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Immigrant Dreams & Alien Nightmares

José Torres-Tama

ISBN 978-1-935084-35-8

220 pages: $18.00

October, 2014

Immigrant Dreams & Alien Nightmares documents twenty-five years of José Torres-Tama’s performance poetry in his unique bilingual voice. Labeled a “Permanent Resident Alien” when entering GringoLandia at age 7 in 1968, Torres-Tama explores the psychic, physical, and open wounds of an Ecuadorian immigrant balancing two languages and cultures—challenging the United States to realize its mythic ideals as the beacon of democracy. Inspired by writers like Ntozake Shange, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, and Martín Espada, his poems document migratory leaps from Guayaquil, Ecuador to New York City, where his family owned a coffee wagon business in Union Square, and Jersey City, where his teen-age rites of passage forged his urban warrior persona, to the Caribbean-influenced port city of New Orleans, his muse and adopted home since 1984.

Praise for José Torres-Tama and Immigrant Dreams & Alien Nightmares

Like the speaker in one of his poems, José Torres-Tama may well have “arrived like an immigrant toy with a distant tongue.” And the poems gathered here are a testament to his ability to wield that tongue in two languages, to make it dance for his readers both on the page and in the Out-Loud of performance for which he is so well known. Compiled over many years, Immigrant Dreams & Alien Nightmares is a book worth the wait. José Torres-Tama es un malabarista de palabras e imágenes, de mundos y realidades. Y estos poemas respiran el fuego.

-Brenda Marie Osbey, author of History and Other Poems (Time Being Books, 2013), Distinguished Visiting Professor Department of Africana Studies, Brown University; Poet Laureate of Louisiana 2005-2007.

José Torres-Tama’s work is vast, beautiful, razor-sharp and misbehaving. The vastness is in its tremendous variety of rhythms and languages, only some of which are English and Spanish and Spanglish, while others are New Orleanese, jazz, and shards of the spoken-and-accented. His razor-sharp politics comes out in his poems with cool and deadly humor like a machete out of a saddle. And his misbehaving poetry won’t stay put on the page: it leaps out and performs itself wherever there is a crowd. Only when it’s late, very late, do they go back to the page to rest. In this book the poems rest lightly, ready to jump out fully loaded. Reader, be brave!

-Andrei Codrescu, author of Whatever Gets you Through The Night: a Story of Sheherezade and the Arabian Nights.

The powerful poetry of José Torres-Tama begins on a high note—“We need a choir of great golden voiced shamans” (1989)—and climbs higher & higher as his artistry grows & grows over the passing 25 years: “Held my nose when I pressed Obama / for a second term.” His passionate social concerns are voiced & carefully articulated with vast strength & accuracy of vision through verses that pulsate with rhythmic intelligence, verbal grace & the poet’s unremitting commitment to equality, justice, opportunity & acceptance of the entire human spectrum. “Immigrants come here to forget. / I am in the process of remembering.”

-John Sinclair, author of Song of Praise: Homage to John Coltrane.

José Torres-Tama wants us to “wake up and smell the café con leche”, to learn the power of mixing español and English in a new and vital poetic hybrid. Suffering the truncation of his name and identity as the price of passage from Ecuador to the U.S., recounting each hurt and injustice with fury and humor, Torres-Tama carries the noble fire of a burning ancestor to light up the streets of New York and the flooded ruins of post-Katrina New Orleans. He cries for justice and his passionate voice sings the triumph of la poesía for the immigrants, the migrant laborers, the dispossessed and the homeless, and makes for them, in his poetry, a new home. He proudly proclaims to those who would keep him and his compadres in the shadows, “I am the dream that knows more than you.” His poems shine the fire of the dream. They are openly political and because they are, they return us to the reality of pain and suffering we often prefer to leave in the shadows, and force us to confront ourselves and our damaged American dream.

-Rodger Kamenetz, author of To Die Next To You and The Lowercase Jew.

José Torres-Tama is the chameleon poet who holds up a mirror to the changing landscape of his birthplace Ecuador, the East Coast cities that informed his adolescence, and his spiritual home New Orleans. His words cut a swath to document his contribution to the poetics of witness, amid a soundtrack of popular culture, filled with jingles, movies, headlines, and the literature that make him an important voice. Immigrant Dreams & Alien Nightmares offers manifestos, gifts to acknowledge those silenced, forgotten and exploited.

-Melinda Palacio, author of the novel, Ocotillo Dreams, and the poetry collections, Folsom Lockdown and How Fire Is a Story, Waiting.

This book asks, “Do you know where your c o u n t r y is?” and we should all listen up: because this poet, this immigrant, this intellectual, this shaman by the name of José Torres-Tama has crucial words for us. The book resounds with the fight against the Forgetting of our shared and personal histories. Torres-Tama is torn between the pen and the sword: “I like to think of myself in mythic terms. / I like to think of myself as a warrior, / un guerrero de pluma y espada.” These pages proves the pen’s strength to speak, to remember, to fight and, most crucially, to exorcise the demons that plague this country.

-Lisa Pasold, author of Any Bright Horse.

Immigrant Dreams & Alien Nightmares is José Torres-Tama’s gift of fire, a rich series of poems that admonish: Usted tiene que arreglar sus asuntos con la historia. His poems burn us into recognitions, giving back to us interlocked dreams and nightmares necessary for making new worlds in the contexts of the Americas. His strong poems announce his engagement with life and languages, his wit, his surgical ironies.  They assure us that Torres-Tama is “un hombre bajo la piel de otra tierrra” in the tradition of Langston Hughes, Eduardo Galeano, Amiri Baraka and Ernesto Cardenal.  His gift is an epistemology for a needful time.

-Jerry W. Ward, Jr., author of The Katrina Papers: A Journal of Trauma and Recovery and Famous Overseas Professor, Central China Normal University (Wuhan).

This expansive book is a breath of fresh air amid the elliptical narcissism of most contemporary American poetry. Torres-Tama’s voice is boldly public, as exuberant as Whitman’s but with a Latino accent. This is oral poetry and storytelling written down, much of it adapted from performance monologues. Making the page his stage, Torres-Tama sings a whole culture into being here. Creole as a crawfish enchilada, rhythmic and skilled as undocumented Mexican roofers hammering overhead, Torres-Tama grabs your attention—and keeps it.

-James Nolan, author of You Don’t Know Me: Selected Stories and Drunk on Salt.

From Ecuador to Jersey to the Crescent City, these Brown Tales of José Torres-Tama, Latino-Mestizo-American-Zorro’s urban cries of heart, broken dreams, are reborn onto a New Orleans landscape of centuries-old peoples. Torres-Tama’s poetry echoes a North & South now uncovered, breaking chains of silence among media ignorance, and stands in triumph of resonant images—the Brown man’s manifesto of harassment, his art breaking through concrete like ancient roots defying boundaries of race, culture, emerging celebratory, “drunk with possibilities,” painted in verse whose “tongue” is on fire with a truth that will fill empty bellies with beauty and a truly American Mosaic for the ages. You will rock with Amens, bite your lip with anger, and give thanks for Jose Torres-Tama’s work, required reading for all humanity.

-Mona Lisa Saloy, author of Second Line Home, and Red Beans And Ricely Yours.