchCare at Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center in El Barrio/Spanish Harlem, NY.

KJ: . . . You do that within a geography that, at that point in time, wasn’t necessarily thought of as a site of artistic production, of artistic excellence, right? That’s not the gentrified Lower East Side or Loisaida that it is now.

LG: No it’s not. We can’t go back there either. We don’t belong there anymore. That’s the irony.

[. . .]

JR: Wow. What kind of ideas did you all want to see coming out of the cafe? By this time?

MA: A stronger poetry . . . 

LG: Poetry aesthetic. Yes.

MA: Poetry aesthetic. I have been working on the aesthetic . . . 

LG: Yes, we had started working on a dialogue to describe all these years of our work, the aesthetic of it. It’s the idea behind this work that we’ve done.

MA: We are an object, a site, that does not use the idea of poetry as a way to dedicate themselves as sensitive or smart. We use it to breathe. Ya know. I’ve seen young people who have no idea about poetry come in and sign up, and deliver some exquisite lines about a father or a mother coming on to them. And they’re trying to figure out what sexuality is. But my mother wants to play. She wants to play too! And, so all of this, this is what we’re after. And she stood up, I was at the end of the bar with my notebook, and she stood up, and different people from the room and the other room made it over to her, to look at her and rub her face and say smile, smile. I would almost want to cry to tell that story. 

LG: I know, I know. Remember that little girl who used to come on Wednesdays with her mother?

MA: [Laughs] Ah, I can’t forget!

LG: I forgot her name. It wasn’t Eileen. Oh God, I remember.

MA: What was it . . . ?

LG: Oh, I can see her face now.

MA: That she didn’t want to take the risk of sending the daughter off by herself?

LG: Right, so she used to come with her mother!

MA: And what a natural solution to your problem. [Turns to JR] You asked me a question.

JR: Well, I think you answered it, from a poetry aesthetic, is what you would want to see.

MA: Anne Waldman has been given a building on the west side. So we’re still the Lower East Side in labor, but Anne took the Beat Movement into the Lower East Side. I wonder if she realizes that. Because we haven’t heard much about what’s going on there. 

LG: You know, I’ve been in touch a lot with David. David Henderson? 

MA: Yeah.

LG: He’s close to Anne. I’ll ask him.

MA: He IS close to Anne!

LG: He is close to Anne.

MA: I didn’t know that. 

LG: He’s close to Anne. He’s close to Victor, too. He and Victor, Victor Hernández Cruz, they grew up together. Victor was in here in September, October. He’s in Morocco now. Remember you were making jokes before? We were talking about our friend N? [Laughs] Our friend N.

MA: So Victor and David are friends?

LG: Yes, Victor and David are friends. And I’ll ask David about Anne.

KJ: Do I have a question, you said?

MA: Yeah.

KJ: Well, I’m really interested in thinking about the relationship between the cafe and other institutions in the Lower East Side around that time period. Like thinking about Ellen Stewart who, when we had spoken . . . 

LG: She sold us the building.

KJ: Right. We had talked about that. But, like, how, what the relationship was . . . 

LG: There was Charas . . . 

KJ: Yeah, there was Charas, there was . . . but what was the relationship with Ellen?

LG: There was The Umbrella House . . . 

KJ: How did you get to her selling the building? I know that it was in rem. I know that she was housing the musicians that were coming into town.

LG: Right.

KJ: But how was that brokered? Did you buy it from the city? 

LG: Yup.

KJ: Or, did you buy it from her?

MA: We bought . . . The store and the actual site was bought by the bank.

LG: From the city.

MA: From the city of New York. And she had tried, because if you go into the cafe, as you walk in, there are, there were, some lights, a grid. It had a grid on the second flight, and the first flight. But we gave the money that we had and the money that I wanted them to have, plus called it by the proper name, The Nuyorican Theater Company. And Ellen had tried to experiment with an arm of La Mama on the Lower East Side but she had met with great opposition. If you cross Avenue A and B, the [unclear language] will get you. The aesthetic will get you. Allen had determined that American poetry would be influenced by the native activity . . . 

