Friday, July 23, 2021

Latinx Poetry Chapbook Contest


Gunpowder Press invites Latinx poets who are current residents of California  (age 18+)  to submit to the first Gunpowder Latinx Poetry Chapbook contest

Poems may be submitted in English or Spanish. Selected manuscripts will be published in bothEnglish and Spanish.

We especially encourage poets living on the Central Coast in Santa Barbara, Ventura, or San Luis Obispo counties to submit. Special attention will be given to poets who have not yet published a full-length collection.

Two manuscripts will be selected for publication in bilingual editions. The winning poets will each receive $250.00, 10 copies of the published chapbook, and an invitation to read at the Mission Poetry Series in Santa Barbara in 2022. 

About the judge: The contest will be judged by Emma Trelles, the current poet laureate of Santa Barbara. She is the daughter of Cuban immigrants + the author of Tropicalia (University of Notre Dame Press), winner of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize and a finalist for Foreword-Indies poetry book of the year. For more about our judge, visit

How to submit: Entry fee is $15 and includes copies of the selected chapbooks ($10 option for entry only). 8-12 pages of poetry (no more than one poem per page). Word .doc or .docx or .pdf. Entries must be sent through Submittable. Simultaneous submissions are welcome, and please notify us immediately if your manuscript is accepted elsewhere. Please include a table of contents and a page which acknowledges previous publication of individual poems. Your poems may be written in either English or Spanish. Gunpowder Press will provide translation for the manuscripts selected for publication. This contest is open to current residents of California only.

About Gunpowder Press: Founded in 2013 by David Starkey and co-edited by David Starkey and Chryss Yost, Gunpowder Press is a small independent poetry press located in Santa Barbara, California. Our name honors our city's namesake, Saint Barbara, patron saint of gunpowder. For more information about the press, visit

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Gunpowder Press invita a los poetas Latinx que residen en California (mayores de 18 años de edad) a participar en el primer concurso del Gunpowder Latinx Plaquette de Poesía. Los poemas pueden estar escritos en inglés o español. Los manuscritos seleccionados se publicarán en formato bilingüe: en inglés en español.

Invitamos especialmente a los poetas que viven en la costa central y en los condados de Santa Bárbara, Ventura, o San Luis Obispo. Se prestará atención especial a los poetas que aún no hayan publicado una colección completa.

Se seleccionarán dos manuscritos para publicación en ediciones bilingües. Los poetas ganadores recibirán $ 250.00 cada uno, 10 copias del poemario publicado, y una invitación para leer en la Mission Poetry Series en Santa Bárbara en 2022.

Sobre el jurado:  Los manuscritos serán evaluados por Emma Trelles, la poeta laureada de Santa Bárbara. Ella es hija de inmigrantes Cubanos y autora de Tropicalia (University of Notre Dame Press), ganadora del Andrés Montoya Premio de Poesía y finalista del Foreword/Indies libro de poesía del año. Para obtener más información visite

Cómo enviar: El costo para participar de $ 15 incluye copias de los dos plaquettes ganadoras y la opción de $ 10 incluye solo la participación en el concurso. Por favor  enviar 8-12 páginas de poesía (no más de un poema por página) en formato Word .doc o .docx o .pdf. Los manuscritos deben enviarse a través Submittable. Se permite participación simultánea en otras convocatorias y si su manuscrito es aceptado por favor contáctenos inmediatamente para retirar su manuscrito. Por favor incluya índice y una página que indique la publicación previa de poemas individuales. Poemas pueden estar escritos en inglés o en español. Gunpowder Press traducirá los manuscritos ganadores.Este concurso está abierto únicamente a los residentes actuales de California.

Acerca de Gunpowder Press: Fundada en 2013 por David Starkey y con la co-dirección de editores David Starkey y Chryss Yost, Gunpowder Press es una pequeña editorial independiente de poesía situada en Santa Bárbara, California. El nombre de la editorial hace honor a Santa Bárbara, patrona de la pólvora Para obtener más información, visite

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Danny Trejo's Journey from the Cave

