Coffee klatsch with Nathan Elias and Luis Chaluisan
Published: June 29, 8:39 AM
By Toledo Poetry ExaminerLorraine Cipriano
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with two prominent published poets. One was a local poet, Nathan Elias,and the other was self-described “Nuyorican”, Luis Chaluisan. We met at the Ground Level Coffeehouse and discussed not only what is going on with Mr. Elias these days but we also talked about the local poetry scene in general. What follows are excerpts from our conversation.
This is part one:
Lorraine: Are you originally from Toledo?
Nathan: Yes, I was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio.
Lorraine: What do you usually write poetry about?
Nathan: Well, what do I usually write poetry about? That’s a good question. I write about things that concern me in life. The easiest way to answer that question is not what I write about but what I have written about, which is the Glass City. “Glass City Blues” is my magnum opus for me. It is an ongoing work in progress that I would like to leave behind so people can know how I lived in this city.
A lot of what I write is inspired by Buddhism because I try my hardest to practice Buddhism. I try to relate it to everyday life. For example, there is a part of my poem, Glass City Blues #8, that goes “a bone thug Dalai Lama waiting to beg for change”. I try to write about how we are all interconnected in some way.
The manuscript for Glass City Blues is divided into sections. The first section of it is all numbered poetry which I wrote to emulate Jack Kerouac. . I had taken a hitchhiking trip before I had even heard of Jack Kerouac and it told me in a sense that I should pursue poetry in my life.
It was when my mother had passed away that I had taken the hitchhiking trip. At that point, I was never really involved with poetry. A woman picked us up and she said to my friend and me, “You guys remind me of Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac from the book, On the Road”. I said, “Okay, I’ll have to read that when I get back.” So when I read it, it seemed like maybe there was some kind of reincarnation. I am not saying that I am the reincarnation but I think energy does travel. People get possessed with certain energies for certain lengths of time.
So, the first section is “Glass City Blues” and it emulates Mexico City blues, destination blues, and Jack Kerouac verses. All of his verses were numbered and these are numbered verses and choruses.
The second section of the Glass City Blues is called “Touchless Automatic” which is inspired by autonomous poetry because I am very much inspired by surrealist artists like Andre Breton and Salvador Dali. They did everything pretty much autonomously where you just don’t even think, you just let it happen.
Another section is called “My Mother’s Ghost”. That’s me trying to come to terms with my mother’s death. Those are all confessional poems which are not in the spirit of Touchless Automatic in the Glass City Blues.
Another one is called Under a Yellow Light and that section of the poetry is about the holiness that lives in everyday life. For example, the other day I was downtown and I saw someone almost get hit by a car, I don’t know why they were not hit but by some mere stroke of luck the car just dodged out of the way. I just thought to myself, “Why would that happen?” if there was not some inherent truth, some inherent being, controlling the things that we do. That is what “Under the Yellow Light” is about.
Also, I am writing a poem titled “October 15th” that will be included in it. It is about the historic event that happened out here on October 15, 2005 involving the racist uproar over the Neo-Nazis visiting Toledo. That is me trying to say I do not want to write about myself always. Sometimes you have to write about things that do not involve yourself.
Another part of the Glass City Blues manuscript is called Reading Soul. It is about the amount of paper and ink that there is in the world and how you choose what to read. It is about the gentleman at the Collingwood Arts Center printing the books by hand. It is not bound because that defeats the total perception of what a book is. You read it because you’re reading the soul of the writer. I have a ton of poems that are going to be broken up into those categories. That is what I am writing about and flowers.
Lorraine: Do you think poets should be socially active?
Nathan: This morning I led a workshop for four young gifted girls, whose ages ranged between eight and twelve years old, at the University of Toledo. I can’t exactly tell them, “Hey, a poet needs to be socially active.” Instead, I taught them about haiku and free verse and we spent the morning writing poetry together and then we made collage pieces that I plan to print into a book this evening. I plan to make it into a chapbook so that they have it to keep forever.
It’s kind of like D.A. Levy’s poetry. It is collage poetry. So that they are being poets but that is not necessarily them being engaged in society. I am going to give them something that they can give to other people. Poetry marks time.