LG: You’re talking about Allen? Allen Ginsberg?

MA: Yeah.

LG: Yeah.

MA: He would be in touch with Sogyal Rinpoche and he took that avenue east to thaw [?] and saved himself with that because all that work he had done didn’t sit well in New York City. It sat well for Sogyal Rinpoche in New Mexico. 

LG: Boulder. Is it Boulder? Where is that place?

MA: Oh, Boulder. 

KJ: Naropa?

KJ/JR: Naropa’s in Boulder.

MA: And I took Mikey, Lucky, and myself to Naropa.

KJ: There’s video footage of that.

MA: Oh there is? I’ve never seen it.

KJ: Oh yeah, I’ll send it to you. ’Cause there’s video footage of that. You’re wearing a dashiki, Mikey’s wearing a striped tank top, rolled up jeans, um . . . yeah.

MA: And blew the minds of all those Naropa thinkers when I walked in and Mikey whistled by the Rinpoche woman there. There weren’t any boys [chuckles]. They got saved. 

Yeah, the aesthetic . . . and we should go back home, but these boys will fight us tooth and nail before . . . so I think we gotta plan a new book, a new anthology, with a new aesthetic, not the old one. Already we did theater, there’s a book on theater. We did the primary Nuyorican. There’s a book from 1975 on theater and poetry. And we wrote the essays and covered the book. Lois wrote the essay for the ACTION book. And we can certainly go right back and open up the arms of that book. We got the original bases. You guys can stand on that, those voices from the Nuyorican and the aesthetic of the voice that comes through there. What does it mean? And you can write it.

LG: You know, you just said something that made me think to answer that question. What is this new aesthetic? And I think it has its roots in what you were talking about . . . some little girl, the mother of some girl who decided that “well, since my daughter can do it, I can get on stage too.” I think it comes from our understanding that poetry is about the living. It’s about our attachment to being . . . I want to say true . . . forthright about our circumstances, and our ability to use that poetry as a tool. I think now we might think more of the poetry as the tool, because we developed it to represent authenticity of self. So now, in this age of fake news, fake dissimulation of all kinds, we need this TOOL

KJ: Do you think it’s only poetry? We’re talking a lot about aesthetics, and you know, my book is about the Nuyorican and aesthetics, right? It’s thinking about what’s going on at the Cafe. How are people utilizing what is the history of the cafe in order to create new types of work that push beyond abjection, marginalization . . . how it’s a critical site for artistic production that heeds your call from ALOUD where it’s like, ‘the poetry has to do something.’ It’s not just write something on a page, it’s not about just the word, but what is it doing and how is it relaying . . . ? Like, you argued once these three different points—it has to relay the lived experience of the street, it has to relay a bicultural, bilingual experience, has all of these things, you know. How do we think about it within a configuration of the Cafe, where artists take that, that aren’t necessarily Nuyorican and mobilize it globally? Thinking about the Nuyorican Poets Cafe itself as a diasporic, as an artistic diaspora, right? So this is where it starts. And then this is the type of work that is headed out and that is creating these changes. Beyond poetry. Poetry becomes the foundation—

LG: Yes!

KJ: And then the innovation emerges from that.

LG: Yes! I like looking at it like that. And it’s a tool!

KJ: It’s a tool. It’s a tool. So that the Cafe itself becomes, not just a physical site, but a signifier for a particular politic in a time that is now moving . . . you know.

LG: Yes, yes!

KJ: That’s what I’m saying [chuckles]. I’m hoping somebody likes it.

MA: Yeah. It had to stay aloft with the people that have to go and find it. We were certainly pulling up the sides to find it. And now, what’s the aesthetic, what’s the praise of the beautiful? And if we can get it right and praise the beautiful, we can hit once again at the doors of poetry and have them open. Allen taught me a lot. Yeah. And I used to bring him to Rutgers. And his playfulness was always sensual. And I think that’s true about us.

LG: Yes.

MA: You know, a very sexual play without receiving a bonus for saying it. It’s sensuous stuff.

LG: Sensual, not necessarily sexual. Although it could be.

