Name: Oscar Bermeo
Where do you live now? The Bronx
Day job: Office manager at Mind-Builders Creative Arts Center, a Bronx not for profit that teaches music, dance, folk culture and teen dramatics.
Other projects: Curator & host of Acentos, webmaster for louderarts.com, occasional host/frequent performer for synonymUS, host for various poetry events around the city, guest speaker at schools in NYC and (oh yeah) attempting to develop a manuscript for publication.
What is Acentos? A showcase for Latino/Latina writers of various degrees of development. We have presented the work of founders of the Nuyorican movement and poets who have just begun to make waves in the scene to show that you can look to the future while still honoring your past. Acentos also has the uptown’s best open mic where any poet, regardless of cultural background, can share their poems in front of a crowd that places craft ahead of flash.
When and how did it get started? Acentos started in March of 2003. At the time there were no reading series that focused on Latino/Latina writers and only a few open mics in the Bronx, but none of those mics tried to give a feature spotlight to any new or different poets.
I was invited by the Bronx Council of the Arts to feature for their First Wednesday series, a reading series that was putting a focus on writers from in and around the Bronx. When I saw the performance space, I knew the Bronx was ready for a Latino poetry series and then came Acentos.
What is louderARTS? A not for profit that creates new spaces to present, teach and expand the arts thru poetry. More importantly, it’s the place where I grew up as a poet. I only started writing in 2001, and the fact that my art has progressed so quickly is because of the louderMONDAYS reading series, the louderARTS workshops and the friendships/mentorships i have developed there. Lynne Procope and Roger Bonair-Agard are two names that stand out–when I first heard their work I was floored. I didn’t know that poetry could be that urgent and that personal, then I got to know them as people and learned a lot about handling myself as a poet and representing the art.
Troubles faced starting/running/maintaining an arts organization? The biggest headache is to keep attracting fresh new voices to feature for us. The lazy way would be just to recycle everyone that has already come through but that’s why a lot of readings fail.
The other major problem is devoting so much time towards the organizational aspects of an arts org and then stifling your own development. I’ve heard stories of people putting the needs of the series before their own and then they end up bitter when they see others expand past them. You have to find the right mix or choose one over the other. I’ve been lucky enough to do both, but it’s not easy.
Any pleasant surprises? How quickly we have developed a community. I thought it would take two years before we developed a solid core of writers that would proudly represent Acentos. It actually only took a few months! Fish Vargas was there from the jump, Rich Villar came aboard a few months later and Jessica Torres at the tail end of year one, and that’s just the organizing body. Today, we have about a dozen regulars of all kinds of styles and backgrounds that call Acentos home. It doesn’t get better than that.
How do you choose the "headliners" for each night? I am always on the lookout for somebody that brings a different aesthetic to the art and can teach us a new way to look at poetry. I also love bringing in people from across the country to not only teach us a thing or two, but to also leave saying ’the Bronx is the spot where poetry lives.’
Can anyone participate in the open mics? Oh yeah. I don’t care where you’re from or what your experience is–bring it on the open mic. Be warned, we have some harsh critics in our audience, the catchy phrases and high volume rants that work at other spots may not get the same response here. Ditto for any bullshit machismo, gender bashing or hateful diatribes.
Why Mott Haven? It allows Manhattanites to come easily into the Bronx. I always laugh at how many New Yorkers haven’t stepped foot at all in the Bx. They don’t mind trekking down to Tribeca but think the Bronx might as well be Canada. Mott Haven is a nice welcome to folks, a mix of old and new that will want them to explore more of the Boogie Down.
Mott Haven has been dubbed "the new Williamsburg" by some folks–what do you think? If a realtor is saying it to elevate rent prices, then I hate it. If someone is saying it in recognition of the thriving arts community that exists in Mott Haven, then I am all for it.
How would you describe the poetry scene in NYC these days (particularly Latino poetry/literary scene)? There is something for everybody, so if you keep looking, I’m sure you’ll find a spot that suits you. Some places put an emphasis on shine rather than on substance, all they want to hear are poems that spell out all of society’s problems and offer simplistic solutions. As for the Latino scene, we are making strides. Four years ago, there was nothing and now you see readings popping up all over the place which is great. Likewise, you see a lot of spots shutting down just as quickly. Poetry isn’t a race, you have to plan for the rough times and not panic when only 10 people show up to your spot.
Other events worth checking out: synonymUS at the Nuyorican Poets Café (the best fusion of poetry and music anywhere), louderMONDAYS at Bar13 (the place where you earn your poet card), Petes Big Salmon in Williamsburg (Ada Limón & Jen Knox bring out the literary best, do not blink or you will miss the metaphor), Poetically Incorrect at Cornelia Street Café (Chance brings together the people for a real poetry party), SpiralBridge in Montclair, NJ (they are ending a four year run and its been a great four years).
Favorite local poets: Guy LeCharles Gonzalez (awesome poet, even better mentor and friend–he gave me my first real break), Patricia Smith (amazing poet–even better human being), Willie Perdomo (he makes the page come alive), Cheryl Boyce Taylor (the nest hugs in poetry & an amazing writer), Louis Reyes-Rivera (a living history book), Edward Garcia & Bonafide Rojas (my early inspirations), Mahina Movement (the fiercest troupe of poets you will ever find), Patrick Rosal, Osageyfo, Ishle Yi Park & all the louderARTISTS (every single one is amazing).
Favorite poets of all time: Pablo Neruda & Federico García Lorca quickly come to mind. Jimmy Santiago Baca was another early role model. Judith Oritz Cofer & Julia Alvarez have also been great teachers (thanks to their books) and Martín Espada (who makes me nervous every time he walks in a room).
Last great book you read: So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water Until It Breaks by Rigoberto González, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn, School of the Arts by Mark Doty, Something to Declare by Julia Alvarez
What you love about NYC: Always an adventure no matter what hour. I am a natural insomniac and this city does not help. It’s not too uncommon to see me go 30 hours without sleep, going from poetry event to poetry event (with some music thrown in between). I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
And the food- God! I love
the food. I make it a point to know a good spot to chill every few blocks. My favorite is this place called Malecon in the Heights. Café con leche y platanos, 24-7!
What you hate: Too much to do. I hate when they schedule all these great poetry events at the same time! The subways suck too. I can’t be around too many people at one time, it strikes a claustrophobic nerve. People that run into you and don’t apologize should be hunted down and dealt with accordingly…
Favorite place in the city: The Bronx! A close second to a nice quiet bookstore where I can read and write all day. Yankee Stadium is also the home to some great memories when I was a kid.
Favorite kind of music: I listen to a lil of everything from Coldplay to System of a Down, St Germain to the Prodigy, Dave Matthews Band to Naz, Pearl Jam to Public Enemy, Miles Davis to Si*Se, but my favorite all time band is U2.
What is a "cosmopolatino" anyway? I think its when you add a mango slice to a martini but I’m not sure.
Anything else? Yeah, poetry will change your life if you let it.
Acentos is held every 2nd and 4th Tuesday at 7pm at Bruckner Bar and Grill in Mott Haven, the Bronx. For more information on Acentos and the louderARTS Project, visit www.louderarts.com.