Poetry Friday: CantoMundo Retreat in NYC


Ysabel Y. Gonzalez

As a Latinx poet, I’m always searching for little homes.  For myself and for my poems.  So several years ago when I heard about CantoMundo, an organization which celebrates and cultivates Latinx poets through workshops, symposia & public readings, I knew I had to apply.  I knocked at their door for 5 years, determined to attend the retreat, determined to be a part of this family. I admired the Fellows’ work. Wearing my hat as the Assistant Director here at Dodge Poetry, I had witnessed their evocative readings at the Dodge Poetry Festival and our Lunchtime Poems in Military Park.  So, when I was accepted to the Fellowship this June, I put on a different hat—that of CantoMundo Fellow.

With this Fellowship hat, I was inspired by our instructors, Rosa Alcalá and Rigoberto González, and by all the other 29 Fellows who arrived from across the nation, including New York, California, Indiana, and Texas.  Over the four days we spent living, working and eating together on the Columbia University campus, I felt a connection to the other poets and to my own writing that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. I believe it was tied to the commitment and purpose we all shared: working to create space for Latinx poetry throughout the United States.  From conversations about poems that inspire us over lunch from Malecon, to conversations on immigration on the steps of the campus library, we continued to learn over and over how similar we all were, despite the many differences.

The retreat also served as a reminder that the poet does more than just publish.  Latinx poets can also rise to the challenge of engaging with our communities in other ways, including volunteering and serving in our communities.  And that is not to say that publication isn’t a wonderful thing; in fact, it is a crucial tool to participate in the conversations being had. It’s easy to get caught up in the business of poetry, and CantoMundo reminded us not to lose sight of why we started writing in the first place, whatever that reason might be, whether  to share and document ancestral stories, to protest, or to contribute towards a larger conversation.

I left the CantoMundo retreat wanting to continue to write the kind of poem I want to read: the one that influences change and the kind that sparks transformation in my reader.  I’m very excited to read poetry that does exactly that, written by so many CantoMundistas who will be debuting work in first and second books soon, including poets: Sara Borjas, Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, Andrés Cerpa, Joshua Escobar, Carmen Giménez Smith, Sheila Maldonado, Jennifer Maritza McCauley, Jasminne Mendez, Brenda Nettles Riojas, Joseph Rios, Erika Sánchez, Natalie Scenters-Zapico, Nicole Sealey, Vanessa Angélica Villarreal, and Javier Zamora.

It also excites me that there are so many, many Latinx poets writing and sharing their work— and CantoMundo Fellows are just a fraction.  In fact, CantoMundo received over 100 applications this year for the 10 open slots for new fellows. There are so many Latinx poets in our nation writing and working, experimenting and doing amazing things with language.  There are so many poets, period, exploring ways to use language in poems in a way that challenge their readers and call us to action.

If you’re interested in applying to CantoMundo, and identify as a Latinx poet, they will be accepting applications for 2018 fellows from September through December 2017.  Visit www.cantomundo.org for more information.


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