Alan Chazaro uses poetry to explore Bay Area culture, his love for hip-hop, and machismo stereotypes.
We first talked in 2019 about his first poetry collection, This Is Not a Frank Ocean Cover Album. Since then, Chazaro moved to Mexico, travelled through Central and South America, and then, ultimately, returned to the Bay Area. Chazaro has also been dabbling in the journalism trade-- with stories that range from the first woman to play professional men's basketball to the tale of a notable Oakland A's hot dog vendor. Chazaro has even freelanced for KQED.
In addition to all of that, Chazaro just published his second book, Pińata Theory, which takes a deeper dive into his Mexican-American identity, hip-hop and deconstructing concepts of masculinity.
Since April is National Poetry Month, it seems like a good time to revisit our first conversation. And because so much has changed since then-- traveling, book publication and more-- we brought him back to give us a life update and a poem.
Below are lightly edited excerpts of our conversation and the poem Alan Chazaro chose to recite for this episode.
Ode to Kendrick Lamar
There are nights like tonight when it rains / biblical amounts of everything and music plays while I drive somewhere I usually don't / go after dark because I get lost in my head / while my wife plans for next week and I try to decide where to park and when to / leave but instead I down / IPAs and smash In N Out burgers into my gut before the smallest / words crawl out / forced. Some days I feel the dark rushing / a tidal wave of fuck / you's cresting my insides. / I double-knot my Tims and avert eye contact in a hoodie and baseball cap. / I am not this façade / have never sailed the fist into a stranger's / skull but there is a thunderstorm / coming and I must know my way. Tomorrow / I'll drive a pickup to the end / of the road on the other side of 880. I'll park and read / poetry while 18-wheelers rumble within inches of my chest. It is what excites / and repels my attention while riding this / neighborhood. How the blood of sweet grass reminds me of something else.
Pen: Thank you. Thank you for sharing that.
Pen: Bring us into your world, what was going on when you wrote that poem?
Alan: That particular poem I wanna say was written in like 2015. I remember that because I was a graduate student at the University of San Francisco in the creative writing program. And at that time I was living in South Hayward and I used to have to take the bus to get to the BART and then the BART all the way to the city...Kendrick had just dropped his secret album called Untitled Unmastered… I was bumping it a lot because I was riding the BART, or I was on the bus to like occupy my mind… I wanted to kind of honor Kendrick as an artist who is unafraid to just put out raw art and be himself, present him and his community in a sort of different way, right. It's not always a stereotypical narrative. And when he does tell his narratives, I feel a sense of fullness and humanity in his work.
Alan: That's what I love about poetry and writing in general, because when I read that poem, it transports me back to that moment in my life, when I was this graduate student, that was just grinding... I had a full ride scholarship. My only thing was reading, consuming poetry, and sort of vibing with different art forms and just being present in the Bay Area as fully as I could.
Pen: Imagine if you could just be a grad student at all times, [laughs] like what you just described should be life, right?
Alan: [laughs] yeah.. I know it sounds cliché, but I always tell my students, like, ‘how lucky we that our purpose in this space is that we're trying to grow in our craft, in our sense of knowing the world, in our in our sense of voice and possibility,’
Alan: Ya know, I try not to do [tell them that] too much because then they're going to be like, ‘man, shut up, dude.’ But I think when you understand that that's not a given in the world, you start to really appreciate how beautiful it is that our job is to learn right now.
Pen: Since interviewing you the first time I've been keeping up with you writing, your growth and seeing your byline in 48 Hills and S.F. Gate and being shared through the newsletters with The Warriors. What type of growth have you experienced behind the scenes? What have you learned about poetry?
Alan: It's an art form of the interior. To me it's like a meditative space. When I'm writing poems, I want to go inward and I want to reflect and I want to pick through the fragments of myself and sort of grapple with all of these layers of my identity.
Alan: But then there's other days where I'm feeling very social and I want to talk to people and tell other people's stories. So I've been doing a lot more journalism and I've found that I can apply my poetic sensibilities and my poetic craft to other forms of living, but particularly of writing.
Pen: Constant growth
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