Literature thrives in area where beat generation lived - East Valley Tribune: Columnists

Literature thrives in area where beat generation lived

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Posted: Wednesday, February 2, 2011 10:54 am

MEXICO CITY - Few visitors to this city may know that in the 1950s writer William Burroughs lived here on Calle Orizaba in Colonia Roma. This was where Jack Kerouac came to visit and wrote "Mexico City Blues" before his famous book "On the Road" became his generation's literary sensation. Beat poet Alan Ginsberg, famous for writing "Howl," defined what that generation was looking for. Actually, you could say the Beat Generation arose from Mexico City.

Actually, this section of Mexico City has been important to literati, moviemakers and the intelligentsia since before the turn of the 20th century.

Four blocks over from Calle Orizaba, on Calle Monterrey, is an old, block-long mansion that was once owned by Maria Conesa, a Fanny Brice-like personality. She was adored and courted by cabinet members on either side of the revolution. Her operettas and theater performances were often rewritten to criticize the outgoing or praise an incoming regime. If she was in it, the new government would always let the theater lights go on.

Her mansion was cut up long ago, and the street-level frontage along Monterrey was turned into small commercial retail rentals, among them Cafeteria Sots. Miriam Mendoza Becerril, 41, opened it about nine months ago as an outlet for her organic chocolate confections.

The writers and poets who meet at Cafeteria Sots share a disdain for establishment writers. Perhaps their attitudes are sprinkled with a touch of envy for the ranking intellectuals who become familiar names.

On a recent night at the cafeteria, a collective called Entropic presented a book, "Danzando en el espejo." Publisher Alberto Vargas Iturbe made remarks and writers commented on their contributions to the anthology.

Mexico City has countless collectives like this, which promote writing, performance and photography. They make public presentations to small audiences.

Without collectives like Entropico, most non-top tier writing would never see the light of day.

The works are mostly flash fiction and poetry. They touch on sensibility, sensual contemplation, sometimes a thoughtful world meeting a violent, unjust one, or flashes of eroticism, often encounters with oneself.

After the writers' presentations, Alejandro Sierra sets up his Middle Eastern goblet-shaped darabuka drum.

Sierra is not himself Middle Eastern but an aficionado of the culture. His family in fact has a long Mexican heritage, easily spanning more than two centuries.

His current obsession, Sierra tells me, is palindrome, which is a word, a line, or a sentence that can be read either from left to right or right to left, and has the same meaning either way. For example, "Never odd or even." Since he was 5 years old, he has been searching dictionaries for words to go onto lists that he then joins to make phrases that are both going and coming.

Sierra wrote seven palindrome examples in quick succession. The next to last one was reconocer (meaning to recognize). Just as in the collective's book -- the words people use, can mirror going forward or looking back, to see where we are or where we have been in order to see where we are going.

That was what Burroughs and Kerouac and the Beat Generation searched for when Colonia Roma was part of their haunts back in the '50s. Then literary fame came rumbling down the street for them like a bus, just as this generation is using new words, like coins, as fare to get onboard.

While waiting, Sierra writes another of his odd word constructions: UFO Tofu. It's an interesting insight into our times.

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