The role of a lifetime: the hero's journey
    Actor, businessman, and drug counselor, Danny Trejo bares his soul in his new autobiography: Trejo, My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood
     If he holds back any punches, only he knows the secrets locked inside those closed fists. As he slowly exposes the events of his life, it’s hard to believe he hasn’t unleashed every jab and combination in his arsenal. Written with his friend, Donal Logue, Trejo’s book is riveting from beginning to end, truly a Los Angeles story, born on the streets of the San Fernando Valley. 
     Danny Trejo shares with readers experiences, both personal and professional, leading around a painful, explosive, subdued, yet thoughtful and edifying seventy-seven years of life. Trejo and Logue, both actors, and highly articulate, and literate, borrow, is my guess, from their years of movie-making to tell Trejo’s story. 
     A continuous voice on the 12-Step Program speaking circuit, beginning in prison, 1968, the year of his sobriety, Trejo understands his way around a lectern. I’m certain, he’s told his story so many times, his experiences in prison, drug rehabilitation, acting, family, and survival are permanently etched in his memory, there to pull from whenever needed. 
     If you’re like me and question how much writing celebrity authors who release their own books actually “write,” I’d venture to say Trejo’s voice is true to every page as if he had his fingers on the keyboard, where I’m sure Logue contributed greatly. The violence, drama, and psychological depth are so thick, sometimes I felt as though I were reading a novel, an epic myth, maybe Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces or the classic literary hero. You know the one, the hero born of royalty or divinity, who sheds his true nature, cloaks himself in the garb of the “people” and descends to slay their tormentors, reveals himself, then suffers renunciation and crucifixion, and, ultimately, salvation. 
     No, Trejo’s journey, from the streets of Pacoima, for me, follows Plato’s Allegory of a Cave, where Socrates tells the story of prisoners born and raised shackled in chains. They can see only what is in front of them, a wall where dark shadows move and sounds appear. Since they can’t turn or see each other, the prisoners’ world is the wall before them, their reality and truth, much like Trejo’s childhood, teenage, and early adult years, his first bout with marijuana at seven, heroin at twelve, armed robbery as a teenager, juvie and prison, a cruel father, absent mother, distant stepmother, parental sexual indiscretions, but it was his reality. It's all he knew.
     Those were the shadows on the walls, his truth, his only world. He admired these adults, mostly the males, and came to distrust the females, at the time, thinking them the cause of his family’s problems. Trejo’s father banned Danny’s birth mother, a married woman whose husband was away at war, from Danny’s life early in his childhood. His father remarried and Danny was raised by his stepmother, siblings, and cousins, especially his older cousin, Gilbert, his mentor and role model. Trejo always felt his father’s wrath, this handsome, troubled man who treated Danny differently than he treated the other kids. 
     In Plato’s story, Socrates asks what would happen if one prisoner escapes. The simple act of standing would cause great pain, as he’s been in one position his entire life. When he finally turns, every muscle in his upper body will ache. Once he sees what is behind him, the freed prisoner will realize that the world behind him created the world on the wall, a world of illusion, causing a  cataclysmic revolution in his thinking. 
     Trejo had been locked up in nearly every major institution in California, from Tracy to San Quintin, where he gained a reputation through his boxing skills, personal connections, criminal-integrity, and status as the anointed nephew of the notorious Gilbert Trejo, who “ran every joint he’d been in.” 
Keeping a promise to a power stronger than himself
     Trejo says about his days as a convict, “My resume was beyond question…I was the Mexican you feared.” 
     He started building his resume early. When a larger white, high school student at North Hollywood High challenged him to a fight with the words, "Just wait until after school, beaner," Trejo's rage built throughout the day. He couldn't wait. When it came time for the fight, to everyone's shock, Trejo grabbed the kid by the head and bit off a piece his face. In hindsight, he says, "That's the power of crazy, that's the power of being willing to go to a place unimaginable to your foes."
     To survive prison (or the cave), he tells us, “There are two kinds of people....: predator and prey. You wake up and choose which one you’re going to be every day.” 
     For Trejo, in 1968, after a riot in Soledad, where a visiting college baseball team had come to play a team of inmates, fighting broke out and caused serious injuries. Trejo writes, “I found myself in solitary facing capital charges.” 
     He always believed he’d die in prison, but not by a legally sanctioned state execution. Alone, in his cell, waiting to be condemned, he said to God, "If you're there, Me, Henry, and Ray will be alright," then, the ultimate promise, “God, if you allow me to die with dignity, I will say Your name every day and do everything I can to help my fellow man.” 
      The first miracle, the baseball team and witnesses failed to appear to testify. Trejo and his friends couldn’t be charged. “In that cell,” Trejo says, “God killed the old me, made a new Danny Trejo, and [God] said, “Now let’s see what you do with him.” 
      like the prisoner in Plato's story, Danny's shackles had come off, and he fought his addiction to heroin. He cleaned-up, claimed sobriety, and became chairman of the inmates' 12-step program. He made other convicts who were under his protection attend the meetings. Watching many of them kick their addictions was another miracle. 
      After Socrates’ prisoner is freed, he turns and begins his painful ascent out of the cave. As he works his way towards the exit, the freed prisoner sees a large fire and in front a bridge or walkway where figures move back and forth carrying various objects, all reflected on the wall of the cave, creating the shadows the remaining prisoners believe are real. At this instant, the escaped prisoner understands his shadowy world had been an illusion. 
     Following a light, the prisoner makes his way out of the cave, towards the sunlight and the world outside, a long, painful trek, which Trejo finally makes, freeing himself, literally, from prison, a place where he believed he would die. Finally, he reaches the world outside and steps into the sunlight, liberating himself from his the cave, just like Socrates’ prisoner, but his journey has barely begun. 
     The sun is blinding. The escaped prisoner can’t “see,” and if he looks directly at the sun, he might go blind. His eyes must adjust. In fact, since he’s been locked in the dark cave all his life, he is able to better understand the night skies, but eventually, in daylight, objects become clear, a new world opens to him. In his own way, Trejo observes the dark, the beauty but also the ugliness, and his own limitations. He has a lot to learn. 
     He continues his sobriety and attends twelve-step meetings religiously. He has turned his life over to God, but as he told us earlier, it isn’t the Christian God of his childhood but a God whose “...power is greater than myself.” 
     Once his eyes adjust to the sunlight, like Socrates’ escaped prisoner, Trejo begins to understand his and his family’s suffering was caused by substance abuse, negative conditioning, and, as his adult son, Gilbert (named after Trejo’s uncle) later points out, a “toxic masculine” environment. 
     Unsure of the term, Trejo called Donal Logue to ask what the phrase means. Logue answers, “…there is a kind of misguided masculinity and fucks up [men’s] relationships.” 
     As in Plato’s Allegory, the sunlight isn’t "enlightenment", but it allows those under its brilliant illumination to "see" clearly and work towards enlightenment, Trejo's journey, even after four tumultuous marriages, bouts of infidelity, 77 movies with the world's biggest stars, De Niro, Pacino, Liotta, Banderas, Roberts, the addiction of his own children, opening businesses, and helping set thousands of lost souls on the right path is a hard one. The journey into the sunlight isn’t always bright and cheery, it’s painful, as learning is painful. He brings the same energy, enthusiasm, and intensity to his movie career that he brought to every endeavor in his life.
     Education, true learning, isn’t fun, whether navigating prison, a marriage, or a movie set. It takes work, and it hurts, especially exposing as false what you once believed to have been true, or an illusion. Can the escaped prisoner relax once he discovers the sunlight and sees clearly? Socrates says no. 
     For total understanding, the freed prisoner must take all he or she has learned and return to the cave to help liberate the prisoners inside, something like the "amends" portion of the Twelve-Step program. It isn't easy to return to the past and apologize to those we know we wronged.
     For prisoners locked away their entire lives in a cave, understanding doesn't come easy. To hear there is another world outside the cave is madness, and the one delivering the message is mad, or a traitor and should be eliminated. 
Into the Sunlight