MA: Oh, it is! Rinpoche—when I walked into the mass meeting starting with, some meeting, and Mikey—Miguel Piñero—myself, and Lucky Cienfuegos, I didn’t even have to think of what the boys should do. Lucky found himself some white person [?] who tried to fix Mikey or Lucky’s hair in rows. What do you call that?

LG/JR: Cornrows?

MA: [Chuckles] Cornrows! And when Lucky saw what it was, you got [unclear] . . . no good. I was there when Mikey immediately found himself attached to Allen, because Allen knew all the gay places. But then Allen, by then, had become such a sinful, raw power. Mid-80s [?] poetry [unclear]. The boys got immediately absorbed in the world, where pussy was available, dick was available, and mind fucking available. Aesthetic has to reveal what’s available.

JR: Do you feel that there is a sensual quality that’s shifted or missing or, like, kind of in the evolution of the Nuyorican aesthetic?

MA: Yeah, but the way I do it, I won’t approach something to say that . . . 

LG: I gotta write that down.

MA: I would approach it—

LG: Make some notes tonight about that.

MA: Huh? 

LG: Say that, what you just said. The aesthetic has to do with what is available. I had not thought about that before.

JR: It has to reveal what’s available. Yeah . . . Can you say more about that? About the aesthetic revealing what’s available?

MA: Well, yes! Because without a doubt . . . within the first couple of hours that you’re sitting in a room with people talking about poetry, it’ll stop if you don’t talk about how and why.

KJ: People who write about it historically, do you think that that’s how they see it?

LG: No.

KJ: Right, and that’s my argument. My argument is not that that didn’t exist, my argument is that that’s not how people write about it or see it, which disavows that particular experience of availability and queerness, right?

LG: Yeah.

MA: Right. Keep it positive. Don’t go . . . the problem with the Beats is that they moved to New Mexico and left New York hungry. When we stepped in and the work that [unclear] for the poetry that was . . . but say what’s positive. Don’t stand on negative. Let me show you how I clean this up. Let me . . . nevermind the . . . give me what should be. When are you guys gonna do this? You’re currently writing?

KJ: Me? My book is due to the press by January, so it’ll be in by mid-January.

MA: And this is your original . . . ?

KJ: This is based on my dissertation. So this is my first book. So I can get tenure.

MA: What is your dissertation?

KJ: My dissertation was “Defining the Nuyorican Aesthetic: Culture and Politics at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.” The book title is The Queer Loisaida: Performance Aesthetics at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.

MA: Queer Loisaida.

KJ: Yeah, so it’s thinking about the Cafe but also in relationship to Loisaida itself. Like, how did those changes impact the type of artists that come into the cafe, the ways in which the work produced is different . . . all of this marketing, all of this sort of shift toward creating work that’s “Oh, I’m gonna wanna slam so that I can get on HBO,” and “I’m gonna do this . . . ” rather than “I’m gonna create work because I need to tell this story because this story needs to be told.”

LG: Mmhmm.

KJ: That’s . . . .that for me is a really significant shift.

LG: But that is the base of the founding of the cafe.

KJ: Yeah.

LG: I’m gonna tell this story because this story needs to be told. And we need community.

KJ: We need kinship.

LG: We need kinship. We need the marginalized.

MA: You need to think of one thing. The day that Mikey Piñero was home, and throughout the Lower East Side, and people came—“Who is it? Oh Miguel Piñero! Oh!” You know, and the old women who had to, used to get dollars when he had money were welcoming him, a tour of the Lower East Side. And I don’t want to be here.

LG: You mean when you spread his ashes?

MA: Yes!

LG: I remember.

MA: Yes, and “don’t take me to a cemetery far, far away. Keep me nearby where all the hoodlums . . .” 

KJ: “And the freaks and f*ggots will all get high.” 

MA: Yeah. It was the walk of fame, the Nuyorican Cafe was here and I would . . . empty lots were—

LG: Down on the side . . . 

MA: They were here. And I remember I came by, I was unsuspecting about all the stuff that Mikey had been doing to keep us afloat. On the work. Don’t talk to me about being important somewhere. Show me how being important is doable. If you can do it, do it.

