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at the end of the video, by the bowl of steaming cauliflower, she takes the lid off the pot of rice—

This is from the memorial website about Jeff, with posts by writers who knew him better than I did, such as Alan Chong Lau:

A Conversation About Tofu

I first met Jeff and Shirley when I returned to the states after over 5 years abroad.

After the chaotic student years of the San Francisco State strike, I left to be at the wedding of my sister and her Thai husband-to-be who met as workers at the Royal Hotel in Copenhagen. Cashing in a life insurance policy my parents had put in my name, I left that city and just keep traveling until I arrived in Japan penniless. A Japanese friend got me a job teaching English conversation for Kyoto UNESCO at 7:00 am in the morning to salary workers on their way to work. It’s here where I met my future wife Kazuko.

When Kazuko applied to Cabrillo College in Aptos, California, and was accepted, we returned to the states. I was suffering from cultural jet lag and would often look at the wrong side of the road when crossing the street almost getting hit by cars. So it was lucky for me at least that the mellow environs of the coastal towns along the Santa Cruz coast provided a soft landing.

At first unemployed, I tagged along with Kazuko as she attended a class on Asian American history taught by local historian Sandy Lydon. It was in this class that we were to meet some of our first friends: the late Sharon Lew from Sacramento, Ernie Kuwahara from L.A., and a cute young Filipino American couple by the name of Jeff and Shirley. I’m not sure how we got to talking, but I know the conversation centered on fresh tofu and where we could get it. Jeff and Shirley not only told us about a small store in Watsonville that got fresh tofu delivered from the tofu maker in San Jose once a week but volunteered to take us there. We were overjoyed and appreciative of the generous spirit of our new friends.

From there, we got to know each other better as Sharon organized meetings and tried to get an Asian American student union set up on campus. When I found out that Jeff and Shirley were aspiring writers, I perked up. Poet and English instructor, Morton Marcus, raved about a short story Jeff had written about a Chicano low-rider. When I read it, I could see the talent, the way he inhabited the character and made him come alive with authentic speech patterns and persona.

I’ll have to admit that the cultural subversive in me came out, and I not so subtly thrust in their surprised faces one day, a tattered copy of Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian American Writers and, later, a cassette of a live reading from members of the Kearny Street Workshop I had taped off a KPFA radio broadcast. Then I got them involved in a college journal we called Rising Waters. When I heard from Jeff that he had an old letter sent to his mom from this writer by the name of Carlos Bulosan, I was stunned. Could it be the one and only author of America Is in the Heart? Sure enough, it was. We put that letter on the back cover of Rising Waters and included poems by all of us. I still remember our book party at Jenny’s Used Bookstore in Watsonville. About five people showed up and they were all mostly contributors. I did notice one Asian American guy I didn’t recognize there, but Shirley later told me it was just her brother.

Jeff had a sweet soulfulness about him, a dry sense of humor as well and a big, big heart. You could see this in his poetry that came from a life of work in the valley and a lived-in experience, not easily fabricated from mere fiction. I remember the lines he penned for his mother in the poem, “Now It Is Broccoli” and how it haunts me to this day.

It wasn’t the concern
of the forklift driver who searched
between the chopped heads of cabbage
thinking the finger could be sewn back.
No, it was the face
she longed for, that serene
face she lost years ago.

Or see how it humanizes what papers would deem just another statistic in “Tobera,” a poem about the first Filipino worker killed in what would later be called “The Watsonville Riot.”

This is how I return
to bed each night
with a smile on my face
because I know what awaits me.
Here comes the buzzing
of the bullet
which bears my name.
It’s a bee looking
for the hive of my neck
and I must lay still
for its sweet entrance.
Time moves on.

But then there is always Jeff’s sense of humor and how he etched with a deep compassion, the flaws and warts of all our lives. From “Mussel Rock/Lowtide – Santa Cruz, California 1959″ comes this:

After everyone crowds around the steaming pots
to eat, somebody’s wife makes a joke
about the mussel’s orange vulva lips and black
pubic cilia. The giggle spreads among the women,
the husbands slurping soup, the timid bachelor
who blushes and the children asking, ‘What what?’

His book, October Light will go down in history as one of the classics of Filipino American literature, and what I treasure about it is that it is one of the first books that documents the history and lives of the rural Filipino and gives them a real voice. In his sweet soulfulness, compassion, and his sense of human justice, I am reminded of another poet, oceans and decades away, the Spanish civil war poet, Miguel Hernandez. From a dedication of his book to the poet Vicente Aleixandre, Hernandez writes:

Vicente: To us, who of all men have been born poets, whom life has made poets among men. We come from the spring of the guitars welcomed by the people, and each poet who dies leaves in the hands of another, like an inheritance, an instrument that comes rolling from the eternity of nothingness to our scattered heart. Under the shade of two poets, we rose we two, and under ours two others will rise tomorrow. Our foundation will be always the same: the earth. Our destiny is to end up in the hands of the people.

