Latinx Poetics: Essays on the Art of Poetry (University of New Mexico Press, 2022), edited by Ruben Quesada, is a book that includes a variety of Latinx perspectives on art, politics, identity, aesthetics, and what it means to be a Latinx poet. All of the poets write from personal experience, with a deep understanding of history (how their countries of origin were devastated by European and American governments and oppressive dictatorships) and how their dual identities (Latinx and American) have created complexity in their lives (in positive and negative ways). The essays in this collection are honest and enlightening and inspiring. However, the one thing all the poets in Latinx Poetics have in common is described perfectly by Juan Felipe Herrera in the foreword: “…each poet digs deep. Perhaps it is not the terms and answers these thinkers are after. Perhaps it is their humanity, our humanity—a poetics of humanity? Is it possible—to attain a miraculous, porous, ever expanding and ringing radius of life-creative, redefining itself in its ever vibrating spirals? The two biggest overarching themes of the collection deal with the history of European colonization of Central and South America and the Caribbean, and the United States government’s role in oppressing those same countries, and how each essayist came to poetry and developed their own poetics. Here, history and poetry are intertwined in ways that highlight the ongoing effects of colonialism as well as individual experience: how each poet understands themselves as Latinx poets and as Americans. In the introduction, Ruben Quesada points to this engagement with history as being incredibly crucial when it comes to Latinx poetry:
The most recent edition of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics recognizes that studying poetry of the past, in the information age, is sometimes conceived of as an antiquarian field, a field of theoretical issues or reflections on the practice of writing poetry. As a Latinx and a poet in the United States, I recognize the importance of my Latinx predecessors, the influence that history and American literature has had on their work, their intersection into my own history, and our impact on the American literary tradition.
This definition of “studying poetry of the past” as “an antiquarian field” is problematic because it suggests that poetry is a fixed form that can no longer undergo evolution, and it ignores the poets writing in the current moment whose lives were vastly affected by historical events involving European powers who devastated, and in some cases, erased the indigenous cultures within the countries they occupied. This is what makes Latinx Poetics such an important text, the essayists’ desire to reclaim their cultures by asserting their voices and perspectives. In this book, history and poetry are at the forefront, defying the idea that poetry is merely an art form of the past. Latinx Poetics is a highly recommended read for those who want to understand Latinx writers better and those who want to further their understanding of poetics. Not only is this a valuable book in terms of expressing Latinx experience, it is an excellent book on the craft of poetry. This review will highlight essays that deal with the book’s main topics: politics, Latinx identity, and poetics.
By nature, a good portion of Latinx poetry is political. This truth is revealed in every essay within the collection, and rightly so. Latinx poets live in two cultures: one that has been dominated by Western powers, and another culture that is a dominant Western power. Because these poets live in political complexity, their work reflects that complexity. According to Tomas Q. Morin, in his essay, “The Horse and the Rider,” “Poetic wisdom was never revealed to me by a burning bush speaking in pentameter.” This is a highly political statement when it comes to culture and poetics. The quote contains a bible reference and a statement on metrical verse, two very Western subjects that have influenced the entire world, for better and for worse. However, Latinx poets, because of their keen awareness of this relationship between dominant and oppressed cultures, are able to offer deeper political insights through poetry. In Brenda Cárdenas’s essay, “Poetry in Concert with the Visual Arts,” she talks about collaborative works between Latinx artists and poets. One such collaboration is between the poet Juan Felipe Herrera and the artist Artemio Rodríguez in Lotería Cards and Fortune Poems: A book of Lives. Herrera’s poems respond to Rodríguez’s linocuts based on the Mexican lotería, a game that is similar to bingo, except the caller pulls from a deck of cards and describes each image with a short poem or short description. The most well-known version of cards was designed by Don Clemente, which Rodríguez reimagines in his card drawings, along with his own creations, which are dark and humorous. Cárdenas describes one of the cards Rodríguez created: “…a church bell with a human for its clapper. On the eft, an aloof child holds the rope that could ring it; on its right, a horned creature grins; and atop its supporting beam walks another creature with a dog’s body and a serpent’s tongue.” Cárdenas goes on to explain why Herrera’s accompanying poem is significant: “One might expect Herrera’s poem to interpret the clapper as a slave, lynched man, or forced convert to Christianity….Instead, Herrera’s clapper is quite the optimist, empowered by his recent acquisition of gainful employment dealing in the mysteries of time.” Here are two pieces of the poem Cárdenas includes:
Say baby, so I got a job. Yeah
no more cheese lines, no more dead
quesadillas, mango flakes or blintz-wanna-
be’s. See me? Hey don’t pity me, Jack. I am
…You want to know
how long you got to live? You want to know
about the last homicide, the Rice Festival,
the grimace inside this building. Listen up.
