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Poetry to Break Barriers : An art center's reading series is part of a multimedia effort to pull down walls separating the diverse peoples of L.A.

March 19, 1993|SUSAN HEEGER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Susan Heeger is a regular contributor to Valley Life.

Much has been written about Los Angeles as urban melting pot--home to a jostling mix of cultures that, in their struggle to survive and assert themselves, constantly reshape the region's character.

McGroarty Arts Center in Tujunga may be far from L.A.'s noisy core, but it is committed to reflecting the city's cultural diversity. Located in the 70-year-old home of the late John Steven McGroarty, journalist, congressman and poet laureate of California during the 1930s, the center lies at the intersection of old and new California. Eleven acres of oak and pine that double as bird sanctuary surround the adobe and redwood house, a historic monument that, in itself, is reason enough to attend a poetry reading there.

But as Daniel Veneciano, McGroarty's exhibitions and education coordinator, describes it, the center's ongoing reading series reaches beyond the airing of literature in an idyllic setting and attempts, as part of a larger, multimedia program, to take down the walls separating the people of L.A.

"There are certain political borders imposed on groups who have been living here longer than European-Americans," says Veneciano. "These people become segregated within the city. We're trying to break through barriers to a greater cultural exchange and understanding."

Since September the center--a facility of the city's Cultural Affairs Department--has presented exhibitions, performances and readings linked by the theme of "Dissolving Borders."

The Tujunga Heritage Pageant, staged in September and slated to become an annual event, paid homage to America's indigenous peoples with historical and contemporary exhibitions and poetry readings.

"Poetic Justice," a series of readings inspired by the work of South African poet Dennis Brutus, began last month with "28 Days and a Mule: A Response to Black History Month," which featured three African-American writers and commented ironically on the inadequacy of devoting a single month to such a complex subject.

On Sunday at 2 p.m., three Latino poets and a performance artist will stage a bilingual reading, "Poesia por la Vida," as part of a monthlong look at street vendors, day laborers and recent Latin American immigrants to L.A.

Two of the writers, Gloria Alvarez and Manuel Luna, will read together, presenting work that Alvarez says "merges the influences, styles and experiences of a Chicana/Mexicana poet and a Salvadoran poet." Alvarez is a widely published writer and the recipient of grants from the L.A. Cultural Affairs Department and the California Arts Council. Luna writes for La Opinion and teaches in the California Poets in the Schools program. Integral to the poetry of both, says Alvarez, are "the spiritual, cultural and economic factors which shape our reality and identity."

The third poet, Victor Carillo, who received an Irvine Chicano Literary Prize for 1985-87, focuses his writing, he says, around "absences, echoes, voices, my father." Reading work at times ruminative, lyrical and full of rage and pain at politically induced suffering, he aims to show that "my condition is never mine alone."

Costa Rican performance artist and filmmaker Elia Arce will add drama to the afternoon with her interpretive presentation on Latino street vendors. Working with a mix of images and text, Arce will portray what she calls "a psychological roller coaster in a social context."

On a rather different note, a group of local poets called the Chupa Rosa Writers will read their work at 2 p.m. May 23. Timed to coincide with McGroarty's May exhibition program, which focuses on personal history and cultural identity, the literary event will relate loosely to the theme of cultural heritage.

Founded in 1985 by a former writing teacher at McGroarty, the group shares some of the nature-inspired orientation of John McGroarty's own poets' circle.

"We often write about the beauty of our area--the surrounding foothills, the quiet," says member Ginny Haddad. She adds, however, that "just like McGroarty's, our interests are diverse: Some of us work in traditional forms, some in a more free-form style."

Finally, at 2 p.m. June 6, poet and humanist Brutus will read at McGroarty, in conjunction with a visual arts exhibition and a performance by the South African dance troupe the Shaluza Boot Dancers, who recently appeared on Arsenio Hall's late-night TV show. Brutus has long struggled against apartheid and lived much of his life in exile. His many books of poetry give voice to the suffering of South African blacks, the horrors of prison life--which he experienced--and the complex feelings of one adrift from his homeland.

Where and When What: Poetry readings at McGroarty, 7570 McGroarty Terrace, Tujunga. Hours: From March to June, including Sunday at 2 p.m. Price: Free. Call: (818) 352-5285.

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