Refreshing San Antonio

Poetry and Art



By Viktoria Valenzuela


     San Antonio is seen from afar as a militant and business oriented city. Walking the San Antonio Riverwalk will tell you a lot about what is at the facade of San Antonio, but since moving here in 2011, I've met and discovered something more inviting. The city is as refreshing to itself as it is to those who visit. The Riverwalk is gleaming in the hot sun, yet the hilly terrain allows for a subtle breeze to blow over her much of the time. The people dress in bright colors and smile when they see you. When I attend art or poetry events, I am kissed on the cheek and embraced firmly, un buen brazo, we call it. The art scene here is thriving and the poetry scene is bumping and mixing the two was inevitable.

     Every corner of San Antonio has its own sort of poets and artists, but Carmen Tafolla is our brave leader in the poetry world. She became the first poet Laureate of San Antonio (2012) and has led us all to some strong poetry collaborations. She's accomplished her goals that range from a city wide spoken word contest, to marking up the walls of a middle school on the Westside of San Antonio with poetry, which in its self is poetic, since her poetry there speaks to the preciousness of its inhabitants.

     I met Naomi Shihab Nye at her public poetry reading at San Antonio's Central Library. She, like her jovial poem included in this collection, is a pure San Antonian. It is easy to forget that her heritage is long, and far, from the U.S.A. because Nye is as Tejano as any of 'em. I know this because, she welcomed my introduction from Sheila Black, the director of Gemini Ink, in classic San Antonio fashion. Un buen abrazo! I asked her if she would please contribute a poem to this feature because she is puro San Antonio.

     Sheila Fiona Black is an amazing poet whom I have befriended since her recent transplant to San Antonio from New Mexico. Her poetry is inspiring and her vision is shaping the way good writing is emerging from all corners of San Antonio culture. We have supported one another in the blossoming writer's culture of Gemini Ink ever since day one and I am glad to know her and learn from her.

     In the downtown scene, and maybe a bit on the fringe of it, Anel Flores has been a strong Chicana voice for Lesbianas and Chicanisma in America with both her writings and her art. Women poets in the community are very important and not as rare as in other places, thankfully. Catherine Lee and Victoria Zapata Klein are writing poetry that is important to our time and culture. I had the honor of witnessing them perform at a few open mic events as well as attend the events they host in the folds of the city.

     Vincent Cooper is a poet that is writing his first book of poetry based out of the Westside of San Antonio. His work focuses on the unremarkable to those that live in the predominantly Hispanic and impoverished Westside neighborhood. Yet, each poem manages to express something profound while naming the culture found there. Meanwhile, Mondrea Harmon, Urban Griot, takes the same chances with his poetry about the Eastside of the city, also an economically impoverished area with a predominantly Black community. Both men reach out with genuine fervor for the people.

     J. Alejandro Hafner is another outstanding spoken word performer. He is charismatic and very powerful in his delivery. He is a vibrant member of the spoken word community and one excellent advocate for keeping the spirit of spoken word alive in San Antonio. With a few others, he runs the Blah Blah Blah Poets, a community open mic event that draws a large following from the nightlife scene. I like that the would be club-goers are the slam poet attendees, and sometimes contestants! San Antonio is very romantic in its possibilities for becoming an inspired poet.

     I chose these poets for good a cross-view of San Antonio's blooming culture. The art scene in San Antonio also ranges more broadly from high art to lowbrow to folksy arts and crafts. I couldn't possibly gather all forms of art into one issue. These artists I've included are my friends and I've chosen to work with them based on my appreciation for their talent. Each one has a very concise artist's statement and I will hope that you enjoy the vision they present.

     Albert Alvarez and Moe Profane are very controversial yet intelligent artists. I enjoy the questions they bring to the table with the details in their work. Jacinto Guevara is genius with his figurine renderings of historical figures. The best part is, that each one has an elaborate story and he says they are never done. They are just in constant state of restructuring.

     Luis Valderaz and Daniela Riojas are both artists who work with images of what IS. Valderaz likes to alter what is there with his Xicano inspired imagery of his own making. The mariachi in his images is actually from an old photograph of his father. I like that he has made his father an icon in the San Antonio vernacular. Riojas explores the self and what is there until she can almost see herself at the cellular level. She is very in tuned with nature and the self. Suzy Gonzalez and Humans of San Antonio are emerging artists with a big vision of what makes up the body. The body itself or the body of San Antonio. Their work is a vivid exploration of the people. Sarah Castillo and Jane Madrigal are veteran artists of San Antonio whose work is impacting not just San Antonio but the entirety of Chicana culture. I have been a fan of their woman centered work for many years.

     My return to this city after being away most of my life feels like coming home, maybe even more so since the community of artists and writers is so welcoming. The creative people here are energizing to one another and the scene is open for collaboration and growth. I am very grateful to know and befriend these artists.