Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Review: Tunaluna. On-line Floricanto Decision Day. Veterans Reading in Culver City

Review: Alurista. Tunaluna. San Antonio: Aztlán Libre Press, 2010. ISBN 9780984441501 0984441506

Michael Sedano

San Antonio’s Aztlán Libre Press published just two thousand copies of master poet Alurista’s tenth collection,
Tunaluna. I don’t know if the publisher’s market research guides them to a short run, or perhaps the count reflects the tight budget endemic to mom and pop publishing houses. Poetry readers vote with their wallets, so it will be up to the marketplace to drive the second and subsequent editions.

The public will certainly get its money’s worth from the 76 page volume: an interesting cover by Judithe Hernández wrapping 54 poems including one or two prose and one handwritten piece, together with an introduction by publisher Juan Tejeda. Poetry readers and students of Chicana Chicano letters will get what they bargained for: the most recent published work of one of Chicano Literature’s major figures and the answer to that ongoing question, “What’s he up to now?”

Alurista delights in language and word games that add complexity and at times perplexity, to a poem. The poetic tongue, the mezcla, multiplies semantic effect through blends including English to Spanish, Spanish to English. These have been hallmarks of the Alurista oeuvre ever since the poet’s first books, Floricanto en Aztlán and Nationchild Plumaroja. This mezcla of idiomas forms a content of its own and lends great enjoyment to readers able to process the mezcla. It is unfair to label Alurista’s mezcla “Spanglish, ” or merely “code-switching.” The terms disempower the utility of skilled linguistic tacticians to form and inform an audience, the poet’s intention to drive cultural referents and allusions into opposition and confluence. Poetic mezcla is both a mixing as well as a mortar, a literal translation of the term, but rather than edifice, this mezcla binds illumination and edification.

At the same time, Alurista enjoys visual play in the layout of the work. This doesn’t always work for me. Carriage returns, hard tab indents, lines of white space pitting terms at the left margin against terms at the right margin give me eye strain and repetitive motion stress in the neck. Such design may provide some guidance when reading a piece aloud, or layering meanings, in the mode of e.e.cummings. Then again, the layout could be a private in-joke, as the look of some pieces defies explanation or semiotic accounting. I think of I Rak as an example:

I Rak

I ran ó me¡

.........While libélulas


.........along hummingbirds

..................libating honey

Interestingly, with a significance I don’t get, the “libélulas frolic along hummingbirds” line is repeated in a second poem. Order Tunaluna from your independent bookseller, or directly from the publisher, and please, clarify that for me.

And I can do with a lot less of the often irritating economy of text-message style abbreviations. I am not a cell phone fan, nor a sender of text messages. Spell it out, that’s my preference. But Tunaluna would have me change that. b is a word in Alurista’s vocabulary, as is ‘n’ (with variant apostrophes).

Alurista applies the word ‘b’ as a conjugation of “to be” much like some dialects of English, or merely to save typing “be”, e.g. “stones b hot ‘gainst / the snow”. This is a phraseology Alurista has practiced in recent work. I hope he’ll lose interest in the orthographic barbarism and rediscover the resources of more conventional syntax.

‘n or ‘n’ can stand for “an” or “and”, as in:

You’re ‘n’indian
.............‘n’ I’m not?
..........................Nut, naught, knot?
…so b it

Neologism is the poet’s right, I suppose, but also the reader’s to reject as unartful.

Those complaints aside, there’s plenty of echoes in Tunaluna that recall familiar Alurista expressions and ideas. Amerindian allusions, or Nahuatl and Maya expression, for example, are a continuous link to the earliest of the poet’s work. Less familiar will be Alurista’s directed ire at George W. Bush, by name. In other work, Alurista characterizes “gringolandia” or “Sam” as devilsigns despoiling the Amerindian eden, that might be spoken of as Arizonaztlán or Texaztlán. Unlike that generalized Other, Alurista calls out Bush, arbusto for his subversion of, interference with everything Good. In Tunaluna, the opening poem tells us—just as the younger Alurista did--that Good is raza’s right to “discover / sun risa raza roja”.

Congratulations, and thanks, to Aztlán Libre Press for the two thousand copies of Alurista’s Tunaluna. The US Census in 2001 counts some 22,963,559 Latinas Latinos over 18. If you do not buy your copy soon, you’ll be one of the 22,961,559 people who will have to wait for the second edition.

On-Line Floricanto. Decision Day 2010

The poets from the Facebook Group Poets Responding to SB1070 have voted with their keyboards against the hate laws and hatred-spouting elected tipas tipos in Arizona. Today, let us see if the poets are a vocal minority of decent gente who reject hate laws, or if the voters of Arizona have had enough of the crud spewed by the governor, sheriff, and other knuckleheads in Arizona's government. A ver.