As Cárdenas explains, this poem is significant because Herrera “flips the script” and instead portrays the human head as an all-knowing bell clapper. His black humor matches Rodríguez’s art, but still maintains political grit. Cárdenas’s essay is primarily concerned with how Latinx art is used in collaborative work, and cites the Rodríguez/Herrera collaboration as one of equals who understand each other’s political and creative aesthetics.
In Daniel Burzutzky’s essay, “What the Neoliberal Policy Labs Eat and Shit,” he is primarily concerned with how translated books of poems written by poets from politically troubled countries are read and understood (or misunderstood) and ultimately comes to the wise conclusion that “we should not turn to poetry, and specifically translated poetry, to understand, analyze, or critique historical, political, and national events.” In conjunction with this argument, he discusses the connection between the Pinochet regime in Chile and the neoliberal politics of Chicago and quotes University of Illinois at Chicago Education Policy scholar Pauline Lipman, who gives an apt description of neoliberalism: “gutting social welfare and privatizing public assets as the new urban dogma. [privatizing] bridges, parking meters, public parking garages, schools, hospitals, and public housing, while driving down the cost of labor through deregulation, outsourcing unionized jobs, [and] casualized and contingent labor….the privatizing state is also a punitive state that polices and contains immigrants, homeless people, the disposed, and low-income communities of color….Chicago is notorious for its police torture scandals and brutal policing of African American and Latino communities.” Borzutsky expands upon this definition by comparing it to the Pinochet regime:
These are policies designed forty years ago at the University of Chicago, tested out in the neoliberal policy lab created under the smoke screen of murder and torture by the Pinochet dictatorship, policies that included mass privatizations of education, health care, and public services, which destroyed the labor unions and created a brutal financial dictatorship where the consolidation of wealth and power destroyed the working class, destroyed the environment, caused massive poverty and homelessness. These were policies that began in Chile forty years ago, and these police[s] thrive in Chicago today. We could, in fact, take Pauline Lipman’s paragraph above and, with the exception of the discussion of race, replace Chicago with Chile. And while some might say that my comparison of violence in Chile and Chicago is hyperbolic or inaccurate, to understand the discussion more broadly, one need only look at the numbers of people tortured and abused by the Chicago police, the number of people killed on the streets each year, the literally hundreds of thousands of poor children left to struggle in impoverished public schools that lack the most basic of resources….I know, of course, that there are differences between the two places. But I am sick of comparisons, of playing the which-apocalypse-is-worse game. All the brutal neoliberal policy labs are murder zones. And someone tortured or killed by the Chicago police is someone just as dead or tortured as someone tortured or killed by the Pinochet regime.
