Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Review: Villanueva's Gracias. Floricanto Month Floricanto

Review: Alma Luz Villanueva. Gracias. San Antonio TX, 2015. ISBN: 9781609403959

Michael Sedano

I wish I could read every poetry collection published in 2015. That would be the only method to say with certainty that Alma Luz Villanueva’s Gracias is 2015’s most interesting poetry collection. Gracias is the kind of collection that deserves selection as National Poetry Month’s “one city one book” title, if there were such a thing.

Gracias shares provocative ideas, applies interesting poetic strategies, makes readers laugh, makes readers cry, breaks some rules along the way. Villanueva organizes her sixty-six poems into four collections, Cozcacuautz, Buddha, Flower, Fragile Silk. In 230 pages, the poet leads the reader through a biographical journey spanning years of her bi-national Chicana career.

The opening section’s title piece recalls a poet’s naming ceremony by a Mayan man, making her part of an historical continuity yet reminding her to live for the moment. The final poem offers regeneration, the culmination of lived-in moments, death then rebirth.

“Vive en el momento,” her guide tells her, adding how beautiful she looks. The poet laughs at the irony of fleeting beauty. The poet wraps up this moment with this man. He kisses her lips with glistening eyes. “Gracias” she says. The reader smiles at the lust--him, her the woman, her the true believer, wondering if that’s what that moment's about.

The closing poem, “Thirteenth Womb, Unity (Dreams)” is preceded by “Ceremony,” then “Essence.’ Villaneuva’s created a poetic triptych to concentrate the force of the works that hurled across the prior 219 pages. The three propel the book to this closing metaphor that rounds out the poet’s journey from page one; birth, rebirth. For the reader, it’s a journey of twelve years of poetic exploration; the first is dated 2006, the closing 2012.

Villanueva makes her first and last pieces stand out by alternating the form she gives most of the book’s other poems. “Cozcacuautz” and “Thirteen Wombs” flow down the page with free verse form in first person. Flip the pages of the book, however, and one’s eyes immediately note the white space created by the poet’s adoption of a free verse quatrain stanza. There are only a few exceptions to this strict formalism.

The four line structure makes an interesting choice for readers. Overall, the book takes on the look of a single epic poem. Holding the heavily autobiographical subjects, the heroic look reinforces the synoptic character of the collection as a whole, creating a physical linkage between poems that Villanueva already links through subject, ties to her novels, language, and form.

The blank verse quatrain form brings plusses and minuses to Gracias. The strict formalism creates space on the page that leads the eye to pause, assess, seek the unit of expression. This distinctive form holds a reader’s eye in place long enough to consider, discover, seek more, or re-read before stepping across the two hard returns into the next quatrain.

Villanueva’s strategy is to encourage or discomfit readers via caesura, interrupting the flow of a phrase by spreading it across two quatrains, or allowing four lines to hold a complete thought. The poet enjoys breaking a reader’s expectation that the four lines will form a whole expression. The eye wants to stop, the lines want to keep going.

The closing four stanzas of “Ceremony” illustrate the strategy, the first and last stanzas can stand alone, despite the comma. The middle two, even absent a comma, cannot be read alone, with the second ending in “the” and stanza three hanging with suspense from its ambiguous preposition “over”.

be a gift, the
entire day, a
ceremony, the gift of
water and fire,

I hear the laughter of
my four grown
children, grandchildren,
great-grandchild in the

cosmic womb dreaming,
the ancestors singing
the rattle song, all
my friends, some over

thirty/forty years, my
students seeing me whole I
see them whole, we are the
gift. We are the ceremony. 224

Stanza after stanza, poem after poem, the poet weaves chains down a page like that. The rising and disappointing of expectation drives certain readers toward desperation for a whole expression. When one arrives, that stanza gets itself re-read a few extra times, just for the satisfaction of fulfilled formalist expectation.

A plurality of poems speak in conversational tones, the poet recalling driving in a car, being molested by a relative, intimidating locals by the way she walks like a bad ass, stabbing the tio who reached for her, chagrined at her ID picture.

Here and there poems become chants, heavy with repetition and rhythm. These make up some of the more interesting oral poems in the collection, ones that would be fun to read in chorus.

I surrender
I surrender to
I surrender to this

I surrender to this ancient
I surrender to this ancient new
I surrender to this ancient new always
I surrender to this ancient new always born

bliss, 87

Readers will come across descriptions and expressions that draw a smile, a chuckle, a laugh out loud snort. In the middle of the volume readers find one that pisses them off at the same time , “Breathing While Brown.”

