Monday, January 02, 2006


Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

Poetry will soon celebrate its centennial (an early cover is reproduced to the left). As its website notes, when Harriet Monroe founded the magazine in 1912, “American poetry remained stuck in the twilight of the nineteenth century and an exhausted Romanticism inherited from England….” This was true despite the fact that “the texture of daily and cultural life already felt recognizably modern: new building materials and methods produced the first skyscrapers, five million Americans went to the movies every day, and the boundaries of acceptability in art and music were being redrawn by the likes of Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Picasso, and Matisse.” So when the first issue of Poetry first appeared in October 1912, “the fifty-one-year-old Monroe could not have foreseen the magazine's impact. But it was exactly as if a bomb had exploded, and nothing would ever look, or sound, the same in American poetry again.” The great strength of Poetry (and it’s open secret for success) was its “ecumenical approach” that “avoided the dangers of a too-narrow adherence to any one agenda or fashion.”

In 2002, something rather remarkable happened: Ruth Lilly made Poetry a bequest worth more than one hundred million dollars which, according to Poetry’s website, “ensur[ed] the magazine's existence in perpetuity.” This has led to what some might call a “rebirth” of the magazine in terms of format, design and gift-giving.

Adam Kirsch wrote of this rebirth in his recent article in the New York Sun where he noted:

But the real news about Poetry today is in the pages of the magazine itself. Under its new editor, Christian Wiman, Poetry has done what long seemed impossible: It has reclaimed its place at the center of American poetry. More, it has become one of the most interesting literary periodicals of any kind published today. Traditionally, only poets read Poetry; thanks to Mr. Wiman's innovations, it has become indispensable reading for anyone who cares about American literature. And the numbers show that the word is spreading: Today the magazine's circulation is at 27,000, up from 11,000 since Mr. Wiman's first issue in October 2003.

In the December 29, 2005 issue of the New York Sun, Francisco Aragón responded to Kirsch’s article. Aragón’s letter reads in full:

As a practitioner and editor of verse myself, I read with great interest Adam Kirsch's article on December 20, 2005, regarding the rebirth of Poetry Magazine ["Poetry Magazine's Rebirth," Page 1].

I agree with most of Mr. Kirsch's assessment and think the magazine is more lively and engaging since its current editor took over a little over two years ago. And I would also concur that the back of the magazine has been what has been most refreshing for what I'll call its "tone" and "bite."

There continues, however, to be a glaring omission that the magazine itself seems to be in denial about (they declined to publish a very very brief letter on the subject). But the numbers speak for themselves:

In the two or so years since the new editorship has been in place, Poetry Magazine has reviewed - never mind whether negatively or positively - a Grand total of 0 books by poets of Latino/Hispanic descent.

You will find books by Latino poets in their "Books Received" section online. But not one of these books has garnered a single word of commentary - negative or otherwise.

The editor, in a piece not too long ago, stated that Poetry Magazine's aim was to review a "range of books." I continue to wonder how much longer our most visible journal of verse will continue to render invisible such a sizable and growing portion of the United States population.


I think that Aragón’s letter speaks for itself. I’ve enjoyed Poetry magazine throughout the years; it’s available at most chain and independent bookstores, which is a feat in and of itself. But if Poetry wishes to maintain its cutting edge approach to American poetry, it must expand its coverage of Latino/a poets. Period.

SPEAKING OF LATINO/A POETRY: Letras Latinas, the literary component of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame, would like to remind you that the deadline for the second edition of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize is just around the corner: January 6, 2006.

Named after the late Chicano poet, the prize carries a $1000 cash award, a book contract with University of Notre Dame Press for a first book of poetry, and an invitation to read, with the final judge, at the University of Notre Dame. There is no entrance fee. For complete guidelines, please visit:

Any further questions can be addressed to:

Francisco Aragón
Director, Letras Latinas
Institute for Latino Studies
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN 46556
(574) 631-2882

NEW CHAIR OF THE STANFORD ENGLISH DEPARTMENT: Professor Ramón Saldívar has been appointed as the new Chair of Stanford University’s Department of English replacing the retiring Professor Rob Polhemus. Saldívar’s teaching and research areas at Stanford have concentrated on the areas of cultural studies, literary theory, modernism, Chicano narrative, and Post-colonial literature. He is also interested in the history of the novel and nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British and American comparative studies. With a degree in Comparative Literature, his publications reflect the variety of his interests. His first book, Figural Language in the Novel: The Flowers of Speech from Cervantes to Joyce (1984), was a study of the authority of meaning in selected canonical European and American novels. His second book, Chicano Narrative: The Dialectics of Difference (1990), is a history of the development of Chicano narrative forms. His forthcoming book, titled The Borderlands of Culture: Social Aesthetics and the Transnational Imaginary of Americo Paredes (2005), is a study of the modern American borderlands, transnationalism and globalism and their role in creating and delimiting agents of history.

