Friday, January 06, 2023

Twelfth Night and the Poetry of Richard Vargas

 Melinda Palacio

   A friend asked me which book was my favorite of 2022. I usually have a hard time naming just one book or one thing in any category. Ask me my favorite color and I draw a blank. I wear every color. There was a time, back in my college days, when I only wore colors that pertained to the season of autumn because someone told me those were my colors and most days my body was covered in Emerald Green or brown. I fill silly for having limited my choices. Or ask me my favorite food and the pattern is the same. There was a time when I limited my meals to vegetables, now I eat all sorts of foods. I still don't have a favorite. Last year's standout was Richard Vargas's How a Civilization Begins. It may not be the only book I enjoyed but it was the first that popped into my mind. 

So many things about this book were appealing from the cover, the photo of a broken eggshell to the waxy mat finish and how the weight of the book felt in my hands. The book by Mouthfeel Press with a forward by Margaret Randall showed much care for the precious cargo between the pages. The civilization Vargas describes is the one that holds his life. From the kid who grew up in South Central Los Angeles to the man who served his country and became a poet who calls for unity, as seen in the poem, i am waiting for a peace. Next time pie day or March 14 comes along, I will ask Richard if I can share this poem for it also waits for a "piece of pie/with silky-smooth filling/that melts in my mouth. The playful poem has a wonderful way of imagining peace through a piece of pie or a poem shared by all. 

Richard Vargas is the hero the uncelebrated. His true fans take comfort in the fact that he has not sold out. For all his education, he continues to celebrate the quiet life. However, cliché the brooding poet with a difficult father, he is the voice of America, of the Chicano who struggles to remember sparse and rarely used Spanish to comfort a young asylum seeker dumped by the border patrol in "labor of love." The book's forward by Margaret Randall asks if this book will place Vargas at the 'very pinnacle of poetry speaking out of and for contemporary life?' While becoming a household name might be a fair aspiration, for now, Richard Vargas does not need accolades to write poems that gut the reader with the longing the comfort of a man who can create an entire world with "just two lovers/in the dark/holding on/not going/anywhere/lying in our/wet spot/waiting for/the world/to end."


Anonymous said...

Richard Vargas has generated wonderful poetry, spot-on insightful and across the full range of emotions, he's beaten some odds that most of us wouldn't want to face as a young person. Vargas' new collection is well-worth reading especially his memoir piece on his father's struggle and death. Editor and veteran poet Margaret Randall suggests that people should read that first then his poems to really set the context. Expect to be moved.

Thelma T. Reyna said...

Richard Vargas is the voice of the people-- everyday, ordinary, unsung people-- but with the eloquence, nuance, and well-trained eye of a seasoned poet. I look forward to his future work and continued success.