Hot and Fresh: Café Con Leche

Carl Brooks

Last Tuesday, Casa Latina revived their open-mic poetry night, Café con Leche. Students and organizers read poetry in Spanish and English to an appreciative gathering in the always hospitable Wheatley student lounge.

Carlos Maynard was one of the readers. Mr. Maynard, a Panamanian, read, “Land of the Coconut Tree” by James-Stanley Gilbert, a strongly evocative poem that impels the listener to remember, in these cold and gloomy days, the sights and sounds of Panama. Mr. Maynard read several more pieces in his compelling, booming voice, evoking nostalgia and emotion as he read.

Another student, Michael Arreio, read his own work, a strongly lyrical poem that drew gasps of admiration from the audience. Mr. Arrieo’s poem, “Nada Es Baja” (Nothing Is Short) was heartfelt and showed his comfortable facility with both languages and underscored the command and power of Spanish-language meter and rhythm. Mr. Arrieo candidly acknowledged that “writing has been a catalyst in my life” with a wry smile and added “nothing is short, in relationships or anything else.”

A dozen other students read their own work and favorite pieces. One scholar had done a considerate, literary translation of Pedro Pietri’s classic poem, “Poema Secreto,” and read both the original Puerto Rican Spanish and the English with evident feeling.

Café con Leche was entirely diverse, despite a predominance of Hispanic-language poets. Poets came up to revive the spoken word in many accents and on many subjects. One young gentleman came to the podium with a hitch in his voice and struggled with his demons to read an affecting piece. Moving forward with street inspired rhythms and a brutal honesty that caught the audience full front, he spoke his poetry about suicide, loss and confession in a growling, tearful voice that belied his tough, gangster façade. It was a moment to remind academics of why poetry is a spoken form, performance as much as wordcraft, and a way to clean one’s soul without expensive and indulgent psychiatry.

A regular tradition until a few years ago, Café con Leche is an open forum for anybody wishing to read poetry. While most of Tuesday’s poetry was Latino, the mic is open to anybody. “We want to be open to any issue. Everybody is welcome.”, says Fransisco Toro, Associate Coordinator of Casa Latina. Kristina Lopez, Coordinator of Casa Latina, also stressed that the atmosphere was designed to be inclusive and comfortable, “That’s what it means; Café con Leche; like a cozy café where you can meet your friends.” Open-mic night will likely be held bimonthly, and will serve as an outlet for poets and a great show for those who just prefer to listen.