JR: Wow.

MA: [chuckles]

JR: Wow.

KJ: The first chapter, I place . . . I mean, part of that, obviously, that poem as doing something. But also in conversation and thinking about your book, Memories of Loisaida, right?

MA: Yeah. 

KJ: And how do you think about, you know, this particular walk and spreading ashes, and the performance at Naropa, and you know, Mikey’s work in conversation with your work? And how that operates . . . these different projects operating in conversation with each other. And how the Memories of Loisaida really sort of foreshadow and tell us the story of the changing Lower East Side. Like, what’s going on there? It’s not the place where you can get the jam at the store anymore. In the same way. So, how all of these changes sort of play out and are being made evident in the work that’s produced. I think you’ll like it.

JR: Yeah. ’Cause I’m thinking about that too in the changing Lower East Side or Loisaida and what you’re saying about using what’s available. And how does that work against that sort of gentrifying landscape? And against, like, the HBO and all of that? Are you then working with what’s available after, in the midst of that context or is there also this sort of reaching back and recovery effort?

MA: When you think of it, we were on the line that had just gathered to 3rd Street and Avenue B. And Mikey’s casket and the Polish people and . . . I feel like I can’t say it well. The women, the heavyset women didn’t know what we were doing, and when she heard that Mikey Piñero was the one passed, she fell to her knees and started to scream and scratch at the sky. And we were all . . . surprised. See, for me, that’s the way it read. I’m sure it read different for Lois, but it was our aesthetic. The burying of our poet.

LG: We wrote poems, remember? And then we burned them?

MA: Yes! We burned them! Ay! 

LG: We burned them in the lot next to the Cafe, when it was a lot. They used to keep chickens, remember?

MA: [laughs]

LG: They used to have chickens there. We took . . . when his ashes came, we had the memorial, and we all wrote poems, and we built a fire, and then we burned the poems that we wrote.

MA: We did all of that, ah? And the aesthetic . . . that’s a part four for the aesthetic—the burial of artists and how it can entomb them into the universe.

LG: Yeah, the words go back to the universe. Through the fire.

KJ: So this was an empty lot next to the cafe? Is that where Blue Man Group is now? Or is that the private building next door—?

LG: No. That’s where that building is.

KJ: Where the 24—yeah. That makes sense. ’Cause I remember when they constructed that. Remember they started building and then it became really fancy. Because the architects met with Carmen to try to figure out where they should put the bedrooms. And they [the architects] said don’t put them in the front. And then this woman had a 2 year old, so she came out on a Friday night during the poetry slam, and I had gone outside ’cause it was in the break, it was between rounds. And she was like, “You guys need to . . . .” And everyone is over here, and people are just smoking cigarettes. Nobody’s screaming. It’s a Friday night in New York City at 10:30. And she’s like, “Well my daughter can’t sleep . . .'' and then I remember when I went to the mic and then I started banging on the wall. Listen, it’s a brick wall. 

LG: Yeah, really.

KJ: You’re next door. We’ve been here before you.

MA: That’s a nice story. And I couldn’t write it, I don’t remember that. But that’s a nice story for your chapter, for Nuyorican aesthetics. Now, are you also writing?

JR: Not about the Nuyorican, but I’m working with Lois . . . I’m a writer, but I’m working with Lois right now on the archive project and getting all the materials together. So I work with the digital archive at NYU. So we’re gonna go through some of the tapes, some audio, also looking at photos, and programs, and other sorts of things.

MA: Hunter College has a lot.

JR: Has a lot of stuff?

MA: Because they came to me when I was living . . . I don’t know. But there’s a guy there. After the death of [Tato] Laviera they came to me and I just took out all the shit I had . . . 

LG: You just gave them stuff. I can’t believe you did that.

KJ: So Hunter has some of the materials?

MA: Huh?

KJ: Hunter has some of your materials?

MA: Yes.

KJ: Some of the materials are at Rutgers also, aren’t they?

LG: No.

KJ: Rutgers doesn’t have anything?