     When Trejo promised God he would help his fellow man, he was, in essence, saying he was willing to return to the cave, his mission in life. Yet, each time he returns into the darkness, he is in danger of once again becoming a prisoner.
     Trejo says, “To this day, I still work for Western Pacific Med Corp,” the organization whose founder, Dr. Dorr, started the first methadone treatment centers in Los Angeles. 
     Danny Trejo has been a counselor, a recruiter, and a supporter since the 1970s when he first took a full-time job with the organization. He helped open many of Dr. Dorr's clinics throughout Los Angeles. Each time, he counsels an addict, or addresses an audience, he steps back into the cave, sometimes all the way down to the wall where prisoners are still shackled believing the shadows in front of them are real. 
     Trejo knows he can convince no one who doesn’t want to be convinced there is light outside the cave, but he believes god gave him his celebrity status for a purpose. “The more I show up in films, the more people are curious about the story of my of life. I hope people see through my story that it’s possible to make a decision and live a better life, and to change. I had the window of opportunity in 1968. I asked God for help and He told me to stay clean and to help other people.” 
     The point of Socrates' tale of the cave isn't to create heroes. It's to educate warriors who had been away fighting wars and how to integrate into Greek society once they return home, and take on leadership roles. The  metaphor of the cave is an example of the learning process. 
     In Danny Trejo's case, he seems to have learned the lesson well, shedding the old and adopting the new and teaching others to do the same. But, as with all learning, it is a lifelong process. His is a book that begs to be read, a true story of emancipation and triumph in a community whose members are still shackled by society's prejudices.

Daniel Cano

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Sing with Me: The Story of Selena Quintanilla

Written by Diana López

Illustrated by Teresa Martinez


*Publisher ‏ : ‎ Dial Books 

*Language ‏ : ‎ English and Spanish

*Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 32 pages

*ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0593110951

*ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0593110959



An exuberant picture book celebrating the life and legacy of Selena Quintanilla, beloved Queen of Tejano music.


