Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Guest Review: Anaya's Poems from the Río Grande. Poets Laureate of Two Cities.

Guest Review, Jesus Salvador Trevino: Poems From the Río Grande.

Rudolfo Anaya. Poems From The Río Grande. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.  ISBN: 9780806148663

Jesus Salvador Treviño

Rudy Anaya’s new poetry collection, Poems from the Río Grande, shares the language, imagery and landscape of his classic coming-of-age novel Bless Me Ultima and his more recent novels Randy Lopez Goes Home and The Old Man’s Love Story. This most recent work is an inspiring homage to New Mexico’s rich Hispanic heritage, its myths, legends and most of all, the vitality, perseverance and humanity of its people.

The poems are fresh, engaging, thought-inspiring and lyrical. They echo themes found in the more than thirty previous works which include novels, a short story collection, plays, essays and a slew of children’s books. In this first major venture into poetry, Anaya once again reveals himself to be a master wordsmith, equally adept at verse as he is at narrative prose.

The poems “A Child’s Christmas in New Mexico,” and “Song to the Río Grande,” resurrect the llano world of young Antonio Marez, protagonist of Bless Me Ultima, as well as many of the stories to be found in The Man Who Could Fly. A passage from“Song of the Río Grande” illustrates this.

You are the road
our fathers followed
to an enchanted land
to plant our roots.
Villages of adobe,
cities so beautiful.

In “The Adventures of Juan Chicaspatas” we are taken on a rambling journey with Juan Chicaspatas and Al Penco, both emblematic of the Chicano experience, as they search history and the present for the true meaning Aztlán, of the Chicano ancestral homeland. On their sojourn, they encounter iconic personages from the Chicano/Mexicano past–la Malinche, Moctesuma, Coatlicue. Their quest echos the issues of identity and empowerment to be found in Anaya’s novels, Heart of Aztlán and Alburquerque, such as in this passage.

To my jefita I sing
and praise her every step,
her strength, her daily work,
her love, her sacrifice,
so that I, Juan Chicaspatas,
a Chicano homeboy,
can grow into the future.

This poem accomplishes what was only hinted at in Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzalez’s classic epic poem, “I Am Joaquin,” – encapsulating the history of Mexican Americans within the context of contemporary struggle fueled by the power of enduring myths, legends and gods. As Anaya puts it:

History has turned and twisted,
and a new time is being born.
Now is the time for the Gods
To return to Aztlán!”

Anaya’s writings in his later years deal with themes of love, loss and death as seen in the novels Randy Lopez Goes Home and The Old Man’s Love Story. These same themes are reiterated in the poem “Forgetting,” Anaya’s reflections on growing old and “Barecelona” recalling an unforgettable trip to Spain with his late wife, Patricia. But perhaps it is in the challenging poem, “Isis in the Heart: A Love Poem for Patricia,” that we find Anaya at his best– structurally complex, lyrical, symbolic, and filled with heartfelt passion that only a lifetime of memories can evoke.

Isis, the Egyptian goddess, was revered as the ideal mother and wife, and is for Anaya, a curandera (healer) par excellence. No accident, then, that Anaya chooses her as the shared memory and metaphor in the love poem to Patricia–in his life an ideal mother, wife and curandera. On a life-altering trip to Egypt, Anaya and Patricia discovered and fell in love with the Isis myth. Anaya became obsessed with transporting the ancient Egyptian myth to contemporary New Mexico, an Egyptian curandera in the land of curanderas. In so doing he broadens the Chicano literary experience beyond the borders of Aztlán. As with all great literature, it takes the specific and elevates it to the universal. Chicanos and Egyptians may speak a different language, but we all have mothers, wives and curanderas that heal the afflicted. As Anaya puts it, “If I could bring [Walt] Whitman to New Mexico then I could also bring Isis and Osiris to the Río Grande.”