MA: Yeah. I mean, Rutgers . . . I’m not sure. I was in a state of limbo at that point. I know that he got a whole mess of stuff from me.

LG: But he really took it without your permission!

MA: No, he had come by to use the materials—

LG: But then he just took it!

MA: —to celebrate Tato’s death.

JR: Oh, so he was supposed to use it for a one-time thing, and now it’s at Hunter?

MA: Well, I don’t remember making a fuss about how the material would be capitalized . . . that’s the point where we might have to argue. Because I remember that the most I ever got was $20.

JR: Oh wow.

MA: $20 . . . 

JR: That’s crazy. Well, we don’t do . . . in terms of what I’m doing, I’m working with Lois primarily on a video archive. So we don’t keep the video tapes. We make a digital copy to preserve in perpetuity with NYU Libraries and then we give the tapes back. But, what we’ve been talking about, the three of us and then with Clare also, Clare Ultimo, is doing a digital component that will function as a digital scrapbook with, you know, interviews, and other ephemera, photos, um, the programs, flyers, anything else that people have that we can use as . . . 

MA: He came in . . . I sat with him. And we decided what . . . HE decided. So, I can’t remember . . . 

LG: You can’t remember his name?

MA: He’s a professor at . . . 

JR: At Hunter? Okay.

MA: So I mean, I suggest . . . 

LG: Is he in El Centro? Do you think he’s from El Centro? 

MA: Might be.

LG: It wasn’t . . . what’s his name that passed away a couple of years ago? Juan . . .

KJ: Juan Flores? 

LG: Juan Flores.

KJ: He was at NYU. 

LG: He was at NYU? 

KJ: Yeah. Because I worked with him at NYU.

MA: What was he like to work with?

KJ: [Chuckles] Juan was very smart, very accomplished. 

[. . .]

JR: Talking about archives makes me think too, about . . . I mean I’m thinking about what you’re saying about what it could be and sort of advancing things forward. Do you think archiving works towards that end or does it work against it, or inform? 

MA: Archives mean to tell the story [unclear] . . . you may then find that it’s not enough, enriching enough to grow [unclear], you then go and say “Fuck you. Now tell me the story of Mikey Piñero.” It’s in your poetry and you may be smart enough to find it, reading the work.

LG: It’s there if you can read it.

MA: Yeah, it’s there. Mikey didn’t leave it to people to interpret. He said “Bury my ashes throughout the Lower East Side.” Here’s some ash.

LG: Everybody took a handful.

MA: And I carried home the can of ashes, and up to maybe a year ago I knew exactly where it is . . . . We gotta get me a place and then have people come in to work. I have to find that . . . And I don’t ever want to go back to teaching. It’s not the way to go for me anymore. But I won’t stop the approach of the project. And I would like to work on that.

LG: Of course!

JR: So for you, what does it feel like are the most important things to capture within the archive project?

MA: Getting the material. Because they swore the material performed at the place was theirs. They weren’t writing the poems in the instant. Many were. But what was important, having worked on those two earlier books, was getting the writing down. It really is . . . having to perform the poem along with the possibility of discovering twists and turns that you yourself haven’t gotten. So, your book is not the performance?

JR: No . . . 

MA: You’re . . . Do you have Lucky Cienfuegos?

LG: Yeah, Lucky’s book. Tick Tock Mental Clock?

KJ: I don’t have Lucky’s book. I should get it. 

MA: You need to find it.

KJ: Ok.

MA: He was . . . that first tour with . . . in ’75, it was Lucky and Tick Tock.

[. . .]

KJ: [Pulls up video of Algarín and Piñero at Naropa] Does this seem familiar?

MA: Oh!

JR: Oh wait, hit it.

MA: I want to see it again!

[Video plays in background]

KJ: It’s from a documentary, from the visit to Naropa.

MA: That’s Allen Ginsberg!

LG: Yep!

KJ: There’s you, I’m saying they show footage of you, Mikey . . . was Amiri [Baraka] there?

MA: I remember that . . . 

LG: And who came later?

MA: You see he said, right there’s the melting point. Can you play that again?

[Video continues in background.]