From a very early age, young Selena knew how to connect with people and bring them together with music. Sing with Me follows Selena's rise to stardom, from front-lining her family's band at rodeos and quinceañeras to performing in front of tens of thousands at the Houston Astrodome. Young readers will be empowered by Selena's dedication--learning Spanish as a teenager, designing her own clothes, and traveling around the country with her family--sharing her pride in her Mexican-American roots and her love of music and fashion with the world.


Un libro de cuentos ilustrado que celebra la vida y el legado de Selena Quintanilla, la querida Reina de la Música Tejana.


Desde su etapa mas temprana, la joven Selena sabía como conectarse con la gente y unirlos con la música. Canta conmigo sigue su ascenso al estrellato, desde su puesto al frente de la banda familiar, cantando en rodeos y fiestas de quinceañera, hasta su presentación frente a miles en el Astrodomo de Houston. Los lectores jóvenes se sentirán empoderados por la dedicación de Selena--aprendiendo el idioma español aún siendo adolescente, diseñando su propio vestuario, y viajando por toda la nación, compartiendo con el mundo el orgullo por sus raíces mexico-americanas y su amor a la música y a la moda.





*“Corpus Christi native López smartly focuses on the road that got Selena [Quintanilla] to her success and all the work and study that went into overcoming genre, racial, and gender divides in the music industry. She gets the details and tone right, whether it’s in capturing her subject’s passion for performing or simply sprinkling in Spanish words and phrases without overexplaining them. Martinez’s illustrations capture the Quintanilla family’s loving moments and convey extra information with the layering in of postcards, banners, street signs, and lyrics. A Spanish-language edition, translated by Carmen Tafolla, is equally on target, with careful phrasing and a warmth in tone. . . . A worthy, sparkling addition.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review


*“The energetic, bright cartoon illustrations depicting Selena and her family in various venues, decorated with rainbow notes, stars, hearts, and flowers will appeal to young readers. . . . Will inspire anyone who dreams of a career in the performing arts.”—School Library Journal, starred review



Diana López is the author of numerous middle grade novels, including Confetti Girl and Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel. She also wrote the novel adaptation for the Disney/Pixar film Coco. A retired professor of English, Diana López now writes full time in her hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas.


Teresa Martinez is the illustrator of numerous books for children, including The Halloween Tree and It's Not a Bed, It's a Time Machine. She lives in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and is a huge fan of Selena's music.


Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Life Returns To New Normal: Futuro Pasado At Plaza de la Raza


Futuro Pasado | a two person exhibition by Emilia Cruz and Rick Ortega


Direct questions or reserve a free ticket by clicking link above, or be free to call (323)223-2475 or e-mail 


Michael Sedano


Last July, United Statesians breathed a collective sigh of relief at shrinking numbers of plague deaths and stabilized hospitalizations. People whipped off their masks and went about sharing air and space with random tipas tipos  in public space. All was copacetic until it wasn’t, and that wasn’t arrived with a vengeance in January 2021. The statistics hit the fan.


Deaths and hospitalizations grew; 300, 500 new cases a day. But to our credit gente, generally, wore masks and respected social distance. Then some of us started getting shot and normalcy hung like a carrot on our horizon.

But we'd put the cart before the horse and got comfortable. Now, the Delta Variation. 1000 new cases a day. Can we afford not to mask? What can we do to have life again in our darkest days? 


"Cruz". Emilia Cruz. Collection of Nicki De Necochea

Fiat Lux, and there it was, light on the luminescent walls of Boathouse Gallery at Plaza de la Raza on Friday night. Light glowed out of the paintings hanging there. The paintings illuminated your Soul in perfect evocation of the show's theme, Futuro Pasado.

Had Curators Jimmy O’Balles, Summer Bernal and Juan Escobedo chosen to keep the house lights off, no one would have noticed. Emilia Cruz and Rick Ortega’s masterpieces generate enough energy to cut Plaza’s electric bill until the show closes on August 21. 

Note that date. Numerous works are borrowed and collectors have a way of wanting back their treasures.


Plaza’s art gallery opens by appointment, Plaza de la Raza operates Tuesday - Saturday | Noon - 5:00pm. Plaza urges gente to feel free to call (323)223-2475 or e-mail


Rick Ortega’s visceral strength is as fulfilling as Cruz’ ambiente, Pre-Raphaelite but with brown people. Rick grabs your gut with raw visceral power. Emilia enchants your wonderment with the worlds she paints, the artists she quotes. 

