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“…dark stones that give light…” Remembering Poet Francisco X. Alarcon

Remembering Francisco X. Alarcon will not be difficult. Francisco, the poet and man, was luminous and generous. While I did not know him long, or as well as many others, his poetry and his kindness, his encouragement and example, will stay with me. Francisco was one of those poets who taught me how to be a poet. He always asked about my work. He gave other poets a great example by getting himself into grade school classrooms, libraries, anyplace that would have him. He saw his own poetry as a gift to be shared. He took his poetry seriously, he took the world seriously. But he did not take himself seriously. He could cry with you and laugh hard too. I will miss him.

I came to know Francisco after he, and others, including my friend, poet Carmen Calatayud, founded the Facebook group Poets Respond to SB 1070. He encouraged me on many occasions to send my work to various journals and to submit to anthologies who later published my work. He helped me with my poems by commenting on them via email. He was generous. He took time to help me in my work and I will always be grateful.

One of Francisco’s great gifts was his ability and desire to bring people together. He seemed to open his arms wide, with purpose, drawing many of us in. With the group, Poets Respond to SB 1070, Francisco, with others, called thousands of us together. Whether we had Arizona roots, whether we were Latino or not, all we needed was the conviction that prejudice and profiling must be confronted. As of this morning, Poets Respond to SB 1070 has 8,595 members. Few people have the drive and skill to create a community out of larger, more diverse group. But Francisco could articulate a vision, disarm critics, and connect us to people we would not otherwise have known. This is a rare and essential gift.

We first met in February, 2011, at a Floricanto reading in Washington, D.C. to protest Arizona’s discriminatory law, SB 1070. The law required Arizona’s law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of any individual who comes to their attention. Several years later, it was repealed and the bill’s author was defeated. The reading, on a cold day in Washington, D.C., was a joyous event. Many poets I admired were there and it was an honor to read that day– a poem which Francisco inspired, “If You Leave Your Shoes.” I will never forget seeing him for the first time that day– after many emails and Facebook messages. He gave me a great warm hug and looked me right in the eyes as we spoke.

We had another chance to connect and talk the next year– at the Split This Rock Poetry Festival in 2012. After the day’s workshops, Carmen Calatayud was giving Francisco and Odilia Galvan Rodriguez a ride to the home where they were staying so they could change their clothes. I tagged along and then Francisco, Odilia and I headed to the Supreme Court building for the recitation of a group poem by many participating in Split This Rock. Carmen dropped us off and we walked a few blocks to the Supreme Court, talking and laughing the whole time. We also waited in line together as the group poem came together and I remember Francisco reading his poem, wearing a black t-shirt emblazoned with June Jordan’s words: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” I am grateful to have become friends with poet Odilia Galvan Rodriguez too.

Francisco taught at the University of California, Davis, and authored roughly 15 books of poetry, some for children. His most stunning books, to me at least, include Snake Poems and De Amor Oscuro (Of Dark Love). I read Of Dark Love often. This bi-lingual collection of love poems, translated by Francisco Aragon, is a pure treasure. I know comparisons are never good– but these love poems move me like Neruda’s. They are simple and clean, lush and tender. Francisco gave me a copy of this book himself– which is a gift I will always cherish.

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As I wrote above, many people knew Francisco longer and better than I. But in the few years we knew one another, he taught me and inspired me. I was to be on a panel at the upcoming Split This Rock, 2016 with Francisco, Odilia Galvan Rodriguez, Carmen Calatayud, and others. The reading is titled “Poetry of Resistance.” I’m sure we will go forward with the panel– that is one way we can honor Francisco.

Francisco and Odilia also worked with the University of Arizona Press who are publishing an anthology of poems responding to Arizona’s SB 1070. The title of the anthology is Poetry of Resistance. 

To his partner, Javier Pinzon, and all of his many family and friends, I wish healing, good memories and peace. I feel sadness at Francisco’s death. Alongside the sadness though, I feel grateful that I knew, for a short time, one of the finest poets and people. Francisco !Presente!

Photo Credit: University of California, Davis

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