To the beautiful, brave
young who have always
sat at lunch counters,
racists spitting on them, pulling

their hair, calling them nigger,
killing the brave, young, white
students who joined them, the
insane dogs taking bites of their
. . . .
station and had a fucking fit, what
do we do when an entire
state makes it perfectly legal
to punish humans for Breathing

While Brown – nine young, beautiful
brown warriors chained themselves
to the Capitol's
entrance, that’s what
we do, the beautiful, brave 113

There’s everything to recommend contacting an independent bookseller, or Wings Press,
to give a National Poetry Month gift to all your poetry-loving friends, all your Chicana Literature-loving friends, all your curmudgeonly friends, and all your strict formalist friends, Alma Luz Villanueva’s newest collection of poetry, Gracias. After they’ve read it, your friends will say without a moment’s hesitancy, no rhyme nor meters required, gracias.

On-line Floricanto for Poetry Month
Israel Francisco Haros Lopez, Betty Sánchez, Sandra Barrios Del Mar, Carolyn Holmes Gregory, John Martinez

The Academy of American Poets established National Poetry Month in 1996. April seemed as good a month as any, according to the Academy's website. The Academy asserts National Poetry Month is the largest literary celebration in the world, with tens of millions of poets, adjunct professors on food stamps, readers, students, K-12 teachers, librarians, booksellers, literary events curators, publishers, and bloggers marking poetry’s important place in our culture every April.

La Bloga On-line Floricanto happily joins the observance for 2015, with five poets working in two languages. Thanks this month to Carmen Calatayud and her fellow Moderators of the Facebook poetry community Poetry of Resistance: Poets Responding to SB 1070 for nominating today's celebrants:

“border song 2.0” by Israel Francisco Haros Lopez
“Equinoccio de Primavera” por Betty Sánchez
“NACÍ MUJER!!! Poema dedicado al Día Internacional de la Mujer” por Sandra Barrios Del Mar
“Spring and Counting” by Carolyn Holmes Gregory
“I Dreamed of a Child Crying” by John Martinez

border song 2.0
By Israel Francisco Haros Lopez

there are condors, vultures and coyotes
at the base of your tongue
when you cross the border
they will become both digitized and americanized
before they become legal notions
your dehumanized set of paper trails,
ITN's, social securities
don't forget to split your tongue
into seven
at least.

Israel Haros is currently working on 1000 border sketch poems as part of an artist residency. He has been accepted into the Immigration/Migration themed residency at Santa Fe Art Institute.

He is a published author and has 6 published Adult Chicano Coloring Books. He is also currently working on 1000 sketches in a month as part of an inner artistic movement.

He can be found using facebook as his office and also on his wordpress "waterhummingbirdhouse." Chicano from Boyle Heights with an B.A. in English From UC Berkeley and an MFA from California College of The Arts.

Equinoccio de Primavera
Por Betty Sánchez

Fenómeno astronómico
De esplendor celestial
Nos traerá un eclipse
Total de luna
Durante el mes de Abril

Marte   Venus
Júpiter y Saturno
Se harán visibles
En nuestro cielo vespertino
De tres lunas llenas
Lluvias de meteoros
Y auroras boreales

El orden del universo
Me fascina
Me humilla al recordarme
Lo diminuto y efímero
De la existencia humana

Y sin embargo
Me permite valorar
La grandeza
De ser parte del cosmos

Por mi vientre
Ha fluido vida
Semillas que germinarán
Y continuarán
El ciclo más allá de mi

La primavera
Sinónimo de energía
De flores
Y renacimientos

De cara al sol
La recibo
Para usarla
Como una
Segunda piel.

Betty Sánchez      
20 de Marzo de 2015

Betty Sánchez. Madre, abuela, maestra, poeta…en ese orden. Residente del condado de Sutter; trabajo como Directora de Centro del programa Migrante de Head Start.

Soy miembro activo del grupo literario, Escritores del Nuevo Sol desde  Marzo del 2003.  He colaborado en eventos poéticos tales como el Festival Flor y Canto, Colectivo Verso Activo, Noche de Voces Xicanas, Honrando a Facundo Cabral, y Poesía Revuelta; así  como en lecturas organizadas por los Escritores del Nuevo Sol.

Ha sido un privilegio contribuir en la página Poetas Respondiendo al SB 1070, Zine 10  y 13 de Mujeres de Maíz y en La Bloga.

Poema dedicado al Día Internacional de la Mujer
Por Sandra Barrios Del Mar

Cuando mi madre me dio a luz...
Llegaron los delfines…
A la orilla del mar...
Saltaron de felicidad...
Y juguetearon en el azul golfo de fonseca...

Y ángeles y querubines
Han sostenido mi alma...

Mi alma rebelde e inquieta
Que nació con la bravura
De las olas al estrellarse
En las rocas...

Bendito sea el esperma de mi padre...
Y bendito el vientre de mi madre…
Que nací mujer...
Nací del amor…
De un hombre valiente
Y de una mujer sorprendente...

Hoy tengo la sabiduría
De las estrellas...
Tengo la convicción...

De amar sin dolor...
Tengo un arcoiris
En el corazón....
Cuando me entregó al amor
Nacen volcanes en erupción...

