A Cluster of Flowers
Back in 1996, I was invited to participate in a student conference taking place at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. It was an impressive and large gathering, with a host of northeastern schools, from Maine to D.C., representing local chapters of Latino American Student Associations (LASA). I had been asked to conduct two Saturday morning workshop sessions, one on the theme of Afro-Latino connections (historical and otherwise), the other on the subject of revolution; as well, I was to be the featured poet at their evening gala dinner that same night.
What impressed me the most was the framework students were using. Usually, such conferences focus only on panels of guests with some expertise on whatever, where the only role for conferees is take notes and gawk at celebrated oldheads, then network and party for a couple of days. But here, with this conference, there was no room for gawk. Those morning workshops conducted by the invited were followed with afternoon assessments conducted solely among the students themselves. Presentations followed by critique. Conferees doing more than just listening to single voices. Now that’s democratic! And the first time I had ever seen it.
In between the morning sessions and dinner, I circulated around to find out more about my hosts. Here and there, several of them would allow me my questions, feed me information on their overall structure, the schools they represented and anything else I thought to elicit for my own assessment. Inside of this exchange, one name kept popping up. References to one of the principal organizers, a fellow-student of theirs from Amherst they called Shaggy, and more often than not, especially described to me as the maverick among them. As it turned out, this maverick they kept asking me had I met or seen yet was also the person who pushed the most for my invitation.
Interestingly enough, throughout that same afternoon I kept spotting this young man wearing beret and glasses. He was different from the others, smooth (as in, jitterbug cool), walking with a bebop stroll (no longer in vogue) as opposed to a hip hop strut (as in, baggy). I liked that. Like from the Brooklyn streets that raised me.
Finally, just before dinner we were formally introduced, Shaggy and I, black beret and dashiki print converging as if we been known each other. And in between dinner, speech, recitation, rhythm, while everyone else was eating or dancing we talked.
As it turns out, Jaime ‘Shaggy’ Flores is an up and coming cultural worker in the best tradition of the Frederick Douglass dictate: agitate, agitate, agitate, organize, organize, organize, educate, educate, educate. A Puerto Rican from Springfield who embraces his African American cousins, his insular uncles, and his mainland siblings. A searcher who has pored through volumes of both Caribbean and Black history and New York Rican (Nuyorican) letters.
You can see it in this, his first volume of work. The allusions clearly call out the influences guiding his perspective: Arawakan imagery, African rooted Santeros, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Pedro Albizu Campos, Julia de Burgos, Juan Antonio Corretjer, Black Panthers and Young Lords —the searcher clearly defining his place in the world, a longing to be whole.
The music you hear in his choices of words as well outline his perceptual sense of walk and talk —standard english blending into an ebonic spanglish as response to the call of bebop/cubop/salsa/doo wop rhythms. But as well as the devices, his interest in craft and form, there is also the intent, the vocation he aspires to further embrace.
Yes! To be sure, Shaggy Flores is a young poet. A developing Roque Dalton or a vibrant Otto Rene Castillo, reaching for maturation and a willing engagement to the principles that guide his commitment. And in the tradition of such poets, one who bothers to search and research in order to better hone his craft, his thought, his direction. Some might accuse him, like I’ve been accused, of writing agitating propaganda instead of losing himself in the ethereal complexity of no thought. But in their accusations the labelers of agitprop omit the duty of the poet to reflect the condition, to instigate and inspire, to critique as well as explore the boundaries of love. If the condition were not what it is, there’d be no need for a voice to raise against it. Since there is always a condition to confront, there is ever the shape of another voice.
And so it is that Mr. Flores does not capitulate to the condition or the authority, and has not acquiesced to a standard of art that insists only on self-gratification. He is grounding himself inside understanding the job that comes with the claim of poet. And like Neruda, offers you this initial cluster of flowers as a gift that befits both his surname and vocation. Another contribution to the living word.
– Louis Reyes Rivera (Brooklyn, NY)