“Sin Verguenza”—meaning “without shame”—is the title of a poem in John Murillo’s debut collection Up Jump the Boogie. The poem captures an evening two cousins spend catching up after not seeing each other for fifteen years–the reminiscence, the affection, the grief and the way childhood and youth become richer, more poignant after the passing of time. How in looking back—without shame—the cousins see how they survived and have matured in their own ways.
John Murillo’s life path is uncommon—he was raised in South Central Los Angeles in an immigrant family, and now makes his living as a college professor. Murillo’s poetry chronicles his childhood and youth so that the reader feels like a beloved cousin who knows secrets, or a neighbor who bears witness to events in the neighborhood. He writes “sin verguenza” of growing up with a father who was involved in crime, in a tough neighborhood with drug dealers & prostitutes on the corner and the temptations and challenges that life presented.
As a Dodge Poet in the schools, John shares with students that he grew up thinking he’d be either a rapper or a basketball player He reveres the icons of early rap and hip hop that “shaped his ear” and influenced the musicality, rhyme and rhythm, as well as the wordplay that shines in his work. When he reads/performs his poems, his sound-intelligence is magnified: the syncopated pauses, snapping hard sounds, and drawn out soft sounds carry the listener through the drama and story of the poems.
There’s a boldness in Murillo’s work—he’s without shame and there’s pride in the roles his father, uncle and elders played in teaching him about life and the way the world works. But there’s vulnerability too, kindness, thankfulness, and the sense that the difficulties of his youth—seeing his neighbors and friends succumb to drug addiction or worse—are in the past. Not to be left behind and forgotten, but to be both cherished and kept contained within the poems. His humility extends into his thinking about his work as an “apprenticeship” in poetry. (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2010/04/poet-spotlight-john-murillo/)
Murillo’s openness with his own learning, his own growth, both as a human and a poet is a reminder to take stock of what we’ve experienced and to move forward into one’s future with confidence. John will make his Festival debut on Friday of the Festival, when a great deal of the audience will be High School Students, who will no doubt find in him a compassionate and honest voice. For video of John reading “Ode to a Cross-Fader” click here.
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