Tengo la fuerza de mover
Tengo alas para volar...
Tengo sueños por los cuales luchar...
Tengo dos ovarios en su lugar...
Tengo en mis pupilas el secreto del universo...

Tengo la perfecta linea en mis labios para entregar
El beso qué nadie aún no descubrió....

Nací mujer
Y dentro de mi brota un verso cristalino....
Un verso ... Un verso..
El dulce verso...de libertad...

Nací mujer...
Nací poesía...
Tengo la fuerza de un tornado....
Tengo la magia en un puñado....

Soy mujer poesía
Porque nací de un gran amor!!!

Bendito sea el creador
Que nací mujer!!!
Soy madre
Soy guerrera
Soy poesía
Soy revolución....
Porque soy la misma evolución...

Soy creadora de vida
Con el privilegio más alto
De la creación...
Soy divina...
Soy mujer...

Soy extraordinariamente
M u j e r...!!!
Gracias al creador del universo por permitirme
Nacer mujer!!!

Sandra Barrios del Mar lives in Los Angeles. She is originally from El Salvador.

Spring and Counting
By Carolyn Holmes Gregory

Turbines fly, thousands of gallons
of radioactive water
in reactors deactivated
where men in tall boots and masks
measure sieverts

Beyond waves and rubble,
the dead have not yet drifted ashore
though thousands have been named
and many are children
who had no time
to write their names
on the blackboard

Puddles gather, sieverts growing
each day like notes
on a nuclear xylophone −
some get sick, some disappear,
counting the unknown particles
in puddles over warped fuel rods

counting the number of human minutes
exposed to the invisible
iodine, cobalt, molybdenum
Will the blossoms bloom pink
this spring?

Carolyn Gregory’s poems and music essays have been published in American Poetry Review, Main Street Rag, Off the Coast, Cutthroat, Bellowing Ark, Seattle Review, Big River Review, Tower Journal, and Stylus. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and previously won a Massachusetts Cultural Council Award. Her first book, OPEN LETTERS, was published in 2009 and a second book, FACING THE MUSIC, will be published in Florida in spring, 2015.

I Dreamed of a Child Crying
By John Martinez

Like a faraway boat, drifting
Into my ear, I hear,
The pressed mouth of sorrow,
A whimpering that rises, ghost-like,
From a black ocean fog,
This never-ending tone
That leads me to this

And I bring this to you, open,
Like a fig, that has fallen
From its tree, a tree,
Shouting its limbs
Into the pitiless grins
Of white and grey clouds

I bring this to you, today,
Because you looked away
And didn't hear it at first

It’s in your bones too.
Like mine, they vibrate
Every time terror dissipates
From the dying storm of her eyes,
It’s in our saliva, a stone,
A hollow seed sleeping
On our tongues, it’s not a curse,
But a reminder of our kinship
With her suffering

I am a man, tumbling this midnight
"Pesadilla,” passed down
Like a spinning molecule,
Dreaming, again, of her hand,
A small branch in the rubble

I tell my love, whose warm body
Rests near mine

"I think I dreamed of a child crying."

And this dream builds this poem,
As I reach to embrace her
With tears of a hypocrite;
That I should rise in the morning,
Eat and drink my milk,
Forgetting, that her frozen mouth,
The last shadow skipping by
Her dampened iris,
Is yet to form inside of me.

John Martinez has published poetry in several journals, including, LA WEEKLY, EL TECOLOTE, Red Trapeze and this will be his 19th poem published in LA BLOGA. Martinez studied creative writing in the early 80's at Fresno State University under, the late U.S., Poet Laureate, Phillip Levine and has attended seminars with several established American poets. For the last 30 years he has worked as an Administrator for a Los Angeles Law Firm and has recently complete his long awaited Manuscript of 60 poems entitled PLACES, which will be published by IZOTE Press in late 2015


nom de plume said...

I think a closer read of GRACIOUS would reveal there is some meter and some rhythm and an occasional internal rhyme.

With English it's difficult not to have these elements whether author intent is there or not. I had a problem with line length and line breaks. The content seems good from what little I saw from this small sample.

Alma Luz Villanueva said...

The title of the collection is, 'GRACIAS,' not 'gracious,' but gracias for your commentary. Many of las poemas follow mi vida, but also, at least half, follow the 'news/lives' of my fellow Earth citizens, as in my 'Dear World' poems, a series now in its 20th year, my bitch and moan, and praise, poesia. A reader always takes what means most to them, strikes them the hardest, and that's the way it should be- also, the shaman just didn't 'kiss me'(very quickly), he blew his breath into me, that was the gift, and more. Gracias, Em, for your point of view, your personal take, on las poemas...a bit 'academic' LOL, which surprised me. I know the lingo, teaching in an MFA program for 17 years now, but prefer el corazoz, gracias.

Alma Luz Villanueva said...

I love las poemas de Floricanto, GRACIAS. A magnificent day here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, wishing mas milagros a TODOS.