The child's portrait dominates an entire wall and no one notices the empty space. She sits in a quiet moment, ropa de cama a mess but she's brushed her glistening hair and resides within herself. Some visitors might look at the beautiful child and remember De Vinci's ascription to another portait, Virtutem forma decorat, which is to understand the painting and at the same time wish all little girls quiet happy moments of such beauty and purity all their lives.

Emilia Cruz spins toward a well-wisher.

Astonishment will be a visitor’s initial response upon making eye contact with any wall. I liken the impact to the Plaza visitor to strolling into el Castillo de Chapultepec's big room where González-Camarena’s blood red warriors stand eight feet high. Eight feet! Maybe ten!

Or walking into the Goya room at Museo del Prado, enter be drawn to the right wall, the two Maja paintings. Sated with the artist’s color and detail, the visitor turns to exit only to be confronted by the yellow dog wailing out of a pool of oblivion. I fell on my nalgas when I saw it.

Plaza should upholster the floor.

Some of these paintings hit with the impact, emotion, drama of the world's best art.  What a way to re-open America. Knocked on your back with delightful astonishment by a pair of raza artistas.

Rick Ortega shares art stories with a fellow artist. He confesses to working to the last possible minute. The painting partially seen at left is still wet. Like the Cruz portrait, the woman embodies Virtutem forma decorat. 

 That’s what happens when you turn Right at the entrada. That’s also what happens when a visitor gets the all-clear from security, enters, grabs a price list, and turns Left. On your butt. Just wow, like all those kids say. The kids in line at Plaza. Some who just showed up, others who had made a reservation for the Opening. They're learning. Waiting in line is part of the action, so maybe why make a reservation? Darned kids.


I enjoyed democracy in action. I was chatting up the lead curator, Jimmy O’Balles, when a young woman, a kid, hugs him and I’m introduced to his daughter. A few fatherly consejos and O’Balles directs his elegantly garbed daughter to go wait in line. With everyone else.


Waiting in line, gathering inside, are what an art opening is all about, plague-time be damned. The big difference is it's like a thirty-foot conga line where you can’t touch, owing to social distancing. 

Don't show your face around here. Ponte mascarilla. No pedo about being safe, not here, not among raza. We’ve been hit hard by the GOP Disease. We’re not taking chances. Our gente wear masks. 


Yes, we are. A spectre is haunting Los Angeles, the spectre of Delta. Innoculation, masking, social distance mean health and safety. Some of us are desperate to go out and break the year of isolation. It's been too damn long and, except the unvaxxed, we've got this licked. 

But the unvaxxed get it and get sick. And get dead. Give it to us before that.

Organizers at Plaza earn huge kudos for maintaining a low-key comfortable feeling to crowd activities. The organizing goes unnoticed, a sign of incredibly skilled planning. Those in attendance obviously love one another and take pains being plague-safe. If this is as good as it gets, don't let down. We can do better.


That masked and social gapping crowd is el futuro, as much as the youth of Cruz and Ortega are Chicanarte's futuro. American Arte's future. 

One maskless is one too many. Plaza security doesn't offer masks nor exclude maskless

Get used to it. Get used to paying for snacks. Five bucks for 5 ounces of pretty good Jamaica. I bought two and spilled thirty-five cents worth walking out to find a wall to park on.


Those paintings are el past and el futuro. I think of how movimiento poetry came to revolve around a set of common themes viz. the lost and destroyed homeland; the Anglo devil; Amerindian America, Aztlán, as a separate Eden; carnalismo; chicano linguistics. In Rick Ortega I see a distillation of several thematic impulses, particularly Ortega’s Edenic vision of Amerindia. 

Rick paints with the spirit inspiring Jesus Helguera’s Edenic visions, like Helguera's immortal Popo and Ixta. El future for Rick Ortega is like that. Not an arrow in the heart, but widespread acknowledgment; more exhibitions.

It would be puro hubris to say “immortal” because it’s just canvas and paint, or in the final work in the show, an aluminum plate. I won’t forget Rick Ortega's canvases, there’s a modicum of immortality.


Emilia Cruz perplexes you in the best way and laughs at something, not you, but maybe, as she’s quoting Renoir, Manet, all those pre-Raphaelites doing oddly compelling portraits. Cruz does it with the chingonaness of a Chicana painter who doesn’t give a hoot for convention. But respects the hell out of tradition. And her skill.

Cruz gives you the painterly depiction of Chicana ethos, of raza characters placed in settings so ethereal they exist within their own Eden, or most assertively in Ortega's work, primordial Aztlán. Cruz doesn't overtly push her politica. She is herself. In fact, look at the women in Emilia Cruz’ portraits: a frozen mirror of introspection wearing her face, e.g. "Cruz". 


