LocationAlhambra , CA
Tattered books hanging from the ceiling blow from the breeze of rotating ceiling fans set on high. This dimly lit hole in the wall establishment is decorated with neon portraits of a purple neon King and Queen of Hearts and a red-lit omniscient hand grabbing a fleeing rabbit. At the back of the room, a purple cat with a devilish smile fills the right side of the hallway wall. This is the Rabbit Hole, an Alice in Wonderland themed bar on Main St. in downtown Alhambra.
On a late August night, this quirky space is hosting a new poetry series sponsored by the Influx Collectiv, a queer-poetry collective.
Adler, a self-described trans man and art student, stands in the middle of the whimsical bar and reads two poems from his phone to a group of about 40 people. One poem is about writer’s block. The second is about the challenges of being a trans man in 2019. The latter poem tackles identity, insecurity, and evolution.
At the back of the bar, several regular patrons sipping on craft cocktails have perplexed looks on their faces. This was definitely not a regular Thursday night at the Rabbit Hole. New patrons enter the bar and walk briskly by Adler’s position on stage to find a seat. Many of those in attendance are college students, veteran poets, and up and coming artists. Some of them have spent time in Alhambra but for many this is their first time at the Rabbit Hole. Many live in diverse neighborhoods of Los Angeles including Boyle Heights, Echo Park, and Koreatown.
The eclectic group listens attentively to Adler. This is the first time Adler, 21, is reading at an open mic event and the third time he has attended an Influx Collectiv Queer Poetry Reading.
Over the next three hours, around 13 performers share their experiences through poetry. An important corner of Influx Collectiv’s mission is to serve as a platform for rising artists – and that’s how the newly added open-mic component helps them reach that goal.
One poet, Quincy, described herself as a queer trans-woman of color and read a few poems about that experience. Her work called out to a stark statistic that the life expectancy of a black trans woman is thought to be 35 – citing the spike of trans murders happening across the nation. This year BuzzFeed reported on murders that contributed to this statistic.
Poetry presented that night hit a spectrum of heavy topics that had relevance to queer audiences. From romantic love, to identity, to sexism, classism, and racism, the night at the Rabbit Hole brought an array of subjects to the Main St. bar. And that type of diversity is what Influx Collectiv seeks to maintain in its poetry series.
The night at Influx Collectiv included personal, passionate readings from pieces of poetry both polished and unfinished. At the end of each reading, the engaged crowd would snap their fingers, stomp their boots, and cheer in support no matter how timid or confident or energetic said reader was on stage.
Cori Bratby-Rudd and her wife Diana Gutierrez, the current leaders of the poetry series, have lived in Alhambra for the last three years. When asked about how they ended up in Alhambra, Bratby-Rudd described it as a “happy accident.”
They decided to move to Alhambra from Eagle Rock because the rent was affordable and, of course, the diverse cuisine attracted them. But after living in Alhambra for a few months they also found out this ethnically diverse community was something else: accepting of their relationship. Bratby-Rudd explains that she has never felt unsafe in Alhambra. “We feel comfortable existing in this city. There is a park near our place and we can walk there holding hands and not necessarily feel like we are in danger which isn’t really true for a lot of different areas.”
Bratby-Rudd is an Emergency Services Coordinator for the L.A. branch of Peace Over Violence (POV), a non-profit organization that works to build healthy social relationships between families and communities. But her role with POV isn’t the only space where she coordinates safe spaces for disenfranchised groups. The queer poetry series, which is not yet a year old, is another.
The evening at the Rabbit Hole was the eighth monthly event the collective has produced. The series aims to be accessible for queer people of color and non-binary communities.
Influx Collectiv began when Bratby-Rudd and Catherine Chen met at a writing retreat last Summer. According to Bratby-Rudd, the pair left the retreat realizing that a number of the participants were queer and LA-based. With only one other well-known LGBTQ reading series in LA, Homo-Centric, Bratby-Rudd and Chen felt there were not enough performing opportunities for queer artists in the area.
So they decided to fill that gap. That’s where Influx Collectiv came in. But what exactly is Queer Poetry? That’s difficult to answer.
In the realm of LGBTQ literature and gender identity politics, the word “queer” is an all-embracing term that folks within the LGBTQ community use to express their gender identity that does not conform to traditional society definitions. According to an American Psychological Association Gender Diversity definition sheet, “historically, [queer] has been considered a derogatory or pejorative term and the term may continue to be used by some individuals with negative intentions.” But in contemporary literature, many self-described “queer” artists have reclaimed the word and embraced it.
Rocío Carlos, a professor of Humanities and Sciences professor at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and another poet who headlined the Influx night, offered a definition of the subgenre of literature. To her, queer poetry is an ever-growing conversation that has no concrete beginning, middle, or end. “Is queer writing only ever about sex? or the body? or can it be about the line at the grocery store, or crossing the border, or police brutality? or all of the things? it deserves a living conversation, not a single answer, across queer folks of different experiences and identities,” she said.
Angie, an in-home counselor and another headlining poet of the night, believes that queer literature is a matter of representation. Her poems covered themes such as self-love, mental health, and identity.
“Queer poetry is important because it’s necessary for [queer-identifying individuals] to have that representation. Growing up and reading queer stories, reading queer poetry, seeing queer people in media only helped me come into my own self. So I definitely think having that experience reading all of those works of art is extremely important. It’s all about representation,” Angie in an interview with Alhambra Source.
Influx Collectiv was created to be a platform that queer-identified individuals can turn to when they have a need express themselves and be heard. Today, the reading series is just that. In the future, they want to be space where resources can be available to queer communities in need. And for the foreseeable future, Alhambra will be their base of operations as they continue to host readings across LA.
“We don’t plan on moving out any time soon,” said Bratby-Rudd.
The next Influx Collectiv reading is on September 27th at the Lucille and Edward R. Roybal Foundation in East Los Angeles. Learn more here.