Borzutzky further develops this argument by discussing Valerie Martínez’s book-length poem Each and Her, which deals with political violence in a very direct way. Here is a section of the poem that Borzutzky includes, which is a list of murdered Latinx women:
Jessica Lizalde Leon (3.14.93)
Lorenza Isela Gonzales (4.25.94)
Erica Garcia Morena (7.16.95)
Sonia Ivette Ramirez (8.10.96)
Juana Iñiguez Mares (10.23.97)
Perla Patricia Sáenz Diaz (2.19.98)
Bertha Luz Briones Palacios (8.2.99)
Amparo Guzman (4.2.00)
Gloría Rivas Martinez (10.28.01)
Lourdes Ivette Lucero Campos (1.19.02)
Miriam Soledad Sáenz Acosta (3.28.03)
As Borzutzky explains: “…there is a love for the dead communicated through an inferno-rendering poetry that always brings us back to the ways in which the abstractions of bureaucracy and government and capital destroy real, actual, human bodies….The absence of the names of the killers perhaps amplifies the presence of the names of the murdered women….Martínez forces us to confront the names, the individuals, the lives obliterated at the conjunction of the military-police state, narco-trafficking juntas, border and immigration politics, and the exploitative practices of international capitalism.” Here, Borzutzky shows how poetry can give space to articulate political violence in such a way that it identifies the underlying cause: the governments that impose oppressive systems that create environments where horrific violence is commonplace. Although poetry should not be a stand-in for knowing the politics of a country on a nuanced level, it can convey the experience of political violence, and the consequences of it, as shown through Martínez’s poem.
In Valerie Martínez’s essay, “Peopleness,” she takes up the subject of writing from a place of ethnicity. She talks about her experience teaching in southern Africa and how it gave her a different understanding of race: “During the three years I lived and worked in Swaziland and traveled in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana, I was not able to convince many that I am “brown.” No matter how I tried to explain my ethnicity, most southern Africans saw me as a white woman, and everything—good and bad—associated with white people was projected onto me. I was—alternately—colonizer, wealthy expat, Trustafarian, liberal do-gooder, Peace Corps volunteer.” This experience, however, helped her to think more about Latinx literature and its relationship to the publishing world, along with the experience of being confronted about what made her work “Latinx.” Her essay explores the concept of “ethnic markers”—signs and symbols in poems that let readers know the poet is of a particular ethnicity, so that they might presumably be published. The essay is not necessarily a criticism of ethnic markers, but Martínez does raise the question: What about Latinx poets whose poems don’t include identifiable signs or symbols that let the reader know they’re Latinx? She includes a piece of a poem by Gabe Gomez called “This Particular Season”:
The sensibilities of speech in winter
where process is undressed
of all history. The matter with fact
bankrupt theories to her blue dress
lifting in the crisp marina.
Here then are the engine plumes
living among us in a relative manner,
resemble beak proportion to appropriate capacity.
The ancient computer mothering in the hamlet sighs:
How old are you, then, when is it a good time
to call and dictate a list of imperatives for the lyric hero?
Here is the core of Martínez’s thinking in regards to ethnicity and poetry: “I imagine an editor discovering Gomez’s “This Particular Season” in a stack of blind submissions. Let’s say this editor understands the disproportionate publication of work by white writers compared to writers of color. S/he wants to publish exemplary work and to be inclusive. Does s/he not look for the more obvious markers of ethnicity in the poem? Does the absence of these markers relegate a poem to some sort of “non-ethnic” status? How and where does ethnicity “reside” in poetry, and how do we recognize it?” As Martínez honestly admits: “I do not have definitive answers.” However, the essay is less about coming to hard conclusions about the complexities around what it means to be Latinx and a poet and seeking publication. It’s more about acknowledging that ethnicity itself is a difficult thing to pinpoint, even within Latinx culture. Here is Martínez’s deeper understanding about what it means to Latinx:
What I do know is that the Latinx diaspora in the United States includes writers self- and other-identified as Mexicana, Mestizo, Hispanic, Cubano/a, Boriqueno, Bicho/a, Blaxican, Chicanx, Hondureño, and more than a half-dozen other terms. We are gay, straight, bisexual, poor, affluent, assimilated, and semi-assimilated. We are immigrants. We are descendants of Spanish colonizers who arrived in fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and of our Mayan, Aztec, Diné, Tewa, and other Amerindian ancestors. We are Mestizas, Pardos, Zambas. We are bilingual and monolingual, dispossessed and privileged, political exiles and the politically powerful.
