Tuesday, January 19, 2021

2021 Resolution: Just Enough Poetry

Review: Edward Vidaurre. Pandemia & Other Poems. San Antonio: Aztlán Libre Press, 2020. Isbn 978–0 –9897782-5-1 (link in title)

Michael Sedano

I lack the stamina and skill that reviewing poetry demands, on a regular basis. In worthwhile poetry collections, a reviewer wants to talk about poem after poem, idea after idea. You want readers to expect particular value in the collection by illustrating the best exemplars of idea, voice, character, prosody; elements that give a collection compelling urgency that says “buy this book,” “follow this poet,” “check out this publisher.” 

What to do when each poem seems to be the best poem in the book? This is the kind of collection that a reader thinks the best poem is the poem you're reading now.

Complicating a critic’s perplexities, publishers are finding budgets to publish a lot of poetry books. The reading and reviewing possibilities loom exhaustingly, and that’s good news. It's a “poetry explosion” multiplying the annual number of new poems and poetry books beyond anyone’s capacity to acquire, read, and share the best with friends.

This means lots of voices can get lost in the wilderness, orphan books needing readers, readers needing poetry, novels, short stories, Chicana Chicano Literature. Y más. In 2021, La Bloga-Tuesday resolves to share more raza poetry reviews. This is one way some books won't get lost, que no?

Looking back at missed opportunities, La Bloga-Tuesday should have picked up 2017’s When Love Was Reels, José B. Gonzáles' mirthful set of ekphrastic movie homages. There was Adrián Arancibia's 2018, Poems of Exhaustion, an intimate portrait of a poet finding early midlife perspective. 

Only last year, 2020, La Bloga-Tuesday found Edward Vidaurre’s Pandemia & Other Poems. With 2021 less than 20 days old, it’s not too late to recommend both Vidaurre’s Pandemia poems, and also the publisher, Aztlán Libre, and a burgeoning publishing enterprise Vidaurre has kicked off with a spectacular catalog from Flower Song Press.

Pandemia & Other Poems, from Aztlán Libre, brings readers four-in-one collections of mostly one-page work. The first Part shares the book's most self-consciously plague-time poems. Several of the poems here use space and layout to enhance their impact before the lines take on a conventionally fluid appearance that is kinder to reader eyes. Tabs creating long empty spaces in a poetry line do little to nothing to enhance effectiveness. Unless you have five darn good reasons, just use the next available space, "Sleepless In Pandemia."

Theme counters easily spot poems laced with forms of pain, emotional and corporeal. There’s death, a requiem. The most powerful death reference hits a reader in the ethnic gut because the poet pulls it out of nowhere, the ethnicity. Órale, that's what makes it Chicano.


Was cool 
as fuck.

One day he rolled in the television to watch the spaceship carrying a 
teacher. Said, “that could have been me but I wasn’t chosen." Then we 
all watched the spaceship go up and explode. He sat silenced, looked 
at me and I kind of gave him that look back, now you know what it’s 
like to come to school as a survivor.

as fuck.

JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL BIOLOGY TEACHER adds interest and humor for readers in the way the poem twists poetic time to create new life. The following stanza, the poet wonders about the now-old teacher, where is the fellow today? 

Here, Vidaurre puts a shine on the poem. Paying an unspoken debt to that man, the poet former student, brings the remembered teacher to life, gives the teacher a quaint imaginary old age. 

If a poet fiddles with the pages of a book, does my biology teacher
Have a tv tray next to him with a small tray, a scalpel, scissors and a 
probe and opens up tiny frogs during tv commercials?

Somewhere an old man smiles. My old 8th grade science teacher, I see him.

JUNIOR HIGH is the middle poem in the first Part of this four-part collection, page 10. The book has 76 pages, and it’s good to the last breath.

Love, pain—they might be the same thing in Vidaurre’s poetry—a little sex, fill the other Parts of Pandemia. Aside from that Spanish-sounding title, readers won’t find conventional Chicanx Identity poetry in this collection of Chicano poetry. Vidaurre doesn’t pound his chest shouting “mi raza primero.” 

The poet’s ethos breathes his ethnicity, but he drops a name here, a geography there, to give markers that locate raza identity. Identification is in his Soul. The poet’s tongue, it’s almost puro inglés. Pandemia & Other Poems, like almost all Chicano literature, addresses an English-speaking readership. Not a surprise, Chicano Literature is a genre of English-language American Literature.

Don’t ask, “what makes it Chicanx Chican@ Chicana/o Chicano Chicana Poetry?”

It’s unfair to burden a single book with encompassing an entire genre and go looking for ethnic justification in that particular work. 

What you read from this publisher, Aztlán Libre Press, is Chicano Poetry. That doesn’t matter if all you’re seeking is good poetry for our time. Pandemia & Other Poems is good poetry. And, if anything says “Our Time,” Pandemia screams it out loud. 

Pandemia & Other Poems has distribution to the trade via spdbooks.org Your local independent bookseller can stock Aztlán Libre Press titles or place an order for you. You can peruse the San Anto firm's catalog and place your order at aztlanlibrepress.com (link)

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