Local boy makes…

This is first in a series of posts that I've been meaning to make over the last few months of tour, but am only now getting to.

Like most people, I couldn't wait to leave the town that I grew up in. My entire world was a little place called Sierra Vista, and it seemed to me that it existed at the expense of everywhere else: I wouldn't be able to expand my horizons until I left and vowed never to come back. Sure, that's extreme, but the world is an extreme place at 18 years old.

Again, like many people, I used the change of scenery to reinvent myself. Moving to Flagstaff, I grew my hair long and started to read my poems in public. I played a lot of guitar with people I had just met. I skateboarded everywhere. These were all things that I hadn't been able to do in my hometown.

It has only been this spring––some seven years later––that I've made my peace with this place. Though I regularly came back to visit my parents, I still wasn't comfortable. Then, a few years back, I began to perform in Bisbee from time to time and discovered a generous and empathetic audience.

Word got around, and plans started to be made for coming back to my old high school. I've always liked working in schools, but I was nervous about this one. I had been a very different person in high school––would the place remember me that way? There was lots of anticipation.

On a Friday in late March I did two performances for about 500 students each, and had brought along two of my favorite poets from the Albuquerque scene: Carlos Contreras and Jasmine Cuffee. I didn't want it to be about me, I wanted to be about us, about the students: this was something that anybody could do. After the school-day performances, we came back to the library later that night for a performance open to the entire community. It was a great little crowd.

Jazz, Carlos, Adam (along for the ride), and I celebrated hard later that night. I woke up on my living room floor the next morning (it was a full house) with a groggy head. Carlos tells me "You're not going to believe this," and tosses a newspaper at me. I fail to catch it, and it hits me in the face. And there it was: my mug on the front page. Holy shit. What a surreal thing.

 logan phillips herald front page

Then the following Monday we did something like four workshops with about 30 students each. We tried to touch on everything in a very short time: free writing, revising, reading for a peer group, performing for a crowd, and even organizing a slam. Turns out that it worked, because a month or so later the school held their first-ever poetry slam.

And the student council asked me to speak at the Class of 2008 graduation, which I did last Thursday. The day had started with near-disaster: I was traveling to Sierra Vista from New York City, where Verbobala had just played our last date of the spring tour. Arriving to JFK, the airline had lost my reservation, and I was moments from missing my plane.

But no, the angels were smiling, and I made it to graduation. I may be the first person to ever give a graduation speech whose theme is I really don't know what to tell you. I had been racking my brains on the plane, and I realized that it would seem false to me if I suddenly got up in front of that crowd and tried to feign wisdom. I really didn't know what I could say that would be all-encompassing and relevant... except, well, that: I don't have it figured out perfectly and neither does anybody else. But that's OK. I then told a story I wrote a few years ago called "Sun Said Shine," and pulled from it a few tips that I thought might be useful. The newspaper was there again.

The infamous Sierra Vista wind was in full force, it was like the X-Games version of a high school graduation. Far cooler than speaking was getting to shake the hand of each one of the 596 graduates immediately after they received their diploma. What a unique moment to be a part of. Crazy damn kids. The world is theirs.

It's all been a really big honor, one that I never saw coming. Big thanks are in order to the principal Tad Bloss and the amazing librarian Mary Kohn, without whom I might have never made peace with this weird little place where I spent sixteen years of my life. And I helped bring poetry into the "cool" at my old HS. That feels good.

My kids’ take on Sun Said Shine

Well, my short but vivid time as an elementary school teacher has drawn to a close. This Wednesday will be my last day as the "Teacher Logan" of brilliant and shining 3rd and 4th graders. Though they're awesome, my true calling is not that of an elementary school teacher (though it's fun sometimes!). I can see myself working with niños again in the future, but at this point I lack a fundamental patience. They've taught me a lot, but I'm moving on. I have been offered a professor position at Universidad Internacional, one of Cuernavaca's more well-known and beautiful schools. I'll be teaching two sections of Latin American Literature: the Avant-Garde 1900-present and "Latin American Lit. II," both completely in Spanish. Also it's just come down that I will be teaching "Translation III: Spanish-English-Spanish," that one will be taught in Spanglish. Needless to say, this is a pretty big jump, and I'm thrilled. I'm not exactly sure why they think I'm qualified, except that I've got a diploma and passion. We'll see.

