When David Lopez, a queer SanTanero writer and librarian, found out about the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando by an early morning text message from his sister, a wave of incomprehensible emotions rippled through his mind. How could anyone cruelly kill 49 people just enjoying themselves on "Latin Night" at the LGBTQIA establishment?
Then word came of an unrelated arrest of a heavily armed man heading to LA Pride later on that same day. “We are now being targeted to a very extreme extent,” Lopez felt. “How are we going to get through this?” He explored a personal need to turn to poetry before teaming up with Luis Lopez-Maldonado to form The Brillantina Project, an open call for poems from everywhere about the tragedy.
Lopez isn’t the type to sound his voice in street demonstrations, preferring the power of the pen. The same day people awoke to the horror on the news, the poet wrote verses trying to name and uplift the collective grief of the LGBTQ community. The untitled piece beams with beautiful affirmations of resilience:
The rainbow is that prism. Pulse.Creating color from light.Raising voices to get louder and echo and rumble with passion
and conviction in spite of what the world acknowledges
and chooses to believe as truth. We are a rainbow.An irrefutable force to be reckoned with.Yet when we are cut, we bleed.
And although blood flows, our multitude of colors do not run.They grow brighter.The rainbow is a prism.
Lopez wondered if others in his community had taken to poetry to wrestle with raw emotions. He happened on a "Poetry for Orlando" Facebook page that had been created in response to the tragedy. Lopez messaged the administrator offering his help. Much to his surprise, "Poetry for Orlando" was run by Luis Lopez-Maldonado, a fellow queer SanTana-born poet studying to get an MFA in creative writing at Notre Dame. Before that, Lopez-Maldonado graduated from Florida State University, giving him a sense of connection to the place where blood had been shed. "I have been to Pulse several times," Lopez-Maldonado says. "It was and is, personal to me."
Minutes after hearing the news, Lopez-Maldonado wrote "It Could Have Been Me," the first in a collection of Orlando tributes. It's verses are tinged with a "what if?" sense of urgency:
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It could have been me,
a bleeding mouth for cameras to see
Florida Police yelling at me,
"Keep running! Go! Go! Go!
It could have been me.
"Grief is universal, and so is love," Lopez-Maldonado explains. "The holes in our hearts will never fade, but we can begin to move forward and smile once more, with a little bit of poetry." When the two writers got to talking, they sought to broaden the healing that poetry has to offer in these troubled times. The aspiration took the form of a call for submissions that will one day form an anthology. "We've been working on it nonstop in the last week because we feel that it's so time sensitive," Lopez says. The Brillantina Project website launched last Tuesday and is now seeking poems written by LGBTQIA folks, queer people of color, and straight allies.
The two writers thought of ways to define the initiative. They settled in on ideas about glitter, and the Brillantina Project was born. "We wanted to emphasize the Spanish language because the majority of the victims in Orlando were Latinos, Latinx community members," Lopez says. "We took the word 'glitter' and one of the translations, 'brillantina' to show that we LGBT people shine. We come in different shapes, sizes and varieties just like everybody else. We have luminosity."
Submissions for the Brillantina Project are being accepted through July 15 to be considered for the anthology hopefully to be published in 2017. Any future proceeds will go to the families of the Orlando Pulse shooting victims. "We are looking for people who have a positive perspective on this idea of ending hatred, really grieving and healing for this event," Lopez says. "As long as there's written word, language, and poetry, there's always going to be a way for us to exist."