Lois Elaine Griffith
I come hard-suave on a cool-tip with bitters and love. Debemos recordar en una fiesta virtual el espíritu de Miguel Algarín - hombre visionario a la frontera de over-the-top words turning energía into action. We recall encuentros with this man - "el bi-sexual-super-macho" as sometimes he referred to himself. He uses words provoking intensity - provoking action. Back in the day, he buys a building in Manhattan's Lower East Side. He moves from point zero - using words as tools to make the binding-glue for community.
¡Qué buena idea! Our coming together summons the force of spit-sound for making a place for art speaking in language that’s more than what the colonial mother-tongues are wont for us to pass-off as authentic - in the pass-along that colonials have invented for us to pass along. Taking a page from the outlaw Piñero's script, Miguel says we must be philosophy students of "the criminal mind." So, we define the measure of our own space - and we pay the fees to operate in the black.
What a vision! - all of us together - conjunto! - to make oraciones of music and dancing en poesía-teatro! What a simple vision to start at point zero - with open hands and open mouth y corazón abierto to create new language - to create our own aesthetic! He has shaped the idea into a place - a destination for disparate roots para agrandar y florear. He encourages the use of our immediate tools at hand - la cultura afro-caribeña - el fundamento leading to words for expression of other words sounding meaning.
For many years I worked with Algarín to make the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. We produced the freshest expressions - caminando on the real edge - from the sidewalk to the stage. Now our expressions have matured to be worthy of attention as the NPC movement for determining who is the horse riding the night - and for measuring the gait.
Akira Nogami's photo of Miguel is on the cover of the 1992 trilingual edition of Time's Now/Ya Es Tiempo—English and Spanish by Algarín, Japanese translation by Akira. The picture recalls a day in New York City summer when the air is thick and hot and still. The picture recalls times when we would get a permit and close down East 3rd Street to have a block party. From the sidewalk to the stage gives direction to our mission—authentic expression in word to make community. And there is music and dancing and food and poetry. People gather all day and make theater - una fiesta-comuna.
In the photo, Miguel stands on the street in front of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. His roots are Puerto Rican/Nuyorican. He is a brown afro-caribeño with curly hair - plata. Pushing the cherubic pudge of his belly into middle-age, he has stepped up to the mic in his blue-jean cut-off daisy dukes. Off-stage, Cafe house-manager Julio Dalmau catcalls and whistles. Conga-men in the background play their drums. Amateurs are sideline, hanging-out for the Afro-latino sabor del caribe. ¿Sobre qué te levantas - Miguel Algarín? The Afro in his root keeps his blood dancing to deliver un poema fresco from our shared eternal-collective present tense for the street-radio broadcast.
Conversation Number Five with Christ
you see, and when I see what you see,
the space between you and me disappears,
but I still despair,
because I don't know if you've done what I did,
in order to see what you see.
His voice breaks the hot air. Preguntas aparecen: about seeing - about - what decides us to see that makes us see what we see? How many times must worlds collide to make us spit-sound to name what we see?
For Miguel, how much intensity for provoking discovery of authenticity is enough? Does a kick to the groin make seeing clear? Is the barstool broken on his head a sign? Does inspiration come from the pipe and B-boys sucking both ways? Does he need his writing hand to write when a stiletto cuts the tendons? With HIV coursing through his veins—what color are his dreams? Forces come together for revelation that makes seeing possible to find el poema. Is there intensity in the quiet when he comes to point zero of this life in a wheelchair in a nursing home looking out the window?
Intersectionality is an intrusive, probing kind of word. La confluencia, coming-together with force of storm, that lacks violence. A confluencia finds a way to flow to the river meeting at point zero.
On what does he stand?
Sobre qué nos levantamos?
To the zero point from which community is made - conjunto - he has brought the tools of our roots - las herramientas de nosotros that have middle-passage crossing seas in our blood - our tools of poetics that we don't let go. We dare not forget - los fundamentos de nosotros.
Tum-cutum cutum cutum - clap hands! Tum-cutum cutum cutum - clap hands to the NPC-chant! Who came before him to show how to resurrect the drum on tongue and to decant the agua florida to release the orisha breath - sending him to embrace the Beats and other escapees from colonial Shakespearean outposts - then joining forces with the blues-hallelujah soul of Black Arts Movers putting down street-jazz-jive noticias en clave for presenting expressions of seeing to create:
Tiki, tiki, tiki,
cata, cata, cata,
tiki, tiki, tiki,...
So many who are lost to death and other griefs can be found alive, when we look to see how they make us see. So much permission has been wrested free from constraints to be given away freely. Can we speak what we see when we look in the mirror?
Están los fundamentos de nosotros that we dare not overlook - about seeing, in Miguel's Conversation . . .
y cuando yo veo lo que tú ves,
el espacio entre tú y yo desaparece,
pero todavía desespero,
porque no sé si tú hiciste lo que yo hice,
para lograr ver lo que tú ves.
I see the confluencia of roots in Algarín. They have been his tool for creating community. The Nuyorican Poets Cafe is a community with its own language-expression-aesthetic that he's made space for growing—conjunto—joining with others from "the sidewalk to the stage" and beyond. It embodies generosity. It can survive on its own to serve el próximo cambio en la próxima onda.
Lois Elaine Griffith
Lois Elaine Griffith, extracted from AfroCaribbean-NewYork roots, is an artist/writer/teacher and one of the founders of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.