Poet Abelardo Delgado asks, “What moves you, Chicano, to stop being polite?” Es La Causa, the poet answers. Emilia Cruz doesn’t triangulate her art on outsiders, so being “polite” is no element of her idylls, her declaratives, her vision of life in and out of time. Cruz’ focus is the world inside her painting, first, then enfrentando realidad by technique and mixtures of realism and irony. Choose any thousand words and that won’t encompass as much as the bottom left corner of any Emilia Cruz painting. Así es. You gotta see the work up close.


The futuro, if gente persist with masks, respect social distance, make reservations, el futuro offers a return to art openings, a return to gatherings of gente with taste that’s not only in their mouths but in their wallets. It's the past, only different.

Thanks to the efforts of Plaza de la Raza and the curators, cultura has re-opened, hasta in Delta time. More old Latino wisdom: Ars longa, vita brevis, art like this will outlive us.


The futuro of Chicanarte resides in the hands of two geniuses. El pasado is the buyer’s lament that I shoulda bought them when they showed at Chimaya ya hace tantos años. Your futuro waits for that visit to Lincoln Park and Plaza de la Raza. 

The future is an open world again. Plaza de la Raza shows we know how to do it right.



Monday, July 19, 2021

A Poetics of Incantation by Denise Low-Weso

 A Poetics of Incantation by Denise Low-Weso


Sky, water, jade forests, sun—these are the palettes used by Xánath Caraza in her new book Perchada estás/Perching (Mouthfeel Press 2021). She creates poems that are paintings—until they start to move and rise into the heavens. Three sections of the book move from element to birds to language: “Agua/Water,” “Colibrí/Hummingbird,” and “Sílabas/Syllables.”        

One of the perfect poems is “Primavera / Spring”:

El vieto ruge

entre las hojas.


Calla tu nombre,

sella mi boca.


La inunda de tibia agua,

anuncia la primavera.   (44)


The wind roars

between the leaves.


It silences your name,

seals my mouth.


Fills it with warm water,

announces the arrival of spring.   (45)


The connection of breath and wind, words and the human body are implicit in this gust of a poem—apparently simple yet rich with implications and undertones. Caraza is a musician, as she orchestrates tones and rhythms in the couplets. Slant end rhymes enliven the Spanish—“ruge” paired with “hojas,” “nombre” with “boca,” and “agua” with “primavera.”  In both Spanish and English, the parallel phrasings are incantatory.

She is a painter as she arranges colors and perspectives. She is a shaman as she connects human will to the powers of nature. Caraza sweeps her audience along with her as she invokes the heavens and hidden secrets of the Earth. Her poem “Secreto/Secret” opens the book, and its first lines assert the primary theme: “Primero fuimos agua/que fluía en las cavernas/más oscuras en silencio”; “First we were water /which flowed in silence /in the darkest caverns” (11-12). The pathways of underground water are secret and essential to the network of life. The water can be amniotic fluid; it can be the first waters of creation; it can be the nearest seashore waves. The poem proceeds to illuminate states of water, from “remolino/whirlpool” to “giro acuático en la roca/swirl on the rock” to “vapor ardiente/scalding vapor.” The poem is not overtly political, but it underscores the importance of clean, potable water for a planet of finite resources. It celebrates the discrete spirit of water.

Caraza’s poetry examines the body in relationship to the surrounding natural and human-made environments. The poem “El reflejo de la luz /The Reflections of Light” ends with these stanzas:

La cola de la ballena

nace de la profundidad.


Sella mis ojos con sal,

los pulmones explotan.


Luz de luna en la piel.   (31)


...The flukes of the whale

surface from the depths.


Seal my eyes with salt,

My lungs explode.


Moonlight on the skin. (33)


The whale’s tail, with its individual identifying marks, coexists with the narrator’s eyes, lungs, and skin—which identify the person. Moonlight and sea depths define the world’s dimensions for both the whale and the human. Numerous references to nature in the poems are linked closely to the person who narrates the poems, through language on the page and through her body. Many references to la poesía/poetry are in these pages, and they are essential to understanding the direction of the poet’s thought. Wind takes form in hurricanes, storms, and breezes, and it connects to persons through poetic declarations, whether an individual is formally a poet or not.

            Caraza’s body of work emphasizes the power of nature’s elements and its denizens—animals, human, even the vibrant jungle plants that have visible life force. Her first full-length book Conjuro (Mammoth Publications 2012) declaims her intention of casting spells with her words. She ends this book with the poem “Vagones/Train Cars,” and states, “Viento, sopla y esparce / mis palabras, / enrédate conmigo”; “Wind, blow and spread/ my words,/ entangle yourself with me” (98-99). The poet commands the wind to comingle with the narrator’s physical and spiritual selves.