Ah, Mikey. Oh boy! And St. Marks, this was at the St. Marks? 

LG: No, this was at Naropa.

JR: Naropa.

MA: Well it’s . . . 

KJ: . . . they have this one. 

JR: Has there been some sort of a retrospective? Outside of the documentaries, but just thinking about some of the people, the core people that helped form the Nuyorican aesthetic?

LG/MA: No.

MA: We were really truly into the performance.

[Miguel Piñero performs in background]

MA: [Chuckles] . . . .Ah! [Miguel Piñero performance continues . . . ] Ah!

KJ: And then you see yourself sitting in the corner. I write about it a lot so I’ve got the video memorized.

[LG/JR chuckle]

KJ: There’s a whole documentary on when it was still the Naropa Institute before it became Naropa College.

MA: He [Piñero] had been in jail for several years and had begun to write Short Eyes in jail.

LG: Marvin.

MA: And . . . 

LG: Marvin.

MA: Marvin Felix Camillo. I regret to this day that I didn’t embrace Marvin then. But, you know, he had a lot of people embrace . . . Victor Hoya . . . 

LG: And Willie Will. Remember Willie?

MA: Yeah! Willie. It’s very . . . the aesthetic needs that point of view. He died, but he died not knowing that he was, he was the problem as well as the solution. He dreamed and he dreamed and he dreamed, and he was at that moment very clean.

KJ: What was the problem with Marvin? Was he not a good person?

LG: What was the problem with Marvin? I always thought he was cool. He . . . after . . . because he had The Family . . . 

KJ: Right, at Sing Sing.

LG: Right. And then, when they came out, when Mikey came out, it was Mikey who started The Young Family. Was that a point of contention between them?

MA: I don’t think so. Marvin had maybe, from the day that he met Mikey in Sing Sing . . . 

LG: Maybe Marvin felt he never really got his credit, his due.

MA: No, he didn’t.

LG: Because Mikey wrote Short Eyes and Joe Papp—

MA: Papp!

LG: —got a hold of it and produced it, and where was Marvin? It was because of Marvin that Mikey wrote Short Eyes!

MA: Yeah. Marvin was teaching Mikey how to write. Mikey was so smart. You can hear it in a poem like this. His view was stellar . . . the opening. 

KJ: What was the name of that poem—“Lady With the Blonde Wig On”—

MA: Ah! Oh my god!

KJ: Yeah, that he won the prize with. What was it? Something lady with the blonde wig on?

JR: It wasn’t . . . I don’t want to say sparkle or glitter or something.

KJ: It was something something, ’cause that’s the poem I know.

MA: Lois, they’re paying attention.

LG: Yes? [Chuckles]

JR: Lois and I have talked a lot about—

LG: But if we don’t tell our story . . . and this is what we’re saying . . . 

KJ: Yeah . . . 

LG: If we don’t take it upon ourselves to make sure we tell our story, it will be forgotten. It will be lost. And the archive has become increasingly more important to me. Because I see how people just step on our heads as if we didn’t exist! And yet, it’s through us that they exist! So when you say “yeah, because . . . ” Yes! I am the cause and I am the solution!

[MA hums a song.]

LG: Goodnight sweetheart! [Chuckles]

MA: I think you guys are giving yourselves a chore. [JR chuckles] Because there’s nothing easy about it. You’ll find that admitting to the gay world [unclear] at the same time it can be found that . . . Lucky and Mikey were anti-gay at some points. Now what those are, I don’t really want to think through. [Chuckles.] But he, Mikey, Mikey’s love of young boys . . . that’s what kept him in there. Joe, Joe would come on a lovely, warm, spring afternoon and sit in what became the [unclear] building while Mikey and Joe haggled about price for the next piece [unclear].

LG: But Joe was good. Joe was a good mentor.

MA: Yes, he brought us to where we needed to go.

LG: He brought us, he brought us a lot.

MA: And Marvin and Mikey were the perfect duo. But inside incarceration.

LG: Right. But not outside.

MA: Not outside.