I totally think that a poet should try to be socially active because you can change the world with words. You can write for yourself but I have trouble in life when you’re only doing things that revolve around yourself. If you are only writing poetry with and for yourself I think it becomes incestuous eventually and your mind is going to become wrapped in this world of ego.
So, unless you’re getting out and letting people tear your work up, then it might help you heal, but I think you’re going to trap yourself into something that will wind up taking your mind down the wrong road. So, it is not only about trying to change society, but it is also about forcing yourself into society which is forcing you to grow.
It brings to my mind the saying that is in the Dhammapada, which is Buddhist scripture, under a chapter called Thousands that goes “Better than a thousand useless words, is a single useful sentence, hearing which one is pacified.” In other words, delivering one thoughtful word to the world is much more beneficial to everyone’s existence versus writing a thousand words to your own self.
Luis: If I may interject now, this is from Federico Garcia Lorca’s perspective. He completely downplayed the part of getting published. His thing was to go out there and to put his work out as a performer. He would stand up and recite. The reason I was attracted to Nathan and his work is because of the project he proposed to me about filming poets. Yes, it is good to have things on paper but to capture the emotion of the poet and their message, that is what is important. Especially, since we have the technology now to capture those poems, it is important that it is done for any community.
That is why I have been busy setting up a platform, on a much bigger scale, so that the poet does not have to continuously perform out there. It is like let’s capture this person and let’s edit him so it is not just him standing there doing it but maybe mixing up mediums so that it gets it back to the spirit of what Lorca was all about.
Lorca, to me, was a complete radical. He just treated his work that way. He couldn’t suffer fools quietly. He just went out and did his thing and he kept on moving. He moved into war and got blasted away. But that was his mission, to put his statement out there by any means necessary.
I have been out there filming poets and I have been looking for that fire that is in a lot of places. It is looking for that thing that is popping.
Nathan: I think that is what I have been doing with the documentary. Not necessarily “capture the fire”. But let people know, if they are in the documentary, they have the fire so show me it. I saw Luis shooting people for the longest time and I didn’t know what he was doing, but I was given the opportunity to do a summer film project with U.T. My majors are Film, Philosophy, and Creative Writing at U.T.
One thing I am working on is making a film called, “My Blue Midnights“. So I adapted “My Blue Midnights” which I have the rights to from Rane Arroyo. It is has been hard to find Latino actors in Toledo who are willing to act homosexual. So my fall-back project is the documentary.
The documentary project is real, it’s live, I do it everyday. Like Luis said, when you just film someone reading it can be boring so you have to insert the fire.
Luis: In general, the poetry scene reflects what is going on with the city. The city is isolated in different sections, there are cliques. You have the black poetry scene, the academic poetry scene, the Collingwood Arts Center scene, the VOCAL INKorporated scene, and poets doing different events at the public library. A poets mission is not to be accepting of the establishment but to be anti-establishment and to be an artist. An artist is always anti-establishment. I have been on the outside for so long just being Latino and being an artist.
Nathan: I think a poet is a prophet, but he has not been spoken to by God and he acknowledges that.
Luis: I disagree about that, I believe in a God and it is not me but something is speaking to me. I am hearing voices and that is why I take medication.
Back to being a poet, it is about lighting up the spot. Some of the readings in Toledo are just dead. At the Ground Level Coffeehouse, they have lit up the spot.
Nathan: Luis, at the same time I have been at the Collingwood and it has been packed and sometimes it is just the same few people and it rotates. With film making, if you want people to see your movie you’ve got to advertise it. It is the same with poetry. If you want people to hear you read, you have to advertise it. You have to advocate poetry and get people to go out.
Luis: It’s not really about getting people together to read, I think it is also interaction with the other artists, musicians, film makers, etc. I don’t see a lot of that going on.
Nathan: I feel like we are all brothers, but not everyone else feels that way. Like myself, I don’t consider myself to be a film maker but I consider myself a poet. However, film is my poetry. I think you can show real life poetically using images.
Luis: I’ll give you an example, in Albany, New York there are poets that share the stage with rock bands. I hear that is happening in Bowling Green. That is why I am moving down there to see what is going on. As far as here, there seems to be a split maybe because of the cultural things that have been happening here.