But that's next semester. Last week I performed for the first time in four months: I read my story "Sun Said Shine" to my students. I wanted to see how much of it they'd get and what their take on it would be. Apparently the idea of a woman talking to the sun and becoming the moon seems pretty logical to a Mexican 8-year-old. When we got back to the classroom after sitting outside, I asked my third graders to illustrate the story for me and write a couple sentences about it. Here's what they came up with. Nothing against Pedro Día, whose illustrations in the book are great, but the kids nailed it.

Sun Said Shine illustration Fernanda: "The women take a limonade in the garden while the sun hide and the women have a pretty garden."

What can you say? The woman doesn't have much to worry about, she's got a tree that grows cherries, apples and bananas at the same time. A reason to smile, for sure.

Sun Said Shine illustration Efrain: "Hola."

A burning hilltop summit... kinda reminds me of the image I saw in a dream that lead to the poem "What He Dreams of In His Coma." But way more happy.

Sun Said Shine illustration Paola: "The sun pass for the garden of the woman. The woman lives in the end of the earth."

Ah, Paola. She never gives a wrong answer and never stops smiling. A cool abstract take on things...

Sun Said Shine illustration Ricardo: "The old woman is cool. The sun is yellow."

Things to note in the world of Ricardo: the woman not only has pet crocodiles but a jet on the roof of her house (how else would she get into the sky? Duh!). Also check out the lemonade on the arm of the chair. "Helloy" indeed.

Sun Said Shine illustration Hilary: "The son is big. The sun is friends the moon. The woman is friends the sun."

I really like this one. The sun's a little intellectual, the moon is dancing, and the house is painted Mexican style. I'm pretty sure the end of the earth looks a lot like this.

Sun Said Shine illustration Dulce: "The sun... el sol se esta ol cultando."

Ay, pobre Dulce. The world is passing this little girl by a little bit, but she's happy. And so is the sun.

Sun Said Shine illustration Sandra: "The sun is friend the old woman. The always tlak to the sun. The old woman dive and she convert a moon."

Sandra bounces when she walks. Sandra bounces when she is sitting still. Sandra bounces and smiles. And apparently someone sent a blimp out to the end of the earth to drop money on the old woman and her pet teddy bear. What can you say. Sandra bounces.

Sun Said Shine illustration Gabriel: "The friend of the grandmother is very cool and use glasses black is very very cool."

It's funny to see how one thing can catch on and all the students end up doing it. For instance, if you haven't noticed the trend by now, the sun is definitely cool. See the sunglasses? Cool, huh? Get it!? The sun wearing sunglasses?! Oh, third graders. We use the word "cool" a lot in my classes. Cool planet too, Gabriel.

Sun Said Shine illustration Aldo: "The woman always spick with the sun. The sun talk what he sees. The woman drink lemonade when the sun talk whit the woman. The woman say: I did (die) in one year. The woman jump a finish the planet."

That about sums it up. In this one Aldo's got the woman living on top of the globe, very cool. Note that all the continents are a little random, but Mexico's smack in the middle! Right on. The sign says "garden." Good vocabulary, Aldo. Teacher Logan pats himself on the back.

Sun Said Shine illustration Paulo: "The women transform in the moon and she talks with the sun."

Paulo lives in a world all his own. If the world lets him, he'll be an artist someday. At least a once a day he asks me "¿Puedo jugar en silencio?" Can I play silently? I always say yes, and off he goes into his imagination. I do have to remind him every now and again though that if his pencil box keeps talking that loud, I'll have to send both it and Paulo outside while the rest of the class finishes the assignment. He's also a rockin' dancer and English speaker, thanks to his parents. They lived in the U.S. for years illegally before returning and having Paulo.