1. “When La Migra Stopped My Carnal” by Joe Navarro

2. "The Sacred Willow Song" by Hedy Garcia Trevino

3. "The Border Within" by José Hernández Díaz

4. “Resist” by Ama Luna

5. "Goodbye Tenochtitlan" by Victor Avila

1. “When La Migra Stopped My Carnal” by Joe Navarro

when la migra stopped my carnal

by Joe Navarro

when la migra stopped
my carnal for walking while
brown, they declared him
illegal, even if it was only for
a few minutes.

he didn't know it was
illegal to be brown until
that moment, when they
asked him for his green
card. he didn't know
what a green card was
because he didn't know
that growing up in el barrio misión
en san pancho made him
a foreigner in america.

you see...all my carnal could
say was, what?
where are you from?...what?
are you here illegally?...what?
where's your green card?...what?
do you understand english?...what?

all he could say was, what?
because he couldn't believe
his ears, and thought they were
narcs, just trying to harrass him
so the questions made no sense.

he finally figured it out!
they were la pinche migra who couldn't
tell one brown person from another
and saw illegal scrawled on the
foreheads of everyone in the barrio.
they finally let him go and all
he could say was...what?

joe navarro

© copyright 2010

2. "The Sacred Willow Song" by Hedy Garcia Trevino

The Sacred Willow Song

by hedy garcia trevino aka little willow

The wind today it sang a familiar song
it called upon my heart to bellow out in joyful chorus

I heard you singing last night
I know that song
that familiar song that calls my name

Down there by the willows
Down there by the sacred river

By the river by the river of my childhood
where I stood in awe and bathed my heart and left my sorrows

The wind the river the willows all sang in perfect harmony.
They chanted late into the night inviting me to join in the sacred willow song

Singing and drumming the sacred willow song
we sang until the dawn of day

Forgotten sacred sounds
that hold the secret
of the moon

The moon danced late into the night
spraying color and light upon the river
lapping up songs of joy

I long to become that infinite willow song
that speaks only of truth and love

The trumpet that calls
and awakens the soul

That place between the willows
where the moon
holds the secrets of my life
preserved in the memories of
the sacred clay

Down there by the river
where the moon comes to gather the sorrows
of the world and dispenses them on cold Winter nights

Where the ancient ones walked
and cradled me in their arms

Down there by the river

3. "The Border Within" by José Hernández Díaz

The Border Within

by José Hernández Díaz

They have built a border:
At the dinner table, when they want their fruits and vegetables--
Between sweaty fields/ and their inherent privilege.

They have built a border:
At the car wash, when they want their luxury vehicles polished--spotless, sir,--
Between breaking backs /and their abundant vanity.

They have built a border:
Behind the white picket fence, when they want their luscious gardens groomed—a little less roses, sir--
Between the roots of honest labor/ and blooming decadence.

They have built a border:
At the drive-thru window, when they want fast food at an affordable price--
Between a minimum wage/ and artificial convenience.

They have built a border:
In their industry, when they want their factories fine-tuned--
Between utter diligence/ and mechanized indifference.

They have built a border:
At the curb of The Home Depot, when they want jornaleros for an extra hand--
Between urgent necessity for cheap labor/ and reactionary discrimination.

They have built a border:
At the Library of Congress, when they advocate the principles of the Declaration of Independence--
Between love of liberty/ and hypocritical hate.

They should burn the borders that tower, within:

So that the concept of equality may liberate confined hearts;
So that we may watch interior borders


Within the mind:

A mere memory of deceit;
A new century on the rise.

4. “Resist” by Ama Luna


by Ama Luna


hijos del maíz

we raise above
our desire to be free
we manifest

children of the corn

don’t give up the fight
our children are not blind
sooner or later they’ll see the light
and embrace the struggle
with their fists tight.

porque amamos la paz
y odiamos injustice
we fight
from nuestra trinchera
la poesía, la música
y nuestro canto.

Keep up the fight.

© AmaLuna

5. "Goodbye Tenochtitlan" by Victor Avila

Goodbye Tenochtitlan

by Victor Avila

para Ernesto Yerena & Zack de la Rocha

Goodbye Tenochtitlan,
the temple is in flames.
The sword has fallen from my hand,
the gods all died today.

With tragic eyes
I look across a once green, fertile land.
All that I once held divine
is now ash and burning sand.

To cities across the border
the warrior has come north.
With sunburnt hands he's come to build
a temple on another shore.

Lighting incense atop an altar
heaven's called down to earth.
A serpent rises from its slumber
reclaiming water, wind and dirt.

With plumed shield and obsidian blade
the warrior will rise again.
He's met by sons and daughters of Joaquin
and they take back what was always theirs.

I hear the conch of my awakening,
I see a ghost in Delano's field.
I drink from a river of memory
as the cry of ancient warriors once again becomes my own.

So arise Tenochtitlan-
Arise your day has come!
The great temple of a thousand steps
awaits the children-

Yes, the Children of the Sun.


1. “When La Migra Stopped My Carnal” by Joe NavarroJoe Navarro is a Literary Vato Loco, poet, creative writer, educator, community activist, husband, parent and grandparent who currently lives in Hollister, CA. You can visit his website at http://joenavarro.weebly.com

2. "The Sacred Willow Song" by Hedy Garcia Trevino
Hedy M. Trevino. Has written poetry since the age of eight. Her first poem came as a result of being punished for speaking Spanish in school. Her poetry has been published in numerous journal's and other publications. She has performed her poetry at numerous cultural events. She continues to write poetry, and inspires others to use the written word as a form of self discovery and personal healing.

