Monday, July 25, 2005


Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

Kathleen Alcalá is a Chicana writer whose trilogy on nineteenth century Mexico was published by Chronicle Books (all now available in paperback editions). Her work has received the Western States Book Award, the Governor's Writers Award, a Pacific Northwest Bookseller's Award, and a Washington State Book Award. A co-founder and contributing editor to the literary journal, The Raven Chronicles, Kathleen was recently a visiting lecturer at the University of New Mexico. Her nonfiction has been produced for public radio, and she co-wrote, with director Olga Sanchez, a play based on her novel, Spirits of the Ordinary that was produced by The Miracle Theatre of Portland, Oregon. She has work in recent or forthcoming issues of Creative Nonfiction, The Raven Chronicles, Re-Markings, and The Pacific Northwest Writers Association Anthology. Kathleen was born in Compton, California and grew up in San Bernardino. Her parents are from San Julian, Jalisco, and Durango, Durango, Mexico. Her work is based, in part, on family stories. She is interested in writing the counter-narratives to official history, and encouraging others to do the same.

Sonnets and Salsa
By Carmen Tafolla
(Wings Press, San Antonio, TX.
ISBN 0-916727-10-6, paperback,
113 pp., $16.00, 2004)

In this the revised and expanded edition of Sonnets and Salsa, Carmen Tafolla offers us a delectable feast of poetry spiced with musical rhythms of Latino culture, experience and language.

Tafolla divides her book into two parts. The first, “Selected Salsas,” contains fourteen poems (plus two English translations of pieces written primarily in Spanish) that focus on the struggles, philosophies and “otherness” (female/ male; Aztec/Spanish; mestizo/white). In “The Storykeeper: instructions from an historian,” the narrator explains what one should look for to understand Latinos: “In the jarros [pitchers or pots], she says, / Look in the jarros. / The ones forgotten or shoved aside, / with a broken clay lip and color dulled by years / of hard use / and unmeditated abuse.” The poem leads us through an examination of experiences that normally would be ignored by those who write history but that, in the end, define Latinos better than the famous battles, the signed treaties.

Tafolla is particularly adept at singing the praises of the Latinas who work hard to maintain their identity both as individuals and as dignified supporters of their families. Tafolla does this without falling into overly sentimental portraits. Often she relies on the unadorned but descriptive language of average women such as in the poem “La Gloria”: “’Don’t have much to show for it / but wha’s mine is mine.”

The second half of the book is called “Sonnets to Human Beings,” and consists of thirty-two poems with one English translation of a Spanish poem. One of the most disturbing and potent pieces is “Sweet Remember” where Tafolla uses documented incidents of torture and rape of women and young girls to remonstrate against parents teaching their girls to be “sweet, / sit neat, / cry easy, / and be oh so pretty on a shelf.” And there are eloquent poems about the plight of undocumented immigrants (“Statue of”), the eclectic glory of bilingualism and Mexican style (“Right in one language”), a maimed carpenter’s optimistic philosophy (“Poquito allá”).

Throughout this beautiful, slim volume, Tafolla slips easily between Spanish and English with language that captivates, illuminates and even educates. It is not difficult to understand why she is known as one of the madrinas of contemporary Chicana literature. [This review first appeared in Southwest BookViews.]

COVERING CHIC LIT: Well, I finally got my first issue of Tu Ciudad, the magazine that, according to the editors, “will look at Los Angeles through a Latino prism, exploring the duality of bicultural life in a city that morphs into something different on a daily basis.” I must admit, it is beautifully rendered: slick, excellent layout, easy to read format with great artwork and photography. On the downside, the breathtakingly beautiful Patricia López adorns the cover. Downside? Look, I appreciate beauty as much as the next vato, but our new Chicano Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, who is covered (page 58) in an insightful piece by editor Oscar Garza, really should have gotten that spot. I mean, there’s already a plethora of People-like magazines that can put beauties on covers. With this historic election, Villaraigosa really should have been front and center. In terms of covering Chicano literature (Chic Lit, as I like to say), Salvador Plascencia, author of The People of Paper (McSweeney’s), gets kudos (page 28) and is labeled a “post-magic realist” (interesting). In a section called, Hit Hot Now, we’re treated to twenty-five “creative Angelenos shaking up the City’s cultural scene.” Included are the novelist and law professor Yxta Maya Murray, author most recently of The Queen Jade (HarperCollins/Rayo), and a McSweeney’s editor Pilar Perez who currently runs Dave Eggers’ literacy program, 826LA, housed in Venice, CA. It is my hope that Tu Ciudad will start running full-length book reviews and longer stories on the vibrant and varied Latino/a literary scene in LA. But overall, I’m delighted by this magazine and I wish the editors much luck in keeping their enterprise alive.

FINALMENTE: My first piece for the Jewish Journal appeared recently.

All done. Until next Monday, enjoy the intervening posts from my compadres at La Bloga. ¡Lea un libro!

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