I have yet to meet Luivette Resto in person. We spoke on the telephone and I instantly knew her unique and lively name matched her persona and poetry. She seems very humble, but anyone with endorsements from Martin Espada, Helena Viramontes, and Luis J. Rodriguez deserves much attention and recognition. However, in her new role, as hostess for La Palabra at Avenue 50 Studio in Highland Park, Resto puts the spotlight on other poets. “I’m not really good with compliments,” she said, “I love to read to become a better reader. I’m totally appreciative of compliments. It’s a new concept for me to get recognized.”
As a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts, Resto worked closely with Martin Espada. After reading his work, she knew she wanted to learn more from the award-winning poet and lawyer. “When I read his book, I fell in love with his poetry. I had an appreciation for his images and works. I love that he is funny with a serious and hardcore theme.” Like Espada, Resto is also a Puerto Rican poet. She was born in Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico, and was raised in the Bronx. She is the first in her family to get a college degree. She learned from El Maestro how to write sociopolitical poems and infuse her poetry with humor. In 2008, Tia Chucha Press published her first collection, Unfinished Portrait. The book was also a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize, an award Espada won in 2008 for his book Alabanza: New and Selected Poems 1982-2002. Of Unfinished Portrait, Martin Espada writes:
“The poetry of Luivette Resto is a revelation: brave, honest, angry, intimate, political, irreverent. The poems burn with a clarity born of experience, vivid and tactile as a Taíno tattoo on the shoulder. The poet insists on her unique humanity and her Puerto Rican identity in the same breath, the girl from the Bronx with a Cornell education, demolishing the ignorance of professors who condemn bilingualism or intellectuals who want to learn new Spanish commands for the housekeeper. Resto translates untranslated lives, which she recognizes as the stuff of poetry: the immigrant, the farmworker, the dancer, the unborn child. But these are more than barrio broadsides. Here we find sonnets and odes in praise of enchiladas and cuchifritos, the echoes of poetic ancestors from Pablo Neruda to Julia de Burgos. This is a memorable and timely debut. Welcome, Poet.”
Resto has completed a second book of poetry, Ascension. She’s also an instructor at Citrus College. However, for Resto, her most important job is not poet, but mother to her three children, ages 2, 4, and 6. Having a more than full schedule means she has trouble finding time to write, but she fits it in, publishes her work, and makes time for the occasional speaking engagement.
“My full-time job is being a mom. I’m not a poet, I’m Mommy. My kids keep me realistic.”
I had to ask Luivette about her name because it sounds fashionable and fun. Her grandmother, an executive school board secretary in Puerto Rico named her. Had she been born a boy, she would’ve been named Omar. Her grandmother combined her father’s name, Luis, with her mother’s middle name, Ivette, to come up with Luivette, a fitting name for a memorable poet.
I’ll have the chance to meet Luivette Resto at Avenue 50 Studio when I join the poets prison panel next Sunday. Poetry Behind the Fence: Poets Prison Panel, Sunday January 23 at 3pm, Avenue 50 Studio, 131 North Avenue 50, Highland Park, CA 90012, 323-258-1435. The poetry panel features Robert Juarez, Rolando Ortiz, Hugo Machuca, Melinda Palacio, and Luis J. Rodriguez.