Saldívar has served on the Board of Governors of the University of California Humanities Research Institute, on the Editorial Board of American Literature, and Modern Fiction Studies and on the national council of the American Studies Association. He is a past recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, a National Council on Chicanos in Higher Education grant, a Danforth Doctoral Fellowship and various University of Texas Research Institute Faculty Awards. At Stanford, he has received Irvine and Bing curriculum development grants. He is the 1994 recipient of the Lillian and Thomas B. Rhodes Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching at Stanford, the Lloyd W. Dinkelspiel Award for Distinctive Contribution to Undergraduate Education in 1998, and is the Hoagland Family Professor of Humanities and Sciences and Milligan Family University Fellow in Undergraduate Education.


Lecture with Professor Michael A. Olivas of the University of Houston Law Center
Friday, January 13, 2006
12:00 noon
Haines Hall room 179, UCLA Campus

Professor Olivas will discuss the litigation history of Hernandez v. Texas, the 1954 US Supreme Court case that was decided within 10 days of the Brown v. Board decision; they are side by side in the 1954 Supreme Court Reporter. The case involved jury selection in Jim Crow Jackson County, Texas, following the 1951 shooting of Joe Espinosa by Pete Hernandez in Edna, Texas.

When Hernandez was convicted and sentenced to life imprison by an all-white jury, his lawyers argued that he had not been tried by a jury of his peers, and that no Mexican American had ever been called to jury duty in the County. While the State's highest court of Criminal Appeals sided with the State, attorneys John Herrera, James deAnda, Carlos Cadena, and Gus Garcia took the case to the US Supreme Court, which unanimously overturned the verdict and ordered a new trial. This was the first case ever tried by Mexican American lawyers in the US Supreme Court.

Because it was overshadowed by the glare of the greater Brown case, many people do not know this case, decided fifty years ago. But in many respects, it is more significant than even that magnificent case. First, it contains extraordinary anti-subordination language, perhaps better even than that in Brown. Second, it reveals the extent to which a nascent minority group organized itself, without legal organizations or ethnic machinery such as that created by Blacks to attack segregation. Third, it reveals Jim Crow conditions for Mexicans in the South, and had resonance for the larger issue of how minorities fare in the criminal justice system. Finally, it is a fascinating tale in its own terms.

The University of Houston Law Center held the only national conference on the 50th anniversary of this case, and published the papers in the Spring 2005 special issue of the UCLA Chicano-Latino Law Review. To see the conference website, click here. A full-length book will be published by Arte Público Press in 2006, and will contain the papers and extensive materials on the case.

[I again note that, as far as I know, I am not related to Prof. Michael A. Olivas though the Professor and my father share the same name including the middle initial. The only other connections are that I am a lawyer and, while at UCLA Law School, I served as editor-in-chief of the UCLA Chicano Law Review (before its more inclusive name change).]

ON THE RADIO: On January 4, Wednesday, 7:00 p.m., I will be a guest on Jordan Rosenfeld's book show, Word by Word, on KRCB, public radio. You may listen online. It was taped in early December at the KQED studios in San Francisco. Jordan is a wonderful interviewer: thoughtful, respectful and articulate. You should take a listen to her prior shows which can be heard as podcasts. One of my favorite shows has as a guest Laila Lalimi, author of Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits.

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

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Re: Aragon's letter to Poetry

There are things I would have liked to have seen Aragon speak to:

What was Poetry, mag's record prior to the new editor, regarding reviewing Chicano verse?

Does the mag review other "ethnic" poetry? If so, which?

What was in the first letter they declined to publish?

I think, in general, I'd like to have seen a more exhaustive presentation of the problem: not to convince me, but to convince Poetry's gringo, readers that this is something they should bring to the attention of the editor.