Nathan: I think it is because of the money. Nobody has the money to leave their house anymore.
Luis: I think it is a challenge for the artists in this city to confront each other, like we did in January at the Ground Level. We had black, white, and Latino poets being filmed at the same time. It was pretty happening. I think people are afraid of each other.
Lorraine: I noticed on your facebook page that you are the Director, Producer, Writer, and Editor of Cinema Musica Productions. What is Cinema Musica Productions about?
Nathan: There has been a whole history with that. I have been doing it for four years. It took me about two and a half years to shoot. I bought myself an XL1, which is a pretty nice video camera, and I contacted as many bands, hip-hop artists, etc. as possible. I went to Columbus, Cincinnati, Akron, and Athens to film the performances and the interviews. I ended up with about 48 hours of footage.
At the time I was editing on Adobe Premiere, which isn’t as good as Final Cut Pro 7. The footage didn’t come out that great and I didn’t really know what I was doing with editing. At U.T., I received the tools to edit better because they have Final Cut Pro 7. So after my computer crashed, I had an outline of the film but the files were badly compressed so I had to re-edit it from scratch again.
I have been doing that since the beginning of May, basically every day, and I am just about finished with it. It is full-length and about 40 minutes long. It has about 24 musicians in it. In recent years, these musicians have gone on to not only be local smoking bands but they have had coverage in the alternative press. I would like to believe that the movie is giving them a hand in it.
I have also tried to fuel the buzz and I guess you could say my own buzz. With the Independent Collegian, I would give bands coverage that I had in the documentary because those are the bands that are doing stuff.
In my grand scheme of things, I am attempting to do a documentary on local music,Toledo poetry, and a narrative film on Rane Arroyo. I am also currently printing up an anthology of Toledo poets which will have in it John Dorsey, Michael Grover, Leslie Chambers, Kathleen Hale, Jesse Lipman and possibly Luis, Michael Kocinski, and Michael Hackney. I want to have a grand event that will be the book release, the documentary release and a reading. I want it to be like a travelling circus.
I am trying to reincarnate the idea of movement. It is like the Beats and the Surrealists that are about the idea of movement. It is happening in France and Third World countries because that is how they live. We have a movement here but it is just that everyone is too scared to acknowledge it and realize that they are a part of something outside of themselves.
I am guilty of it too. Everyone is so attached to their own projects that they are not willing to move onto something that everyone can work on together mutually. Ultimately, it would wind up better than if they had done it by themselves.
I want to start a movement and I want to give it a name.
Luis: Ohio has a history of alternative art that often is overlooked. Ohio gave us Don Novello who was known as Father Guido Sarducci the comedian. There are people here from Ohio that have done things.
I don’t know about giving a name to it but doing it because names come afterwards.
On another topic, I think that slam poetry has had a detrimental factor in community poems. What slam poetry has done is encourage writers to follow a certain form and hammer it over someone else’s head like they are insignificant. This is an ongoing argument I have, even though I have done the slam poetry scene myself.
It is played out. All it has been used for is to try to get on HBO and try to get to Hollywood. In other words, there are people participating in the scene not because they are into poetry but because it is a way to something else. So they have a moment of grandiosity and then they fall off of it.
I detest people that show up at a slam just to slam. They don’t really contribute to the scene it’s a detraction. It is just about someone being in your face for no reason.
If you want to be in someone’s face, be in the face of BP or the government. You know, get in the face of someone not doing what it is they are supposed to be doing.
Nathan: At the same time, there is something that is the nuclear opposite of the slam scene, like if two poets got together and just wrote a poem together. It would be like if we sat down together and just wrote word for word. It is such a gentle and beautiful idea. It is about being trapped in consciousness with each other and trying to express it.
The rabbit wringer
by Nathan Elias
My hot finger grips the trigger
of my father’s .410 single barrel shotgun
He tells me to be silent and wait for the rabbit
to reveal itself on the white forest carpet
Keep your eyes open, he says
and be cautious of movement
because if I miss that rabbit run
there will be no kill
Clouds of breath indicate life
hiding in nature’s last winter shadow
The gun in my hand does not tremble
petrified by my cockatrice
It shows itself, little heart racing
across a plate of white I shoot
and leave a trail of blood
in its footprints