By Jorge Antonio Vallejos
“It’s what you put your mind to.” – KR, childhood friend
My NOT VANISHING t-shirt covers my chest as I listen to “Empire State of Mind” by Jay Z and Alicia Keys. Both are instrumental in my creating and continuing blackcoffeepoet.com.
I’m a writer because my mother instilled in me the love for the written word by taking me to my local branch of the Toronto Public Library system from a very young age.
I’m a poet because I finally found a book of poems that spoke to me: Not Vanishing by Chrystos.
A year after starting blackcoffeepoet.com my website is going strong because of positive messages like Empire State of Mind. I would listen to this song over and over the way I’d read Chrystos over and over.
I still do both.
Alicia Keys’ words are always in my thoughts: “There’s nothing you can’t do.”
I’ve personalized them, “There’s nothing I can’t do.”
And I’ve added something that one of my favorite fighters, UFC champ Jon Jones, has tattooed on is chest:
“I can do all things through Creator who strengthens me.”
The summer of 2010 saw me planning blackcoffeepoet.com. I read tons of blogs and literature websites, asked three friends who are everyday blog readers for advice, and I researched MFA in Creative Writing programs.
“No one is going to read you if you only post once a week,” said my friend Cindy.
“You don’t want to post everyday because people will get tired of you,” said my friend Catherine.
Karen, an internet wiz, who reads 200 blogs a week sent me links to sites that she thought I would like and who do things similar to what I do.
I came up with a formula and ran it by them:
They all liked it.
On top of that I set out to journal about the books I read, write a poem a week, and re-read books of poems that I enjoyed.
Then I decided on my mandate:
“Black Coffee Poet wants to share with the world the many different faces of poetry who are ignored by the literati, who have touched him, and who have helped him grow as a person and poet: Red, Black, Brown, Female, Disabled, Queer, Poor, Jailed, Homeless, Working Class, Self-Taught, Revolutionary, and Controversial.”
I was set!
It was now time to put the work in. So I found Chrystos’ contact info and sent her a letter:
Wednesday August 25, 2010
I had the pleasure seeing you read, and meeting you, at the Toronto Women’s Bookstore five years ago. Your books, Not Vanishing especially, have been extremely influential in my poetry. I write mainly about combating oppression and stopping violence against women. I’m also a freelance journalist.
On September 6th, 2010, I will be launching my new blogg focused on poetry. It will be an opportunity to show the world that Indigenous poets, poets of colour, queer poets, disabled poets, all sorts of poets who are not white men, exist!
The schedule will be:
Monday: a new review
Wednesday: open to interviews, announcements, publishing peoples poetry etc.
Friday: a video of a poet reading for the blogg
The first week will be a review of Not Vanishing (my favorite book of poetry); hopefully a short interview with you via email; a recording of me reading in front of the Toronto Coroner’s Office at the “No More Silence” rally that is held every February 14th to bring awareness about police ignoring cases of the over 500 Native women who have been murdered of gone missing in Canada.
Can I send you 5 to 10 questions about poetry, Not Vanishing, your politics etc.?
Here are some of my poems and articles so you can see who I am and what I’m about:
Hope you are well and I hope to hear from you.
Jorge Antonio Vallejos
The next day I got a response: “yes.”
Two weeks later saw the launch: review, interview, and video.
I’m blessed to say that my first year has gone well. But like the title of the song I’m listening to now, there has been a lot of Sacrifice.
Blackcoffeepoet.com makes no money. It’s a labour of love, discipline, and learning.
Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I do what I say I’m going to do: post a review, interview, and video.
There have been times where I have felt down, sick, and frustrated but I still Show Up to my laptop, paper, books, and do the work to be done on my self-imposed schedule, MFA program.
Many nights have seen me writing on my bed and at the 24 HR coffee shop; and many long days at other coffee shops and my local library. Again, for no money, no degree, just the satisfaction of pressing the PUBLISH button on my WordPress server, the occasional letter from a reader, and knowing that I’m doing what I set out to do.
But there are rewards. Some worth more than any paycheque I’ve earned. Some that will stay with me forever:
Meeting so many poets has enriched me as a person and a writer. Gaining the respect of publishers who now send me review copies without me requesting them. Interviewing influential people in my life like Chrystos, Lee Maracle, Marilyn Dumont, and Daniel Heath Justice.
I’ve also had the opportunity to be creative and do things no one is doing, or has done before, through merging my politics with my poetry, and by giving space to people who go largely unrecognized in the literature world:
Celebrating Trans Day of Remembrance
Hounouring the Women FORGOTTEN on December 6th
Honouring Canada’s Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women via bringing to light the Helen Betty Osbourne case, interviewing Aboriginal authors and academics, and poetry
Honouring Black History Month with Dub Poet Legend Lillian Allen
Reviewing old feminist journals such as FIREWEED: The Mixed Race Issue
Celebrating Queer Indigenous Voices
Covering events like LUMINATO where I was able to meet Dionne Brand, Mona Eltahawy, and Joyce Carol Oates. Honouring Wendy Babcock, a local activist who passed on, was special.
And there are the many thank you’s I get. People have given me thanks for writing articles they see as important. Relatives of people I have written about have sent me thank you emails. Writers and readers have given thanks for providing a space and a resource for them.
Year one is done.
I made a plan, overcame the fear of internet based writing and publishing, and did what I set out to do.
THANKS to all my supporters, readers, the writers I have featured, and the publishers who have sent me books.
I’ve got an empire state of mind and I’m not vanishing.
Year two is on.
Like Biggie said, “It was all a dream”.
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