Sun Said Shine illustration Alexis: "The grandmather is small. The grandmather is pretty. The gandmather have a friends. The grandmather have a car."

The old woman (with wrinkles and a limonade) asks "Helo, do you have friends?" And the sun says "Yes, I have." I think the sun is also wearing tightie underwear. But as Spring the artist pointed out, check out that depth perception on the rocking chair. Rockin' chair indeed. And who can live at the end of the earth without a strange green car that has an exhaust pipe coming out of the roof?

Sun Said Shine illustration Rodrigo: "The women speak sun and drink lemonade of speak and alway see your flower for one day she is moon and light the earth no speak for he friend and she lives in the space."

Wow. What can you say to that? Except that on that in the picture, the old turban-wearing woman is asking the sun "Hello sol have lasagne?" I asked Rodrigo, "Rodrigo, why is the woman talking about lasagne?" To which smiled and shrugged and said "I looked it up in the dictionary, Teacher! Jajajaja." Locos. Puros locos estos chumacos.

I live in Cuernavaca, México.


With one hour to go before leaving Sierra Vista, the sky filled with the unmistakable darkness of monsoon. All afternoon while running errands I had been watching them dance around the San Pedro valley, a downpour over the Tombstone hills while we burned away under the Arizona sun in the foothills of the Huachuca mountains.

Then, as I was stuffing the final items into my bulging bags, the thunder broke open the sky, the wind protested and I had to drop everything, running from window to window, slamming them shut, turning off the air conditioning, unplugging electronics, putting towels under the doors. It was a violent one, one of those rains that brings pain with the pleasure. The dirt of the yard was dancing as the huge drops hit it, a million mud craters. Window panes shaking, dogs shaking, following me around the house.

I can't think of a better parting gift from this land that I love so much. I had been waiting weeks over several different visits to see this. It takes a desert to truely appreciate rain.

It was time to go. My dad and I threw the things in the car, slammed the doors and swung by the school where my Mom teaches, to pick her up after her pre-first day Open House. We drove fast down I-10, watching the sky fill on all sides with beautiful bruises. Rainbows and lighting, the kind that picks one path and pulses three, four, even five times, punishing a tree or some outcrop of rock.

Soon we drove right into it, the rain coming hard, the windshield wipers not keeping up. Everyone drives too fast on the freeway, thinking it will never happen to them. Around a bend we came upon a cowboy standing in the left lane, waving his hat frantically, trying to divert traffic from a newly-flipped car on the side of the road.

A quick bite in Tucson, goodbyes, then the shuttle to Phoenix. I listened to Gato Barbieri and it was the most perfect moment to do so.

At midnight Sky Harbor is nearly as much of a ghost town as the airport in La Habana. A large group of Mexicans and I waited for them to open the security checkpoint again to board our flight.

If Phoenix can ever be called beautiful, it is from the window of an airplane, some 5,000 feet above it at night, the green and orange designs of the city contrasting with the white flashing of the sky. Saying goodbye.

Taking notes during the flight, my pen exploded. Mexican airlines got it down: not too much noise from the capitan and free booze instead of juice and soda.

We arrived in Guadalajara some four hours later. There, after receiving yet another Mexico stamp on the passport, I settled down across some chairs for some good sleep as I passed the four hour layover until my next flight to Mexico D.F. When I awoke, I checked my watch and then flipped over and came face-to-face with an entire family of Mexicans who were sitting across from me.

"Buenos dias," the woman said.

"Buenos dias," I said, mumbling something about sleeping with an audience--performance sleeping--and smiling.

The flight which I waited four hours for of course only took 45 minutes. Then, the moment of truth: would my two heavy bags reappear? Would I lose all those books I brought? All those teacher clothes?