This melancholic yet ultimately uplifting poem, set in three movements, follows Osiris, the brother and lover of Isis, to New Mexico where he, and later she, become metaphors of the ebb and flow of life’s cycles and the seasonal changes over an enchanted land. It is here that we find some of Anaya’s most beautiful lyricism.

He kisses her throat, and a spring of sweet water
Opens in the fissure of the lava rock.
He kisses her lips, and roses bloom on barren earth.

Some poetry critics may call Anaya’s poetic style overly narrative. And indeed the perennial cuentista, storyteller, can’t help but infuse his poetry with story. And what’s wrong with that? Anaya himself admits, “…my poems often lean toward narrative.” Yet, fellow poet Albert Ríos reminds us that “every word has a tremendous story behind it,” and that in writing poetry, “there is absolutely no one way to do it.” Readers looking for simple iambic pentameter or rhyming free verse, look elsewhere. This is poetry wrought by a master word craftsman at his prime.

What becomes clear as one reads this poetry is not just Anaya’s passion for the people and places he writes about, but his love for the transformative power of words. He tells us that in stories and poems, “one catches a glimpse of the Truth, and when the story ends, one returns fulfilled to one’s community.” Thankfully, Anaya is not yet done, either with his prose or poetic works. The last line in this the last poem reassures us.

there is always one more poem
to shape the future’s path.


Originally published in Latinopia Word. Copyright 2015 by Jesús Salvador Treviño. Excerpts from Poems From the Río Grande used by permission of the author. Alberto Riís quotations taken from the video “How to Write a Poem,” copyrighted by Barrio Dog Productions and available at Latinopia Word. Poems from the Río Grande is available from the publisher, at your local indie bookstore, and internet booksellers.

Best of Times, Worst of The Times: Poets Laureate of Two Cities
Michael Sedano

If an historic poetry reading featuring the Poets Laureate of San Francisco and Los Angeles happens in Los Angeles and the LA Times doesn’t report it, does it still make a joyous sound?

Saturday evening November 21, Avenue 50 Studio hosted a standing room only poetry reading that joined Luis J. Rodríguez with Alejandro Murguía, along with emerging voices from Las Lunas Locas writing community.

The LA Times reaches one out of three adults in the basin, but none of them got the word from the number one print platform west of the Hudson River. It’s not a fluke that Avenue 50 Studio’s Community Room overflowed with enthusiastic listeners. The night’s audience illustrates the power of social media and the increasing irrelevancy of “major” media to the region’s literary interests.

Luis J. Rodriguez

That small arts institutions serving people of color are unimportant to the Times drills a genuinely tragic lacuna into the heart of this media giant’s responsibility. The paper boasts that “more than 8.6 million adults18-34 across the U.S. visit latimes.com each month. In fact, the Times reaches more adults18-34 than WSJ, CNBC, MSNBC, FunnyorDie, Break, or Esquire.”

Every one of these people deserve professional coverage about literature, culture, and the arts, but every one of these people doesn’t get the opportunity to click and learn, much less drive to the northeast side of town to Avenue 50, because of the paper’s deliberate editorial blindness. If that’s all it is. What a shame the mis-served public considers the Times a newspaper of record.

The Avenue 50 Stufio program, dubbed Poets Laureate de Califas: SF y LA, offered a synoptic view of contemporary Chicana and Chicano poetry. There’s an emerging body of scholarship exploring these arts in academic journals and books, but in a single evening, students, scholars, literature lovers in attendance enjoyed informative, critically important, personal, funny, emotional, slivers of the hearts of seven poets and observed the diversity and depth characteristic of contemporary raza literature. Poems offered English, Spanish, Farsi, Armenian, and German expression.

For artists, the evening offered a primer on how to read your stuff aloud. A poetry recital is, for the poet, a confrontation of the self. The greater the poet’s familiarity with one’s emotional state in front of an audience, the deeper the poet can reach inside to discover resources for presentation that enlarge the performance repertoire and enhance the listener’s participation in the act of doing verbal art.

