Thursday, October 01, 2009

Guest Columnist: Jesse Tijerina

If there is a specific literary volume by a Chicano poet that need stand at attention in any public and/or personal library, it most definitely must be titled, Viaje / Trip, by the late raul r. salinas. Although born in San Antonio, Texas in 1934, salinas was raised in the barrios of East Austin and in following the modus operandi of many a Chicano youth growing up in the barrio, salinas succumbed to la vida loca. He would spend nearly 12 years in the span of two decades at four of the country’s harshest prisons; Soledad, Huntsville, Leavenworth, and Marion. The poetry and prose that make up Viaje / Trip led me to ponder whether or not prison life was responsible for crafting such a power house of a human voice. And if so, is it immoral to thank salinas for choosing the life of crime as a young man.

As early as 1964 salinas began producing poetry and prose for The Echo, a prison periodical published at the Texas State Prison of Huntsville. Despite the fact that they were obviously writings of a novice poet, salinas’s words shone bright and speckled with verses of brilliance. It would be on the heels of 1970 while serving a stint at the Kansas Federal Penitentiary of Leavenworth that a group of inmates self-published a prison magazine called New Era. In the heart of the magazine appeared a five page Whitmanesque poem titled, “A Trip Through The Mind Jail,” penned by a pinto named raul r. salinas. A 35 year old poet preferring the lowercase lettering of his name in honor of and inspired by e. e. cummings.

In a written dedication to Black Panther member, Eldridge Cleaver, “A Trip Through The Mind Jail,” would reappear as the introductory poem in the 1973 publication of salinas’s first book, Viaje / Trip. So begins the viaje, “LA LOMA / Neighborhood of my youth / demolished, erased forever from / the universe. / You live on, captive, in the lonely / cellblocks of my mind,” writes salinas. “Neighborhood of endless hills / muddied streets – all chuckhole lined – / that never drank asphalt. / Kids barefoot/snotty-nosed / playing marbles/munching on bean tacos / (the kind you’ll never find in a café) / 2 peaceful generations removed from / their abuelos’ revolution.” With escalated cadence the viaje continues through the poeta’s mind, all at the same time realizing and not realizing solace in its closing words, “Flats, Los Marcos, Maravilla, Calle Guadalupe, / Magnolia / Buena Vista, Mateo, La Seis, Chiquis, / El Sur and all the Chicano neighborhoods that / now exist and once existed; / somewhere…someone remembers…” Seguro que si, we remember. Que Viva the Cockroach Poet!

Viaje / Trip by raul r. salinas published by Hellcoal Press, June 1973


Francisco Aragón said...

I loved the length and focus of this piece. The concise mixture of commentary and quoted lines read just right.

Manuel Ramos said...

Excellent review, Jesse. I'm really pleased that you are contributing more to La Bloga. Keep up the good work.