3. "The Border Within" by José Hernández Díaz
My name is José Hernández Díaz. I am originally from Norwalk, Ca. In the Spring I will finish up my BA in English Literature from UC Berkeley. Two of my hermanas also have BA’s in English Literature, so my passion for poetry has evolved naturally through the influence of great role models and special teachers. I plan on applying to the MFA program in Creative Writing at The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. I am also considering graduate school in Guanajuato, Mexico: la tierra de mis padres. My poetry brings me peace of mind; I hope it can do the same for others. Salud.

4. “Resist” by Ama Luna

5. "Goodbye Tenochtitlan" by Victor Avila
Victor Avila is an California educator, poet and songwriter. He has been teaching in public schools for over twenty years. He is a widely published poet and a winner of the Chicano Literary Prize. His songs have been covered by other artists, featured on national television, and included in the Bear Family Records 30th Anniversary box-set. Fellow L.A. based songwriter Dave Alvin has called Victor "the Real King of California" and a "songster extraordinaire". His involvement with the Alto Arizona campaign comes from his desire to see justice for all especially Latinos in Arizona."

Veterans Read in Culver City on Veterans Day 11/11

The Historic Pete Valdez., Sr. AMVETS POST 11, 10858 Culver Blvd, Culver City CA 90230 is holding a literary evening featuring writers and interpreters of war literature. Event is free, parking included. Call 310 559 2116 for information.

Alcohol-free reception at 7p.m. Program runs from 8 to 10.

Introduced by Bill Rosendahl, US Army, City Council District 11 are:

Kiki Castillo reading from new work by William Lansford (USMC, WWII Pacific, Korea)
Lorna Duyn (USAF) reading from work by veteranas Dr. Heidi Squier Kraft (USNavy, OIF) and CPT Cheryl Lockhart (USAFR)
Professor Daniel Cano (USArmy Vietnam) reading from his work Shifting Loyalties
Christopher A Sweeney (USMC Gulf War) reading from Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried.

Produced by the United States Veterans' Artists Alliance, AMVETS Post 11, and the Eugene Obregon CMH Foundation.

More information here.


Judithe Hernandez said...


I thought your review of Alurista’s newest volume of poetry was thoughtful, supportive, and fair. His poetry is certainly not linear and it is not intended to be__he and I have had long conversations about how this choice may inhibit some readers from an immediate understanding (and therefore enjoyment) of the work. However, I think that is exactly the purpose. If the reader has been sufficiently intrigued by the first pass, hopefully he will return for several more readings. Those who do will be rewarded. Alurista’s work attempts to engage the reader on many levels, even inviting them to read works from bottom-to-top; amazingly the poems work beautifully either way! Having been a fan for decades, I am thrilled that he seems to be creatively re-energized and is planning more work again. By the way, thanks for mentioning my cover___ although “interesting” is not exactly the review for which I would have hoped. LOL!


Judithe Hernandez

msedano said...

thank you, judithe, for your observations. interesting book covers are their own reward, but hardly a review. i do enjoy the cover. the ribbon is a bit of a mystery. now had you painted white tuna instead of red i would have waxed rhapsodic over your decision to depict the juiciest, best-tasting tuna, making the painting all the more interesting.

and indeed, it's grand having alurista back in action. watching him work an audience is fun, plus his performance of the work gives each poem vitality and presence.

Judithe Hernandez said...


I almost never interpret my own work, but you “started this” (LOL!) So, I will give the readers of the La Bloga a rare insight into my thinking….

Although the cover for TunaLuna is a detail of a larger work created in 2009 (before I knew about the publication of TunaLuna), Juan Tejeda, publisher of Aztlan Libre Press, saw it on my website and was struck by how right it was for the cover of Alurista’s newest volume of poetry. This wonderful convergence seems to characterize the complementary nature of my work to Alurista’s over the years. In recent conversations, we have marveled at the way we both seem to work toward to a similar aesthetic objective: he in a very non-linear, non-narrative fashion, and I in a very linear, narrative way. Go figure!

The “luna” in his poetry and in my image is loaded with meaning ancient and modern, sensual and mysterious, emotional and intellectual. The viewer/reader will decide how well be have conveyed these things. For me, as a part of my work for many years, the “ribbon” has been a “literary device” intended to connect the visual elements of a work to tell a story. In this case, the ribbon weaves its way through the nopalera, very much the same way man makes his way through his earthly life to his next transition. The human hand suggests the presence of man/woman as simply another element in the universe that lives and dies, and creates unseen memories on its journey through life’s thorns and flowers.

Ultimately, I see the poetry in TunaLuna as snapshots of life; words capturing the fleeting nature of man’s existence and his earthly experience. Actually, another beautiful poem comes to mind; a work by an anonymous Nahuatl poet:

We come but to sleep, we come but to dream,
It is not true that we come to live upon the earth,
Like the grass each spring we are transformed,
Our hearts grow green, put forth their shoots
Our body is a flower,
Its blossoms, and then it withers.