Thursday, July 02, 2009

Reading Algarín

I just finished reading "Survival/Supervivencia," the Miguel Algarín anthology recently published by Arte Público. It chronicles his more than 35 years of literary activism in prose and poetry, describing in a new language of "raw verbs and nouns" the Nuyorican experience, naked and luminous.

I came upon Algarín's poetry by chance, some 15 years ago in Austin, in a second-hand bookstore on the Drag (the Gwa-da-loop). Reportedly misshelved under "Caribbean writers," I found a volume titled "Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café". I opened it at random, as Unamuno used to do with the Bible, and found the following words: "CONGRATULATIONS: YOU HAVE FOUND THE HIDDEN BOOK." How could I stop reading? Especially as it assured me that I would not have to bother reading the book... "It will read to you," it said. So I moved stacks of books piled high on the floor and sat down to let it read to me...

For the first time I heard the story of the Piñero's death and the scattering of ashes, some years before its Hollywood moment. I heard the poem "Sunday, August 11, 1974" peaceful, joyful, celebratory. A true call for independence. I was enthralled. And also pissed off.

You see, after 12 years of school in Puerto Rico and many others of undergraduate and graduate work in the US in the field of Latin American literature, I'd never been formally introduced to Algarín's work and the questions it so forcefully raised. Soon after my chance encounter with his poetry, I discovered that Nuyorican poetry was indeed taught and discussed in many schools and universities, just not in Puerto Rico and certainly not as pertaining to Puertorrican literature. I hear this has changed drastically in the past decade. Yet, although Nuyorican poets are beginning to appear in dictionaries of Puertorrican literature, there's still great resistance on the island to recognizing their work as part of, or at least related to, Puertorrican literature. This reticence, I believe, is mostly owing to language. Many independentistas on the island seem to identify their goal with linguistic purity. (Never mind that the language they seek to keep from "foreign" contaminants is that of a former ruler...) Still, I find it odd that many independentistas should persist obstinately in advocating, through practice and exclusion, an anachronistic purity of language--and if you've watched a certain TV program dedicated to cultural matters, you'll know what I'm talking about--when, in my humble opinion, such linguistic snobbery has made them deaf to the solidarity of those across the pond who champion their very cause, yet, in a hybrid, real, and always-new language.

But, anyway, back to the anthology, it's a jewel. Just this time, do judge the book by its cover: a vibrant photo of the poet with his eyes closed, mouth wide open, laughing? crying? yelling? As his poems will read to you: all of the above!

1 comment:

msedano said...

Lydia! Bienvenida a La Bloga as our newest regular. Now Thursday will offer double pleasure. One week, Lisa, the other week, Lydia. Lydia and Lisa. Lisa and Lydia. That has a grand sonority, que no? ¡Que si!