Twenty-four-year-old Pilsen poet AidÈ Rodriguez seems “stuck between cornfields and prickly pears,” as she says in one of her compositions, looking down the barrel of a microphone with rows of audience on one side and her own arsenal of words on the other. She has the tough job of opening for middle-aged veteran David Hernández and his perennial spoken-word combo, Street Sounds, at their CD release party for Satin City Serenade (Street Sounds Media Group). Her poems evoke images of nopales wrapped with barbed wire rooted in Midwestern concrete, referencing indigenous and Illinois literary touchstones in the same breath. But she doesn’t want to get stuck on her own words — she just wants to get offstage so she can watch the main attraction. Her unassuming presence fits the evening’s theme — “Poets Across Generations,” as the Guild dubs it — because she is the humble rookie whom the elders always put out first to break the ice.

Though a literary lineage between Rodriguez and Hernández is never made clear, their generational differences play out best through performance personae, especially since their cultural sources (though Latino in general) are more contrasting than congruent. Hernández has staked his Chicago performative claim in the Puerto Rican community, mainly circulating in nostalgia for his upbringing in the long-since-gentrified Lakeview and Lincoln Park neighborhoods of the ’60s and ’70s; Rodriguez of course has no established poetic identity, but her pieces ring with echoes of Mexican 18th Street, especially in the context of her own combo — avant-punk/poets Sonido Ink (Quieto). In that group, Rodriguez duels with her partner in spoken-word vocals, Brenda Cárdenas, while a rock outfit (including a turntablist and a former member of Los Crudos) wrings out a soundscape that ambles like a South Side barrio stroll with young “crazy vatos, rucas, punks, artfags, hippies, poetas, and musicians” (as the liner notes to their recent release put it).
Rodriguez’s opening set at the Chopin is relatively tame, but that’s more a function of the programming than her chops. Whether black or Latino, young poets can sometimes get thrown into the same all-purpose lit ghetto, and though the Guild Complex does a good job of integrating youngsters, Rodriguez’s opener is presented as an afterthought. Accordingly, she’s nervous, immobile, and recites with a typical poetic-newbie delivery. She also makes a brief, vague, and touchingly courteous reference to CDs and an anthology that carry her work; Hernández, by contrast, has the merch pitch down to an art of its own, especially for the new CD that prominently cites him as a “Famous Poet,” also dubbing Street Sounds as “Chicago’s Premiere Poetry/Music Group.”
Certainly, Hernández is a living piece of Chicago history who has paid his dues, and the new release is as much a tribute to the city he loves as to his own respectable place in it. Guild Complex executive director Julie Parson-Nesbitt introduces Hernández with a call to make him the new poet laureate of Illinois, and the modest crowd responds lovingly to his tight, competent combo’s weaving of words with smooth jazz and jÃŒbaro roots-folk. But his pieces speak largely to family history, bygone doo-wop days at Lakeview High School, and adventures on an Armitage Avenue that once smelled of beans and rice rather than Starbucks coffee beans. His poetry is nonetheless relevant and powerful, though the night’s program (within a stone’s throw of new gentrification frontiers in West Town and Pilsen) is more sentimental than prescient.
For a dialogue that really crosses generational borders and speaks to cultural continuity, the program might have paired Street Sounds with the promising Sonido Ink (Quieto), especially since Rodriguez’s group also has a new CD — Chicano, Illinoize: The Blue Island Sessions (deSPICable Records). West Side Puerto Rican salsa rock and South Side Aztechnopunk might have made for an interesting conversation, giving a dynamic sense of Chicago Latino soul and speaking to “the music of stories/ rippling from pens/ that send bassy vibrations from floor to tambor over two-flats,/ skyscrapers, liquor stores/ Our acrobatic musical scores,” as Rodriguez memorably puts it.
28 November 2001, Illinois Entertainer

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