Caraza is one of the strongest oral readers I have ever seen. Even on the printed page, her power comes alive. This is an uplifting book that replaces fear with strength and doubt with an unwavering vision of the cosmos. This is much needed hope in our times.


—Denise Low-Weso, former Poet Laureate of Kansas



Perchada estás / Perching (Mouthfeel Press 2021)

by Xánath Caraza.  Translated by Sandra Kingery.




Friday, July 16, 2021

August Heat

Here come the dog days, and that means summer books. For your reading pleasure I give you a short list of hot literature debuting in late summer.


Songs for the Flames: Stories
Juan Gabriel Vásquez
Translated by Anne McLean
Riverhead Books - August 3

[from the publisher]
The characters in Songs for the Flames are men and women touched by violence—sometimes directly, sometimes only in passing—but whose lives are changed forever, consumed by fire and by unexpected encounters and unyielding forces.

A photographer becomes obsessed with the traumatic past that an elegant woman, a fellow guest staying at a countryside ranch, would rather leave behind. A military reunion forces a soldier to confront a troubling history, both personal and on a larger scale. And in a tour-de-force piece, the search for a book leads a writer to the fascinating story of why a woman is buried next to a graveyard, rather than in it—and the remarkable account of her journey from France to Colombia as a child orphan.

Juan Gabriel Vásquez
returns to stories with these nine morally complex tales, fresh proof of his narrative versatility and his profound understanding of the lives of others. There’s a romantic wistfulness that combusts with the realities of dangerous histories, both personal and political, to throw these characters into the flames from which they either emerge purified, reborn, or burned and destroyed.


Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Del Ray - August 17

[from the publisher]
1970s, Mexico City. Maite is a secretary who lives for one thing: the latest issue of Secret Romance. While student protests and political unrest consume the city, Maite escapes into stories of passion and danger.

Her next-door neighbor, Leonora, a beautiful art student, seems to live a life of intrigue and romance that Maite envies. When Leonora disappears under suspicious circumstances, Maite finds herself searching for the missing woman—and journeying deeper into Leonora’s secret life of student radicals and dissidents.

Meanwhile, someone else is also looking for Leonora at the behest of his boss, a shadowy figure who commands goon squads dedicated to squashing political activists. Elvis is an eccentric criminal who longs to escape his own life: He loathes violence and loves old movies and rock ’n’ roll. But as Elvis searches for the missing woman, he watches Maite from a distance—and comes to regard her as a kindred spirit who shares his love of music and the unspoken loneliness of his heart.

Now as Maite and Elvis come closer to discovering the truth behind Leonora’s disappearance, they can no longer escape the danger that threatens to consume their lives, with hitmen, government agents, and Russian spies all aiming to protect Leonora’s secrets—at gunpoint.

Velvet Was the Night is an edgy, simmering historical novel for lovers of smoky noirs and anti-heroes.


Stephen Graham Jones
Gallery/Saga Press - August 31

[from the publisher]
Shirley Jackson meets Friday the 13th in My Heart Is a Chainsaw, written by the author of The Only Good Indians Stephen Graham Jones, called “a literary master” by National Book Award winner Tananarive Due and “one of our most talented living writers” by Tommy Orange.

Alma Katsu calls My Heart Is a Chainsaw “a homage to slasher films that also manages to defy and transcend genre.” On the surface it is a story of murder in small-town America. But beneath is its beating heart: a biting critique of American colonialism, Indigenous displacement, and gentrification, and a heartbreaking portrait of a broken young girl who uses horror movies to cope with the horror of her own life.

Jade Daniels is an angry, half-Indian outcast with an abusive father, an absent mother, and an entire town that wants nothing to do with her. She lives in her own world, a world in which protection comes from an unusual source: horror movies…especially the ones where a masked killer seeks revenge on a world that wronged them. And Jade narrates the quirky history of Proofrock as if it is one of those movies. But when blood actually starts to spill into the waters of Indian Lake, she pulls us into her dizzying, encyclopedic mind of blood and masked murderers, and predicts exactly how the plot will unfold.

Yet, even as Jade drags us into her dark fever dream, a surprising and intimate portrait emerges…a portrait of the scared and traumatized little girl beneath the Jason Voorhees mask: angry, yes, but also a girl who easily cries, fiercely loves, and desperately wants a home. A girl whose feelings are too big for her body. My Heart Is a Chainsaw is her story, her homage to horror and revenge and triumph.


Suzanne Chazin
Kensington - August 31

[from the publisher]
Jimmy Vega straddles two worlds--the hardscrabble Bronx where he grew up as the child of a Puerto Rican single mother, and the upscale, mostly white, suburban county where he now serves as a police detective. Yet despite his sense of never belonging, he's a good and decent cop-even if the multi-million-dollar civil suit he's facing says otherwise.

