Editor’s Note: This is Episode 15 of the Fresno Poets Archive Project. It features C. G. Hanzlicek, Inés Hernández, Ernesto Trejo, and Luis Omar Salinas, recorded in the spring of 1985 at the Wild Blue Yonder nightclub in Fresno. Background research and closed captioning for this video was conducted by student Mariah Bosch in the spring of 2018. Mariah is a Chicana poet from Fresno. She is currently a second-year student in the Fresno State MFA program, studying poetry, and she works with U.S. Poet Laureate Emeritus Juan Felipe Herrera as a graduate fellow in his Laureate Lab Visual Wordist Studio, inside the Henry Madden Library. Her work can be found in Peach Magazine, the Acentos Review, Empty House Press, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and elsewhere.
Mariah worked on this archive video during a brief time between graduating with her bachelor’s degree in English Literature, in December 2017, and starting the MFA program in the fall of 2018. She approached her entrance into the community of Fresno writers with great reverence and anticipation.
By Mariah Bosch
For the Fresno Poets Archive Project
When I began working with the Fresno Poets Archive Project, I wanted to use it as a way for me to personally gain more perspective on the Fresno writers I had begun to read on my own. I’d been told by different instructors that it was important to understand the “heritage” of Fresno poetry and to be exposed to local writers to better understand where I, as a poet, could fit into that history.
“Tarumba, you were born in spit / born in God knows what hot goo” is a line Ernesto Trejo read at the Wild Blue nightclub in the video I worked with. Immediately I thought of Fresno and its summers that leave all of us feeling like we’re covered in God knows what hot goo. The poem itself is a translation of work by Jaime Sabines that Trejo worked on with Philip Levine. Tarumba is fictional but known as a Spanish colloquial term meaning knocked out or dazed — the poems from Sabines’ collection have the same qualities and are similar to works that draw on magical realism, but what attracted me most to this section of Trejo’s reading was the interchangeability of Tarumba for any place, particularly Fresno.
The title poem of the collection describes the struggle of a place that wants, a place with its own desires: Your curse was to grow only two hands. Unlucky Tarumba, you’ve got the hide of mouth and you never wear out. You’ll never make it, even though you cry, even though you sit perfectly still like a good boy. I could see why Trejo decided to read these poems the more I listened to them, as Tarumba could be anywhere; Tarumba could be the Wild Blue or the city right outside of it that now, as a young woman, I’d finally grown to love despite its hot goo.
During my transcription of this portion of the video, I felt stuck on Trejo’s interest in Sabines and his desire to read so much of the Mexican poet’s work at a reading where I’d expect him to showcase his own. I was fortunate to find out that the book, Tarumba, was likely in the Philip Levine Reading Room inside the Madden Library on campus — a resource of Levine’s personal collection. The idea of just going to see Philip Levine’s personal collection of books seemed absurd but soon enough, I had the key in my hand and was unlocking the cupboards that held books belonging to the late poet laureate. On one shelf, there were multiple copies of Tarumba, one of which was sectioned into different languages and translations done by Sabines himself, as well as the original pressing that Trejo and Levine worked on together.
While transcribing the portion of Trejo’s reading that featured Sabines’ work, I came across an archive of audio recordings of Levine reading some of the poems in the book. Coincidentally, this discovery was one I made on the anniversary of Levine’s death, making it feel even more important to me than it already had. The collection, while small, was featured in a long section of Trejo’s reading — most memorable to me after finding these recordings of Levine is “Conversation with Jaime Sabines,” a question-and-answer poem with the following lines: And after death, what? Nothing. And after death, what? After death, a discovery. To feel that all this was useless, to remember the dawn, the sad eyes of cows, the dampness without end of Chiappas, all the golden dust of life.
Sitting in the Levine reading room, I flipped through and read about Trejo’s interest in translating Sabines in graduate school, after being approached by Levine. I thought of myself, nearing the end of my graduate school application process, and how I wanted to feel such a connection to my work in this way. Afraid for my future but simultaneously inspired, transcribing this video helped me to see what it was really like to do the work of a poet — to not only write poetry, but immerse yourself in it and to research and take on the work of others, as well. Being able to access the books in Levine’s collection made me feel more like I belonged in this kind of work and like studying poetry was right for me, even if only because of the genuine excitement I felt being in that room at that moment.