JR: I’m wondering about the role of mentorship actually, now that you mention it, in the Nuyorican, and if you could speak to that maybe? And just—

LG: There was nothing ever formal.

JR: Yeah. I was thinking about the Open Room imperative that you’ve talked about.

[. . .]

LG: The Open Room. The Open Room in many ways was a tool. 

JR: Yeah.

LG: You know, we were talking about poetry before acting as a tool? The Open Room was a tool that . . . that made everyone equal . . . so that you have a voice, you don’t have to have a book to have a voice. You don’t have to have been to Naropa to have a voice.

MA: Free that sister!

LG: Oh!

MA and LG: Free that loving, loving, loving sister!

MA: Free Lolita Lebrón, free! And that voice could just break and break. It’s such a powerful voice. When the Europeans heard it, and Lucky’s telling me that, what are they still applauding? 

JR: Yeah.

MA: You know, Lucky Cienfuegos, that’s another overlooked . . . 

LG: Overlooked poet, yes.

MA: How he really died, I’ll never know because . . . 

LG: He was in Puerto Rico when he died, right?

MA: Right, and he was driving a big car. And somebody walked up and took aim and he killed him. The driver. I mean Lucky got killed. But I don’t know any more details about . . . I would love to . . . I would love to have a reason for turning up in . . . but if I turn up in his family I have to be honorable with money.

LG: Yeah. Yeah.

KJ: Have you copyrighted your name, in terms of the archive project?

LG: No. Although I did . . . 

KJ: You should.

LG: Lawyers for the Arts. I did get in touch with them.

KJ: Just because I know that, when I spoke to Dan, one of the things that he’s working on, he’s like “well we also want to archive the stuff” and he was actually telling me “I don’t want to get in touch with the Hemispheric . . . or Google.” I think he’s going with Google.

JR: I think Diana was in touch with him earlier this year, for sure.

KJ: Because I, yeah, I told her to contact him, but she wasn’t going to meet with him without me being there. But I think he started archiving stuff with Google. I’m looking for stuff on Youtube that shows up, just like pictures . . . so you might want to get a hand on your stuff that he might have.

LG/JR: Yeah.

KJ: If it’s a picture of you, that’s you. That’s your picture. You want to get a handle on it . . . 

JR: Before he gets it to Google.

LG: Right.

MA: She also listed in ACTION, the . . . what was the title they gave me in that book?

KJ: Nuyorican founding poet?


LG: Yeah. We were co-editors. And I wrote an essay. And you did too.

JR: I was just wondering about that, when you said founding poet, if you all could speak, if both of you could speak to the moment, to the founding of the cafe. [To Lois] I know I’ve already talked with you about it.

KJ: I do have a question after that.

JR: Ok. Just wanting to think through that moment. ’Cause I’m thinking about the sort of alchemy that it takes to have the right people and the right timing for something like the Nuyorican to emerge and be established.

LG: It’s a spiritual thing.

JR: Yeah.

LG: Right?

MA: Yeah.

LG: It’s about the spirit. There was never any . . . “Oh, wait a minute, now we’re going to found the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.” It was never like that. It was a spiritual thing. And a kind of belief that you attract what you need. And . . . if you can, we used to have . . . remember all those rumba sessions we used to have, Miguel? Where we used to call on the spirits? We used to call on the Orishas? And we had the drums?

MA: Ah! [Chuckles]

[Nurse announces lunch is about to start. Everyone discusses logistics for next visit]

Jehan L. Roberson is a writer, multidisciplinary artist, and memory worker who uses text as the basis for her interdisciplinary arts practice. Born and raised in Memphis, TN, Roberson makes work that explores Black, queer textual practices as sites of liberation, place making, and archival intervention. Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in Recess Art, Public Books, Apogee, Criticism: A Quarterly for Literature and the Arts, ZORA, Women & Performance, and Autostraddle, among others. Formerly the Collections Specialist for the Hemispheric Institute Digital Video Library (HIDVL), Roberson has also worked, researched, and played in archives across the Americas. Roberson holds an MA in Humanities and Social Thought from NY and is currently pursuing her PhD in the Department of Literatures in English at Cornell University.