Sunday, October 28, 2012

La Poesía de Xánath Caraza

Xánath Caraza 
by Amelia M.L. Montes (

Xánath Caraza weaves Mexica Indigena/Spanish, African, and North American Midwest roots throughout her poetry.  She is from Veracruz and from Kansas City, Missouri. Currently, she teaches at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC).  Xánath recognizes the important African influence within our Mexican/Chicana/Chicano cultura and she celebrates it with much passion in her work.  Xánath is also not new to La Bloga.  In December of 2009, she was a guest columnist for La Bloga, giving us information about her Kansas City Writer’s Collective.  The group had (altogether!) given a reading in Chicago and she recounted the trip.  CLICK HERE for the link. 

Three years later, La Bloga returns to Xánath in celebration of her two-book tour. 

Two weeks ago, she read her poetry at The University of Iowa for the “Latinos in the Midwest Obermann International Programs Humanities Symposium” and just last night she was in New York giving a reading as well.  I feel very fortunate to have met and heard Xánath in Iowa.  Her words match her voice in power and lyricism.  She fills a room with melodic phrasings and detailed images of the landscape. 

Xanáth has recently published a poetry chapbook and a poetry book just months apart and both are receiving much notice for the mix of languages (Spanish, Nahuatl, and English), and the seamless transitions from, for example, Chicontepec lands to Midwest Prairies. 

The two books are:

Chapbook:  Corazón Pintado
Published by TL Press, 2012.  Kansas City, Missouri

Full length poetry book:  Conjuro
Published by Mammoth Publications, 2012.  Lawrence, Kansas

One of my favorite poets, Maria Melendez (author of How Long She’ll Last in This World) writes:  “Caraza’s voice is the pulse of the powerful, mythic earth.  Landscape and dreamscape fuse in this rhythmic poetry, as the images Caraza paints and repaints for us—mountains, shells, twisters, deserts—go on ‘rocking the imagination’ through time, history, memory, and that wildest frontier:  the heart.”

And indeed, Xánath’s poetry moves in all the ways Melendez describes. 
In her poem, “Yanga,” Xánath sings the words which recount the slaves who arrived in Veracruz and escaped, forming a community that continues to thrive today. 

Excerpt from Conjuro:

En 1570
Llegaste al Puerto de Veracruz,
Encadenado como muchos,
Escapaste de la esclavitud.

Palenque, rumba, samba
Yanga, Yanga, Yanga
Espíritu indomable,
Noble hombre de África.
In 1570
You arrived at the Port of Veracruz
In chains as many
You escaped slavery

Palenque, rumba, samba
Yanga, Yanga, Yanga
Unconquerable spirit
Noble man from Africa

The following is from an interview with the Letras Latinas Blog this past July (2012). 
CLICK HERE for the link.  I chose this particular section because it best reveals Xánath’s beginnings in Veracruz, her Chicontepec raices (roots). 

Of “Conjuro” Rigoberto González says: "A decisively Amerindian song breathes through the pages of Xánath Caraza's Conjuro, a charitable book of invocation, incantation, lamentation and healing.” Your chapbook “Corazón Pintado” too, despite being a collection of ekphrastic poems, draws from what may be described as the oral/poetic traditions of indigenous roots. Can you speak to your particular affinity for the oral and indigenous traditions?

Xánath:  It mainly comes from my mother’s side.  She’s from an indigenous community in the northern part of Veracruz y quieras o no, se aprenden cosas nada más de ver. My mother grew up bilingually up until she was eight years old, Nahuatl and Spanish.  My tía, my mother’s sister-in-law who is also from the same Huastec group, came to live with us in Xalapa, Veracruz from the time I was a baby.  This was after she lost her husband, my mother’s brother.  Between my mother, my tía and my cousins I learnt behaviors that were natural to me, but once I was outside my home I started noticing they were slightly different from other children. The way my tía speaks Spanish is very particular.  She almost sings the rhythm of the way she produces the Spanish language which is similar to the rhythm of the Nahuatl language she grew up with. We shared a house with my cousins and when they were at home they used to have the same kind of rhythm.  I noticed later that their rhythms were different when, in Spanish, they talked to people different from my immediate family.  Then, there are all the several times I visited my grandmother’s house in Ahuateno, Chicontepec, Veracruz. 

I remember I knew my grandmother spoke “funny” Spanish.  When we, my mother and I, went to visit Nila, my grandmother, many people came to say hello, mostly women. They arrived at my grandmother’s house and sat in the kitchen and talked, half Spanish mainly because of me, and mostly Nahuatl, but the sounds they produced when talking were so different from what I was used to.  They were green sounds, from the open spaces of my grandmother’s indigenous community.  I also remember that everything was lit with quinqués or lanterns. The picture I have in my mind is of their twinkling shadows on the walls, and people’s faces appearing distorted from the red flames of the quinqués and then disappearing while I was trying to follow their almost incomprehensible conversations.  I don’t remember what they were talking about, but the sounds, rhythms and the fact that they visited for hours really impressed me.
On the other hand, as I mentioned before, I was introduced to Netzahualcoyotl, Macuilxochitzin, and other Nahuatl poet’s early in life.  That was because of my father.  I think that he was trying to introduce me to my mother’s rich heritage, and he was successful.  Later at college I read them again, Miguel León Portilla, and many of his books about Nahuatl language and culture.

There was a moment in my life, when I was living in Vermont, when I was reading Netzahualcoyotl’s biography by José Luis Martinez and suddenly I started crying because I realized I did not speak Nahuatl; instead, I grew up speaking Spanish. To my good fortune, I have my mother and her side of the family. However, the realization of growing up without Nahuatl was truly shocking, especially since I’ve taught languages for many years.

What’s more, I love music and dancing. This comes both from my mother and father’s side.  My father loves dancing as well as music; my mother does too. It was natural for me to see people dancing and singing growing up.  I think this is reflected in my writing.  Singing is another way of sharing stories. (end of interview answer) 

In her chapbook, Corazón Pintado, Xánath’s last poem entitled “Storm” takes the reader north to the Midwest plains:

Tormenta de quimeras
Arrasadas por el indomable viento
Por el torbellino de humedad violenta
A la cima de la montaña roja llevas vida
Fecundar las semillas guardadas es tu destino,
Agua del cielo de quetzal
Storm of chimeras
Swept by the uncontrollable wind
By the twister of violent humidity
To the top of the red mountain you bring life
Germinating the kept seeds is your destiny
Water from the quetzal’s sky

Xánath's commitment to bilingual poetry books mirrors her connection to Veracruz (the African and Indigena influences) and the North American Great Plains (landscapes especially).  To bring these three entities together is so important because it reveals a much more complex Mexico and North America.  In another interview from last year (2011--CLICK HERE for full interview), Xánath talks about the “great American journey” by saying, “When I hear ‘great American journey’ the first thing that comes to my mind are a series of images of different places in the U.S.  However, I also think about the thousands of immigrants that come to this country, the hardships of their journey before arriving here.  I think about César Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Cornel West, Chief Seattle, Angela Davis, among other great Americans.  For me, the ‘great American journey’ is carved on my skin, on my name.” 

Gracias for your work Xánath Caraza!  I’m hoping those who read this La Bloga piece will be ordering your books, sharing them with others soon if they haven’t already. 

Abrazos to you all y felicidades to Xánath Caraza!  
Xánath Caraza y Amelia M.L. Montes at The University of Iowa


Daniel A. Olivas said...

Wonderful post...Xanath is a great poet and I'm delighted that people will now be able to read her work in book form.

Caroline Gerardo said...

Beautiful post of work in both languages, mixed with history, a biography, images and soul.