Seasoned readers, Luis J. Rodríguez and Alejandro Murguía exhibited outlandishly powerful skill. Rodriguez is a manuscript reader, holding his book or typescript at shoulder level without blocking the sound, always speaking to the house while following the lines. The Los Angeles Laureate divides the reading into narrative introductions then transitions onto the page.

San Francisco’s Murguía works principally from memory. His narrative transitions blend seamlessly into the poem, the rapt audience not required to observe a boundary between extemporaneity and polished publication. In Murguía’s presence, the poet is the poem.

The two Laureates leave the audience immensely satisfied with the experience and aching for more, disappointed when they hear the signpost, “My final poem is…”

The evening would have been completely satisfying featuring the two Poets Laureate in extended sets. But at the Laureates' insistence, Ceballos invited emerging women poets to share the stage. As Murguía observed, once the elevator reaches the top, send it back to the ground floor. In this case, the well-grounded poets from Las Lunas Locas enjoyed the ascent.

The energy the audience provided sent readers from Las Lunas Locas floating on air. As host and event organizer Jessica Ceballos introduced each Lunas Locas poet there was none of the awkwardness that often accompanies the walk from seat to rostrum. Energetic applause signaled anticipation and once the reader took her place, she performed as if being before an audience were as natural as breathing, or polishing an expression.

Iris De Anda, whose El Sereno healing center, Here and Now,
hosts Las Lunas Locas' weekly workshops.

Sophia Rivera is a co-founder of Las Lunas Locas
Emily Fernandez
Nadire Luna
Karineh Mahdessian reads and chants a quadriglossic poem
Mahdessian's notebook
For this night, none of the performers adopted a “poet voice” but spoke in natural cadences. Each allowed feelings and images so carefully crafted to find their meaning in the connected lines, none read as if line breaks required a pause or sing-song inflection. If one or two felt stiff and reluctant, it’s not a trait but a temporary state poets overcome by imitating the models of others on the program, and thinking of the reading as simply an extended conversation with the audience. Instead of chatting up a seatmate, then engaging the person in the next seat, then another, open up to include all within earshot.

In future readings, one might elect to get rid of that music stand lectern altogether, or, as Ceballos has done, keep the device low, near waist level so the metal frame doesn’t loom as an obstacle between the audience and the reader. The technology of the full body is as powerful as one’s voice, so eliminating the lectern offers an experience that requires the best kind of self-confrontation: the poet, her work, her audience. A recitation doesn’t get much better than this. The poet honors her work and gives each poem its due, it’s the poem’s reward for demanding to be made public.

Alejandro Murguía joins Jessica Ceballos in an index moment

The provenance of the event traces to serendipity. I was cleaning out some files and happened across picture postcards from early 20th century Mexico. I scanned them and posted them on Facebook. A Facebook friend observed that San Francisco Poet Laureate Alejandro Murguía’s Mexico postcards collection was displaying at a San Francisco museum. Landscape Architect Rhett Beavers asked me if Murguía wanted a collection Rhett owned?

Rhett Beavers and Alejandro Murguía. Rhett's baseball card collection will soon join Murguía's.

 In the course of Rhett’s giving Alejandro the collection, Murguía mentioned he’d be in LA in November. Asked if he’d like to do a reading, the Laureate said sure. I related the news to arts organizer extraordinaire Jessica Ceballos. We’d hoped to make it a trio, but Juan Felipe Herrera has become the peripatetic Laureate. In Ceballos' indefatigably capable hands, the historic Laureates of two cities reading came to Avenue 50 Studio. It was the best of times.

Jessica Ceballos, Karineh Mahdessian, Sophia Rivera, Emily Fernandez,
Luis J. Rodriguez, Alejandro Murguía, Nadire Luna, Iris De Anda

1 comment:

Francisco Alarcon said...

Great essays and photos. I love the articule about the reading by Luis Rodiguez, Alejandro Murgia and the other poets. Saludos--Francisco