(translated and edited by Ted Genoways from The Selected Poems of Miguel Hernandez, University of Chicago Press)

Goodbye, friend! I will see you down the road.

Alan Chong Lau
Seattle, Washington
June 26. 2012

Jeff’s memorial website is at

Shirley Ancheta and Jeff Tagami (photo by Barbara Jane Reyes)

KUSP 88.9 “Poetry Show” podcast Tribute to Jeff Tagami:

Hosted by Dennis Morton, with Shirley Ancheta, Patrice Vecchione, Ken Weisner, and Joe Stroud

photo by Shirley Ancheta

Cabrillo instructor, poet Jeff Tagami dies: Poems brought Asian Americans out of the shadows

Posted:   06/27/2012

SANTA CRUZ — “I heard his voice speaking over fields of asparagus, intoning great love and bringing the lives of so many others into spirited words.

“I looked at the dark skies over Eugene, felt their deep purples and greys shift to a patch of blue and sunbreaks shining on a shower of rain dancing across my eyes.

“There was an echo — Jeff’s voice in my memory somehow.”

Jeff Tagami viewed the world through the eyes of a poet, and so, too, did the community of poets from around the country on learning of his death.

The above passage, included in a note from Eugene, Ore., resident Garrett Hongo, was among many heartfelt condolences sent to his widow, Cabrillo instructor Shirley Ancheta, as news of Tagami’s death continued to spread. He died Saturday in Santa Cruz from pancreatic cancer. He was 57.

Tagami was born July 4, 1954, in Watsonville, to parents of Philippine origin who emigrated to California via Hawaii. After graduating from Watsonville High School in 1972, he enrolled at Cabrillo, where his interest in poetry was first sparked. As a first-year student, he enrolled in a history class, taught by Cabrillo lecturer and local historian Sandy Lydon, that focused on Asian American immigrants and their contributions to the Pajaro Valley.

A story that especially resonated with Tagami, Lydon said, was a four-day race riot in Watsonville in 1930, culminating in the murder of 22-year-old Filipino laborer Fermin Tobera.

“I told that story, and over the years, (Jeff) ran off with it,” Lydon recalled, adding it “hit something within him which produced some pretty remarkable poetry … That story and that context gave him the basis for an awful lot of stuff that he wrote later on.”

In 1977, Tagami transferred to what was then known as San Francisco State College and joined an Asian American artist and writers collaborative, publishing short stories and poems that focused on factory and field workers, while holding down a variety of odd jobs.

“He wanted to write about their backgrounds and things that weren’t in print then,” said Ancheta, who met her husband in the fourth grade. “It was hard to find even one or two writers of color in an anthology, so he sought to break that mold” and make Asian Americans the focal point, rather than marginalized characters.

His writing eventually gained national attention, appearing in numerous magazines and anthologies, and in 1995, he appeared in the PBS documentary, “The US of Poetry.” It featured his poem, “Song of Pajaro,” which describes a day in the life of Pajaro Valley farmers.

Tagami also authored a collection of poetry, “October Light,” and helped edit four anthologies, including “Without Names” and “Monterey Poets and Writers,” and lectured at universities throughout the West Coast and in Hawaii.

In the 1990s, he received a bachelor of arts in literature from UC Santa Cruz, then went on to obtain a master’s degree in English from San Francisco State University. Meanwhile, he began working at Cabrillo College, where he most recently taught writing, composition and literature.

In the spring, around the time he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Tagami was notified that he was scheduled to be inducted into Watsonville High School’s Hall of Fame at the Henry J. Mello Center.

Lydon accepted the award on his behalf, and as part of the ceremony, he read Tagami’s poem, “Tobera,” prompted by the story he’d heard in Lydon’s class 40 years earlier.

To Tagami, Tobera’s death was symbolic of everything that was wrong with relations between Caucasians and Filipinos, who came to the county believing in America and all it had to offer, only to have their dreams dashed when they arrived.

“When they came, they got hammered, just hammered, and yet kept their idealism,” Lydon said. “Even though those ideals didn’t hold up in his experience either, it wasn’t something he was willing to give up, and most of the Filipinos weren’t either. And Jeffrey got it. He nailed it.”

The entire time they knew each other, Lydon said, Tagami was “very much about social justice. Justice was one of his beacons and his death seems to be such an injustice.”

Follow Sentinel reporter Kimberly White on Twitter: @kwhite95066


BORN: July 4, 1954

DIED: June 23, 2012

SURVIVED BY: Wife Shirley Ancheta of Santa Cruz; sons Miles Tagami of San Francisco, and Travis Tagami of Santa Cruz; parents Robert and Judith Tagami of Watsonville; five brothers, Robert Tagami, Rey Tagami, Fred Tagami, Richard Tagami and Alan Tagami; two sisters, Andrea Bucaloy and Lene Tagami; many nieces and nephews.

a review of October Light by Barbara Jane Reyes,

he’ll never know how close his brand new Prius (no plate yet) came to getting smashed in the parking lot when he suddenly pulled out without looking—we’ll never know whatever happened to that three year old I found in the street one night and returned to the guy (the mother’s boyfriend) in the empty house—I’ll never know what the 4 were talking about when we happened to see them together at their table and said hello, I’ll never know what she thought after all these years—we’ll never know what was up with the guy crashing his van head-on into every car parked on the street, one after the other with his face clenched in fury as she and I walked along hand-in-hand through the evening street—we may never know who it was stole the green Vietnamese ceramic pot and the fine blue agave I gave her as a gift from the driveway in the early hours of Saturday—may never know to summit those peaks free hand, may never know the dense mysteries standing one behind another throughout our lives—may never know what it is to cross that threshold, walk one end to the other—may never know how it is to save a life, a number of lives, and then do again—may never know if it is simple, the long life of the sugar pine—may never know how it goes, my quiet aging neighbor’s world—may never know how it is, my distant child’s life—nightfall across the world about us, hummingbirds returning to the empty feeder, buzzing around in the dusk, may never know it hardly at all (where do they go at night?)—which is not to say these mysteries are “unimaginable,” because they can be imagined, or “unbelievable,” because finally you do believe—or “indescribable,” just because the slackers won’t go that distance to describe them—just look there, where the hummingbirds used to be, in the dark, by the ragged edge of the cypress, parts of which are brown and dead

she’s working in the field in Africa, out of Karonga, on Lake Malawi (her knee surgery is maybe only 60%, a dead girl’s ligament attached in there)

—texts, “6:30 AM, Sat., dressed, stretched and ready and ready for field day! off to make coffee and have breakfast then go pick up samosas for lunch, then drive to chilumba”

she took her first few steps and fell face first into a cardboard box which cut the piece of tissue connecting the upper lip to the gum —called the ‘frenulum’

I tossed her up on my shoulder in Red & Black bookstore and banged her head on the steel box of an overhead heater

hiking a creek that poured down from a lake through the rainforest I slipped on mossy rocks and fell flat on my back— still asleep on my chest, she did not awaken

I didn’t understand yet, I didn’t know about car seats yet so the first time I had to drive her somewhere the only place I found to put her was bundled up on the floor of the car

the first time I dropped her off at the daycare, they asked, “Don’t you want to put clothes on her?”—then I saw the other babies all had clothes on so I said sure, took her home and put her one of her little suits with the little shoes

once I dislocated her arm when I picked her up too abruptly by one arm (to change her diaper—we were laughing—she was laughing and running away)

the diapers went into a plastic bucket which I often took to the laundry room late at night—when the lid came off it released a powerful cloud of ammonia that stung my nostrils stronger than most anything I’ve smelled before or since, hot water full blast from the faucet filling the air with steam as I rinsed, washed and wrung, rinsed, washed and wrung

when she was teething she developed a kind of allergic reaction to her own teeth, developed a high fever every few hours for a couple weeks when her molars were coming in, once when my aunt and uncle (who are dead now) came to visit we took them to eat at a Chinese restaurant in the International District, and when the fever struck her, we lay her on the table with the dishes—we had ordered geoduck from the Hood Canal (gooey duck, the giant clam) with its intense clamminess

so much she taught me: last month in Yosemite hiking through the forest along the Tuolumne River, a beautiful beach I thought the main thing it lacked were children running on it, the beach smooth, without the footprints of children

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced Alejandro Murguia as the city’s new poet laureate at a poetry festival in North Beach Thursday night, a library spokeswoman said.
Murguia, a San Francisco State University Latino/a studies professor, was appointed by the mayor as the city’s sixth poet laureate and helped kick off the third International Poetry Festival, first held in 2007, San Francisco Public Library spokeswoman Michelle Jeffers said.
Lee welcomed Murguia and other poets in town for the four-day festival Thursday night. Jeffers said the mayor spoke about bringing more poetry into the city.
When Murguia was nominated he shared his goals to make San Francisco the poetic center of the Americas and wants to incorporate more poetry into the community, according to library officials.
Jeffers said the new poet laureate wants to spread poetry into schools, library and even jails, “so that hope might also spring from poetry,” as Murguia wrote about his new position.
Held in Jack Kerouac Alley in North Beach, the poetry festival kickoff was hosted by former city poet laureate Jack Hirschman, who conceptualized the celebration as his duty to bring poetry to the public. The festival continues today through Sunday.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee named Alejandro Murguía the city’s sixth poet laureate Thursday.

“I am thrilled to announce Alejandro Murguía as the new San Francisco poet laureate, a position that exemplifies San Francisco’s rich literary history and tradition,” Lee said in prepared remarks at the kickoff for the third International Poetry Festival in Kerouac Alley. “Murguía, who founded the Mission Cultural Center, has been a champion of many local authors, artists, poets as well as a great contributor to the literary community in the city.”

If Murguía has his way, the Board of Supervisors might follow up roll call with a haiku at its next weekly meeting. The professor of Latino/Latina studies at San Francisco State University said he thinks city workers including elected officials, police officers and firefighters should participate in a poetry workshop.

“Everyone in the city could address each other with the greatest of salutations, which is ‘poeta’” Murguía said, referring to the Spanish word for poet. “I’m serious.”

Murguía, 62, came to San Francisco from Los Angeles in the early 1970s and never left.

“I came here precisely because it has such a vibrant poetic scene,” he said. “San Francisco is the city of poets.”

We’re not sure how many politicians will go for the poetry lessons, but Murguía has other ideas too. He hopes to establish a poetry festival for children and an international poetry event with Barcelona, San Francisco’s sister city.

The city will pay Murguía a $5,000 stipend for his two-year term, according to City Librarian Luis Herrera. The poet laureate’s duties include delivering an inaugural address at the library, participating in community-based poetry events with communities and the library, and giving a reading at Litquake in October.

“I’m not deceived that this is an honor strictly for me, I understand and accept it as an honor for my community in the Mission District and the Latino community,” he said.

Three Poems by Alejandro Murguia

Big Girls Don’t Cry

I warned you it’d be hard
Loving a man whose pockets
Flap empty of change
One who works under cars
Yet wants to squeeze your waist
With iron hands
Someone who absent five months
Shows up without calling, just appears
On your porch, rings your doorbell
And wants all of you-
Now, this instant, as if he owned
You on the hallway carpet
Or the kitchen table, who smokes
Cohibas when he’s talking
And spits them out when he’s done
A man that doesn’t know how to lose
Won’t take no and yes is dangerous
A rouge, a scoundrel, a pirate
Who still sleeps with his ex-wife
But calls you his muñeca
Then leaves at dawn a fugitive
Without a word because
You said you were a big girl
Knew what you were getting into
I warned you it’d be rough
Now come here and kiss me.


What matters is the particulars
the precise meaning in your words
–I love the specificity of detail.

I remember January drenched
with lemon blossoms
your hip pressing mine
a certain desperation in your smile.
Years later the memories still arouse
the sassy diction of your walk
your leather jacket
but I didn’t surrender
till you snapped open the red umbrella
no butterflies flew out
but I like to think they did.
I can’t deny the bridge lights
prismed in your eyes
had something to do with it
how your black seamed stockings
flowed like crazy punctuation
to my hand prints on your ass
the profane unction of our act
holy when performed by lovers
your happy cry and my sad laughter
twined in a wax calendar
your whispered vow before an altar
of hummingbirds and paper corazones
–I will never leave you.

Minor details of our bruised affair.
The anklet with my name
in what drawer do you keep it?

The Poet Recalls His First Reading

Riding home from celebrating
my first book compadre riding shotgun
our lids heavy with poems and tequila
in beat up sports car
crawling towards Bernal Heights
dawn a spider with a thousand legs of light

A black-and-white
flashing triple strobes
angry no doubt at Latinos
riding around this hour of morn
instead of heading to work
pulled us over

Compadre and I exchanged glances
as other encounters with billy clubs
handcuffs and broken ribs surfaced from
our suddenly awake memories

Without license, nor proof of birth
I proved my name by reciting a poem
while badge 8601 followed along in my proud book
digging my rhymes

After my impromptu reading
8601 returned to patrol car
while I winked at compadre thinking
we’re cool with the heat so I never saw ol’ 8601
slide up my window like a snake and jam the 357 magnum
to my temple the barrel cold as a pinpoint of ice

I could feel the gun trembling in his hand
As his words pressed through lips tighter
Than a chicken butt-You’ve a red warrant.
Move and I’ll blow your fucking head off.

I slanted my eyes at him and replied
–Be cool. I’m not that bad a poet.

Alejandro Murguia


This is the story of a Vallejo born man who lived in many, many places. Favorite places: North Africa, Central Italy and much of this our California. He had three wives and has ten children. But now lives alone, travels only twenty miles to see his doctor and it is a long walk with a walker, four or five blocks to the liquor store for a jug of gin. It’s a long walk from his bed to the couch where he sits all day, drinks when he has it, reads the books his oldest son sends him, writes (less and less), has no TV, wants none, sometimes watches the clock on the wall next to the door and window. Out the window he sees a blustery dark morning—rain? Chico weather, but warm, he thinks as he waits for his caretaker, she’ll make him his beloved coffee. He has no teeth. His enormous appetite long ago left him, left him for yet a bigger thirst. “What a beautiful morning,” he thinks looking out his window at the storm. People have put bird feeders around and a hummingbird flies by at a standstill to look at him. It is still too dark to see the hummingbird clearly. It is warm. He has a wall furnace but never touches the thermostat, someone always does that. And it is still dark so he had turned on the lamp his son sent him (so he could read the books his son also sent him.) One of his daughters who also lives in this town (now a city) installed the lamp. His other daughter (here) takes care of his money (bills and all). He seldom sees either of them. In about two hours his housekeeper will be here and he’ll have his first cup of coffee. His first words with another human animal. It’s his caretaker who takes him that twenty miles to see his doctor. She buys him food. She fixes it in a microwave or an electric frying pan she brought from her own home. His stove was long ago unplugged because he burnt everything he cooked and smoke always rolled out the door. The son that gives him books writes letters and postcards to him four or five times a week. It is not possible for him to answer them all. The beat of the raindrops in the drainpipe just outside the door is the rhythm for his wake-up song. Usually long ago songs.


No teeth. No sex life. No work for wages. Two government checks pay his way. He paints abstract nonobjectives (much like his life) but he also paints less and less. “What a life,” he often hears himself saying. He has a telephone but he never calls anyone. “Much lighter now,” he thinks, “and in another hour Rita will be here.” What that mainly means to him—coffee. “Two or three days till payday”—then his housekeeper will buy things for housekeeping and food. He’ll buy drink. Looks like a long storm. He smells toast from some nearby apartment. “What I want in this world is a story that is true,” he says. “Of course,” answers Rita.






the ink writes the poet.
Headlines write the politics.
Sentences write the prisoners.
Textbooks write the memory,

lessons ignore everyone.
Grades make the student.
Students learn the teacher.

Jobs work the employee.
Streets drive the car.
TVs watch every household.
Religions rely on the fanatic.

Prices buy the customer.
Drugs do the poor.
Lines wait out the people.

Oil burns until
it runs us out,
airplanes fly themselves.

Dogs walk the owner.
Workers run the country.
Bicycles push the leg.
Forests make the rain.
Chocolates savor the tongue.
The sex makes the lover.
The baby births a mother.
The poet becomes a child.

Words write the poet,
poem writes the ink,
and poem makes the stage
seem small.


—Logan Phillips



Logan Phillip’s website:

la vida de Violeta Parra

La película, que está basado en la biografía escrita por Ángel Parra, no sigue una línea cronológica directa, y se sitúa en distintos escenarios de la época de Violeta Parra. Se muestra a la niñez de Violeta en alguna parte de la provincia de Ñuble, los viajes que Violeta realizó al interior del campo chileno, en busca de canciones populares chilenas para evitar que se perdieran, un viaje a un campo minero del sur Chile con una compañía circense, donde cantaba junto a su hermana Hilda, el viaje de Violeta a la Polonia comunista, su estadía en Francia y la exposición de sus trabajos visuales en el Museo del Louvre, su regreso a Chile y la construcción de la carpa de la Reina, y toda la película entrelazada por fragmentos de una entrevista televisada que Violeta realizó en Argentina en el año 1962.4

La vida amorosa de la artista también es un tema fundamental a lo largo de la historia, pero sólo está enfocada al romance que mantuvo con el suizo Gilbert Favre, remitiendo a sus otras parejas a un rol secundario. En lo referente a sus hijos, en el primer lapso de la película su hijo Ángel tiene un rol marcado, para después la atención ser tomada por su hija Carmen Luisa.

Viola Chilensis: biografia de Violeta Parra

July 2012