His own troubles take a back seat when Vega learns that a court officer has just been shot and killed while transporting a controversial judge across the courthouse lot. Vega quickly surmises that the judge was the real target. She's earned the ire of alt-right hate groups for going soft on undocumented defendants accused of petty crimes. The sole witness to the sniper's identity is a Guatemalan girl traveling by bus from the border. And now, she's vanished-melted into a community fearful of the police. Her days are numbered if Vega can't get to her before the killer does.

But as Vega and his girlfriend, Adele Figueroa, head of the local outreach center, probe deeper into the shadowy farm community where immigrants toil in horrifying conditions, they tap into a chilling discovery. One that offers Vega a stark choice: keep quiet and be lauded as a hero, knowing he let the real villain go. Or risk everything for an ugly truth no one wants him to find...


María Amparo Escandón
Flatiron Books - September 7

[from the publisher]
L.A. is parched, dry as a bone, and all Oscar, the weather-obsessed patriarch of the Alvarado family, desperately wants is a little rain. He’s harboring a costly secret that distracts him from everything else. His wife, Keila, desperate for a life with a little more intimacy and a little less Weather Channel, feels she has no choice but to end their marriage. Their three daughters—Claudia, a television chef with a hard-hearted attitude; Olivia, a successful architect who suffers from gentrification guilt; and Patricia, a social media wizard who has an uncanny knack for connecting with audiences but not with her lovers—are blindsided and left questioning everything they know. Each will have to take a critical look at her own relationships and make some tough decisions along the way.

With quick-wit and humor, Maria Amparo Escandón follows the Alvarado family as they wrestle with impending evacuations, secrets, deception, and betrayal, and their toughest decision yet: whether to stick together or burn it all down.



Manuel Ramos writes crime fiction.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Chicanonautica: In Search of Atlantean-Brazilian White People

by Ernest Hogan

I just couldn’t resist the title Mysteries of Ancient South America. I consider myself an amateur archaeologist. Combine that with my being a Chicano living in Aztlán, I have access to at lot archaeological sites, and my take on things is deliberately anticolonial. I’ve also found that things tend to get older as you go south, suggesting that the general movement over the centuries has been south to north, rather than across the northern land bridge from Asia.

Interesting finds that could come from advanced civilizations are reported in the Amazon, but they are rare, and information remains spotty. I have to settle with old books and things from the fringes.

Mysteries of Ancient South America
turns out to be a treasure of material, that author Harold T. Wilkins researched for years, both in books and insect-eaten manuscripts, as well as travel. The dust jacket says, This book was written to dispel the misconception, common in the scientific world, that ancient civilization began in Akkad, Sumer and Egypt. I only wish that the documentation was better and the connecting of the dots to make the big picture was more satisfying . . .


The central premise turns out to be that an advanced civilization existed as long as a hundred thousand years ago, in South America, that was a colonized by Atlantis. It’s very important to the author that the creators of this civilization be white, he keeps mentioning it ad nauseam. 

I wonder what color he believed the peoples of the African and Middle Eastern regions mentioned in the jacket copy were?

This isn’t all that surprising. Before Erich Von Däniken popularized the sci-fi idea of ancient aliens, lost white races were the go-to explanation for archaeological anomalies. The “lost race” novel was a popular fiction genre, as seen in the works of H. Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Though he does mention statues of Africans and other races being found in South America, he is more interested in tales of “bearded white Indians” and Amazons who may be the same ones mentioned by the ancient Greeks. He dutifully reports rumors of degenerated descendants of the Brazilian-Atlanteans, like the Lancandones—dwarves in the “Chiappas” region of Mexico (yes, South America seems to start at the Mexican-American border).

Hmm. I wonder if any has asked SubComandante Marcos and his Zapatistas if they have encountered them?

Wilikins introduces material from places as far away as Ireland and Mongolia, a “Great Catastrophe” that includes meteors, the sinking of Atlantis, the Biblical flood, the raising of the ruins of Tiahuanacu from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean to the Andes, a vast network of subterranean tunnels, races of giants, and even ancient Men in Black (note that this book was published before Ufologists started reporting Men in Black).

There seems to be a desire among writers of such books to come up with a unified field theory for weirdness.

This book is brimming over with weirdness, which can be fun if you don’t take it too seriously. And dammit, we do keep finding these strange artifacts, and somebody did genetically engineer the banana before the beginning of recorded history, and we won't ever know who without a time machine . . .

Ernest Hogan studies lost, ignored, and emerging civilizations. It helps in his work.