They were the first two to come down the belt. I strapped myself to them and stumbled through the huge airport, somehow missing customs entirely and found my bus. Ah Mexican busses, the envy of the New World. A reclining seat, a bad movie to watch ("Modern Problems," with Chevy Chase given superpowers by nuclear waste, circa 1982 or so), two bathrooms and--even new to me--a stewardess walking up and down the buss in high heels, distributing cookies and drinks.

I was in Cuernavaca by noon, and whisked away soon after by good friends, who treated me to quesadillas con queso oaxaqueña (the best) y mucho pero mucho chile. Then, a four hour siesta.

While the National Poetry Slam rages in Austin, I'm adjusting to the New Thing here in central Mexico. I'm staying with the parents of my friends, who have a beautiful house surrounded by the greenest garden imaginable. He is a fiery 72-year-old abuelo whose grandchildren think came from venus, and she is around the same age and will soon graduate from a college of traditional medicines. Right now she's in the kitchen mixing up herbs and making potions. The grandkids call her media-bruja, and laugh.

We spend a lot of time on the porch, watch storms roll in, talking and drinking water with lime and sugar.

I write, read, try to learn the ins of this new city along with the outs, think about Austin, miss my girlfriend and generally enjoy feeling my Spanish surge back through my body, up and out of my mouth.

Work starts Monday, and it will be a task, occupying most all my time, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Like some propaganda on a wall told me yesterday: "Enseñar es tocar una vida para siempre."

But for now, la señora of the house wants to show me how she makes some of the herbal solutions. Siempre hay más para aprender.

Beyond Page vs. Stage: Slam Poetry as an Accessible Form

Ever heard the phrase "slam poetry isn't real poetry?"

Come explore that idea for yourself at a presentation given this Friday, April 22nd at 4:30pm at NAU's DuBois ballroom in Flagstaff. Local poet and NORAZ Poets advisory board member Logan Phillips will present slam poetry as a poetry form, as valid as the more well-known forms of sestinas, villanelles or haiku. Following the lecture, there will be a small panel discussion which will include Prescott poet and advisory board member Daniel H. Seaman.

Part of the 9th Annual Conference at the Peaks, presented by the Organization of Graduate Students of English, the presentation follows this year's theme of "The River of Words: Exploring Fluidity and Dynamism in Literature and Language." Hardly anything is as dynamic as slam poetry, a young form that has exploded across the nation over the last 20 years. So come out and explore the ideas surrounding poetry forms.

NORAZ Poets is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization which promotes poetry and poetry events in NORthern AriZona. More information: http://www.norazpoets.org

Presentation Abstract: Since it’s inception in the mid-1980’s, the competitive art of Poetry Slam has only continued to gain popularity, media exposure and momentum. This year, the fifteenth annual National Poetry Slam will be held just four hours from Flagstaff in Albuquerque, NM. This offers a unique opportunity for our thriving literary community to reflect on the influence and discourse of slam poetry here in Northern Arizona.

Our brief presentation, followed by a small panel discussion, will seek to debunk the “stage vs. page” myth by exploring the characteristics of slam poetry not as the opposite of “page poetry,” but rather as another poetry form. Equally as valid of a form as a sestina or sonnet, slam poetry draws on a long tradition of oral expression and is marked by specific characteristics which define it clearly. These characteristics include distinct uses of repetition, length, subject matter, and yes, even meter. Equally informed by hip-hop, popular culture, stand-up comedy, forensics and “traditional” poetry, slam is very visible and accessible, often acting as an entry point into the literary arts for those who may not have been exposed to them otherwise. This initial exposure often leads to further involvement in the literary community, as we will show using examples from our own area.

Far from being mutually exclusive, slam poetry and the more traditional literary arts stand to gain much from each other. Nowhere in poetry are popular culture and our society so clearly reflected, defined and critiqued as within slam. One could liken the young form to a flash flood entering the wider river of words, adding not only new audience and power, but also seeking to define itself and find its place within the flow of the literary arts.