Foreword: Iterations & Phases
Lois Elaine Griffith
La primera iteración del Nuyorican Poets Cafe is a storefront bar-space on East 6th Street—Lower East Side. In the 1970s, this part of town—known as Alphabet City—had a reputation as hoodlum territory. Miguel Algarín—poeta y fundador del Nuyorican Poets Cafe—the charisma of the man back-in-the-day—gathers us.
We are poets and músicx and artists and bailadorxs and mechanics and thespians and borrachxs dreaming another matrix for the matrix to include us in its making—un conjunto in his living room. ¡Y llega la buena suerte! Across the street from his ground-floor railroad flat in the Lower East Side, the old bar, Sunshine, becomes vacant y vacío. We spill over there to make art—conjunto en la soledad de la muchedumbre. Mad with passion we speak and sound en clave:
ley-ley/lea . . .
truco/truco - tun-tun-tun
truco/truco - tun-tun-tun
clap-clap/stomp-stomp . . .
Poeta-emcee, Lobo Loperena, used to say: in the belly of the beast we grow a temple. Our mission has been to create an open room with a stage. La gente can walk from the sidewalk to our stage to engage in public transformation since la entrada al mainstream has been lost in translation.
Algarín—¡qué visionario!—understanding that the only permanence is change—he is determination, focused on dancing with City bureaucracy, and he buys the two-three-six building on East 3rd Street that used to be La Mama. We manage the fare for more work-space, creating la segunda iteración.
No saints and martyrs here. We've done what we did-do for ourselves. Tenemos la energía eléctrica en colored tongues. We are sobrevivientes of the colonial way. Juntos nos juntamos to make a place to gather community and spit poems and make music and dance hard on the drum-pulse for cruzando la frontera into el estado de intoxication.
La fluida energía eléctrica - does it have a name?
This thing that we did-do—how to call what we did-do
when what we did-do is a way
of doing to get at what art does
if making art is about driving the doing
to touch feeling wild diversión
to fire salvaje in the soul.
Initiating the Nuyorican Poets Cafe Founders Archive Project is an idea both Miguel and I have identified as right-on-time in these times of reckoning and change. El pasado helps to guide us. In documenting and writing about others we write about ourselves. What we did-do is artifact for observation. For their enrichment, emerging artists/scholars may study our subaltern positions in these Americas y Caríbe as evidence of expressions we've found useful. What we did-do arrives us at la tercera iteración.
The Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics imports the Nuyorican Poets Cafe Founders Archive Project into its ever-expanding family of workers in the arts. For more than twenty years the Hemi has used the power of digital technologies to connect artists-activists, students-scholars across fronteras of language and ethnicity and space in this hemisphere. The Hemi makes it possible for all to share in what we did-do—and for us to interact in dimensions outside place-matter.
When Miguel Algarín dies, some of us who've worked with him gather—conjunto—to celebrate his legacy as poeta y fundador del Nuyorican Poets Cafe. The Hemi has stepped up to create a home for remembrances of Algarín in the form of a digital anthology, Memorias de Miguel: The Hard Work of Love. In soliciting submissions for this digital anthology, I ask contributors to share memories of Miguel Algarín—ugly-bad-good ones. We detour being dry and precious in voicing memory about him. Not our way. Not his way forward with passions.
On this journey of creating the NPC Founders Archive Project, I've been fortunate to enlist support from Pratt Institute's Graduate Writing Program. Christian Hawkey, who was chair, and then Beth Loffreda who took over from him—both were enthusiastic and felt the Project and their Writing Program would be served by assigning graduate students to assist me. Natalie Riquelmy, Alisha Mascarenhas, Urantia Ramirez.
At the time I made outreach for a home for the Project to my alma mater, Barnard College, Shannon O'Neill (then director of Barnard Archive, now director of NYU's Tamiment Collection) jumped on the subway and came to my house to discuss the possibilities. Throughout the years, Martha Tenney at Barnard College and Frances Negrón-Muntaner at Columbia University have been generous in their support and vocal in their understanding of the importance of the NPC Founders Archive Project and the study of NPC aesthetics which the Project demonstrates.
I am grateful to poet/artist Clare Ultimo, former graphic artist in residence at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, who suggested that to further the Project, I contact Karen who was at work on her book The Queer Nuyorican for its presentation at NYU. I am deeply indebted to scholar/poet Karen Jaime, who back in the early 2000s was a Slam Master at the Cafe and now has become a professor in Performing and Media Arts & Latina/o/x Studies at Cornell University and Scholar-in-Residence at New York University's Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics.
For all their hard work and belief in the Project I thank the Hemispheric Institute staff: Director Emerita, Diana Taylor; Director, Ana Dopico; Managing Director, Marcial Godoy; Digital Media and Public Scholarship Specialist, Daniel Howell; former project manager, Jehan Roberson; graduate student fellow, Daniella Gitlin; and, especially, the artist-of-design.
I thank poet David Henderson for introducing me to his old SEEK Program colleague, Ammiel Alcalay, Professor of English at CUNY Graduate Center and General Editor of Lost & Found. I owe Ammiel a debt for advocating studies of the confluencia of post-colonial Caribbean studies with those of the Beats, its influencers and the Black Arts Movement. He has encouraged CUNY Graduate Fellow Joseph Cáceres' dissertation work on Algarín and the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, and Joseph has been tireless in his research/his support of the NPC Founders Archive Project.
I offer oraciones to the Great Spirit to give all strength and breath en celebrando la vida.
Lois Elaine Griffith
Disclaimer: All views expressed by contributors are theirs alone and represent neither those views of New York University nor those views of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics.