Los Delicados built their brand on being persistent.
There wasn’t an ecosystem in place for the poetry collective’s special brand of performance in 1996, which contains a hybrid of performance art, Chicano teatro and AfroCuban music and dance. There were no theatres trying to book them into their seasons. Even poetry teachers, who should have been mentors, had no room in their institutions for this group.
But their persistence showed up at the spaces they turned into makeshift theatres – the streets in Union Square, the lawn at San Francisco State, house parties, protests and the 24th Street BART station. As time went on, the local group started going national, ultimately ending up at the famed Nuyorican Poets Café in New York City.
Plenty of troupes have pushed hard against conventional arts and moved on to other pursuits, yet Los Delicados poetry collective has persisted, celebrating their 25th birthday with a massive celebration this weekend. “Los Delicados 25th Anniversary Floricanto” will feature three days of events in San Francisco, Oakland and San José. The collective, founded by Norman Antonio Zelaya, Darren J. de Leon and Paul S. Flores, have collected a who’s who of Chicano-Latino artistic and literary stars to participate in a landmark event for Bay Area spoken word and poetry.
The trio, who all possess MFA degrees in creative writing, have gathered other poetry luminaries such as United States Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, Margarita Luna Robles, Arlene Biala, Jimmy Biala, Marc David Pinate and Grito Serpentino, Milta Ortiz, Baktun-12 of Salinas, Pat Payne, Amalia Ortiz and Adrian Arancibia, among others. San Francisco poet Josiah Luis Alderete, the new owner of Medicine for Nightmares Bookstore (formerly Alley Cat Books) is hosting the Thursday and Friday events with Pablo Rudo Rodriguez handling host duties Saturday in San José.
The collective has had many impacts in the Bay Area’s poetry scene, and have now found an element of poetic justice due to the work of Los Delicados being taught in Chicano studies programs at the university level around the nation. Flores, who has taught an oft-sought spoken word and hip-hop theater class at the University of San Francisco since 2009, has strong reflections of those early days when the group was starting out.
“Our work was collective poetry, much like devised theater. We wrote our poems collectively, arranged them and blocked them,” said Flores. “Our impact is felt in the courage to represent a Pan-Latino aesthetic now practiced many Latino writers who incorporate Caribbean culture and native culture into their symbolism and content. We introduced hybrid performative poetics that combine Chicano, Cuban, Central American, urban, African American, talk show host banter and inside jokes with music.”
Alejandro Murguía, who was named San Francisco poet laureate in 2012, has seen firsthand the group’s influence then and now.
“Los Delicados had a very positive impact on the poetry scene, especially as spoken word artists, and their live performances were unique,” said Murguía. “Nowadays, poetry is perhaps the best hope we have for a more just and inclusive world. Poetry is also prophecy, bringing forth a new vision of the world.”
Zelaya has spent the last 20 years as a public-school teacher and takes an immense measure of pride in being called both “maestro” and “poeta.” Being a true citizen of the neighborhood means reacting to what the neighborhood presents to him, which then becomes turning pen to paper. That community awareness and being part of the longtime collective has set him on the brink of some incredible breakthroughs.
“As individuals, we are carving out our own careers as writers,” said Zelaya. “I’ve wanted to be a published author since I was 15. I have a book due in December and revising a debut novel. I have an agent. My hope is that personal success will create more room for us to write as Delicados. The connection and understanding is still there, and we’re all better writers and poets. Our new pieces will be brilliant. Innovative. Fucking bad ass.”
Flores has created very clear goals as a member of the arts community, and has used the platform of poetry to launch into other forms of performance, including multiple solo theatre pieces he has written and performed. His latest project, a massive collaboration entitled “We Have Iré,” has toured nationally. For Flores, the love he has for community has informed the approach he takes with his art.
“Before Los Delicados, my writing was being shaped to only focus on individual experience. (The collective) helped me look outward and see my art as a unifying force, which has taught me to reject the virtue of subtlety, to stop being afraid of bluntly calling out injustice with poetry, and to reject writing poetry for academics. The academy is where poetry goes to die. That’s why academic poets hate performance poets. They call us stand-up comics, or entertainers, but not poets. Because we generate audiences of thousands. Academic poets publish a book maybe 1000 people will read. Maybe we don’t get tenure, but we help move la causa forward for the next generation.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
“Los Delicados 25th Anniversary Floricanto”
Thursday, Nov. 18 – Speaking Axolotl, 111 Fairmount Ave, Oakland – 6:30 PM
Friday, Nov. 19– Brava Main Stage, 2781 24th Street, San Francisco – 6:30 PM
Saturday, Nov. 20 – MACLA – 510 South First Street, San José – 6:30 PM
Masks and vaccine cards required
For tickets in Oakland, click here
For tickets in San Francisco, click here
For tickets in San José, click here