Graduate students Charles Legere and Javier Huerta both live in Oakland and both write poetry. Now, after being approached by the website deepoakland.org, they’ve written some poetry about living in Oakland.
Deepoakland.org “seeks to create a compendium of inter-linked images, text and sound that represent the complications and vitality of Oakland’s current moment.” Charles, whose chapbook is entitled My Oakland, confesses he is not a huge fan of place-based poetry, but he said the opportunity to investigate his relationship to the city through poetry (and compose his Master’s thesis in the process) was a great way for him to link his personal and professional lives. His book is a record of walks he took in Oakland and a recounting of the words that he saw. Oakland was, he realized, a big text. And, like a poem, it was also a special case of language, the functioning of place in and with words.
Javier heard about the deepoakland.org from Charles, and he liked the way that the site engaged positive aspects of the city as a way to counter the negative image which Oakland has. Having grown up in Nueva Laredo, Mexico and studied in El Paso, TX, across the border from Juarez, he was familiar with cities that balance a vibrant cultural life with a darker reputation of danger and decay. For Javier, “there’s poetry in Oakland” and, he agreed with Charles, that living there made you want to somehow claim it. Javier titled his chapbook Almost as Beautiful as an Immigrant Rights March Down International as a reference to the immigrant community in the Fruitvale area of Oakland and an homage the Brazilian poet Ferreira Gullar’s poem “Sweet Talk.” As a bilingual poet whose work mixes both Spanish and English, he wanted to bring the language that is spoken in so many parts of the city to the website. He also wanted to capture the sounds and rhythms of Oakland, specifically in the marches that take place there, to explore what it means for someone to claim a place as their own.
Indeed, both Javier and Charles’ books are meditations on how someone inhabits a place personally and politically. The “My” in Charles’ title is an ironic play on the impossibility of “owning” a place and the necessity of recognizing the myriad different My’s that comprise a city as diverse as Oakland. Their work thus takes its place in what the founding editors of deepoakland.org describe as their ongoing project “to solicit and present archival and current materials from a diverse rangeof Oakland writers, artists, community leaders and organizations, materials that engage or investigate the city’s ecology, economics, politics, development, history and the arts.”