Adela Najarro takes up a similar idea in her essay “How I Came to Identify as a Latina Writer,” but approaches it from a different perspective. For Najarro, it is incredibly important to include language that lets the reader know she’s Latinx, but her journey to this realization came from a complicated childhood (her father was married to another woman while she and her brother were raised by her mother in secret) and from her experience of learning how to be a poet in an MFA program. Because she spent her formative years hidden, this had a profound effect on her poetically; it made her want to communicate the “truth,” which her MFA peers failed to grasp:
In that towered room with many windows and the comfy chairs arranged in a circle, as I listened to the workshop paraphrase my heart, I began to realize that there was something more at stake. I could rearrange the words on the page in twenty million different ways, and no one would ever know what I know. Language cannot capture my experience verbatim, and language does not reveal the “truth” of the situation. Barriers exist between the author, the text, and the reader.
Najarro also talks about her love of British poets—Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Keats—and how her engagement with their work led her to think about her own family at the time those poets were writing: “They were certainly not in London, but in Nicaragua, in the tropics, where there were no downy green hills and little lambs, much less a nightingale.” This caused her to wonder why she connected to Romantic poets even though she came from a completely different culture: “I began to realize that influence on one’s own work is not a conscious process but arises through the cumulative effect of all that one has read. I had only read American and British authors, mostly men.” This realization caused her to seek out Latina and Latin American writers which made her not only even more conscious of her own father’s role in her erasure as a child, but “the erasure of entire cultures and history.” Here is the conclusion Najarro comes to:
My personal feeling of erasure expanded to an acknowledgement of the erasure of the history of Nicaragua, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the rest of the Caribbean and Latin America in the United States. I found that the history of Nicaragua was inexorably tied to United States Manifest Destiny ideology and that the history of my family’s personal stories was a microcosm of the economic and political interrelation between the United States and Central America. As I looked to my own poems, if I did not mention the details of my Nicaraguan bilingual self, I was contributing not only to my personal erasure but to the erasure of the entire Latino/a community in the United States. Ignoring my Latinidad would entail letting go the details and stories that did not fit the conception of the United States as one nation under God, with justice and liberty for all, and would add to the creation myth of the United States as a land of opportunity, open, free and culturally unrestricted. At the same time, I was not about to lose sight of what I had come to understand about creating poetry as art. A poem cannot be written from an intention, is not created to educate, can never capture the suffering of an entire group of people; a poem has to focus on its language, and at times this language does educate and does capture the injustices of the world. It is a mysterious process, again a letting go, a bit of magic.
Najarro’s creative and personal concerns expanded to involve politics, history, and aesthetics. Whereas Martínez was concerned about ethnicity as a marker to identify Latinx writers for publication and the gray areas that exist within that concern, Najarro is concerned about Latinx identity as a way to push back against erasure. Both poets bring up interesting points about Latinx identity—how it is diverse and complex, but also how it has been historically erased by colonialism and political oppression. Najarro gives an insightful explanation about how she came to realize that her use of language already inherently includes both Spanish and English:
…my use of language is permanently marked by my linguistic and cultural duality, and that is not a mistake, an error, or wrong. The concept of a “right way” and “rules” reflect how my own thinking about language had been formed as part of our cultural dynamics. So called “right ways” to speak and write are not verifiable concrete truths but are instead cultural formulations that value certain linguistic performances over others. For example, what is referred to standard English is in actuality the English spoken by the college-educated middle class, regional dialects deleted. This standard English is viewed as “good” English since it replicates the idea of what the United States should be and sound like: middle-class America….Throughout my experience as a Latina woman in United States society, my use of Spanish, and especially my use of Spanglish, has been silenced. My desire to find the “right way” has been a desire to validate my bilingual linguistic repertoire in a society that I perceived as continuously demanding English-only, and in appropriate situations, Spanish-only. I have given up the idea of a “right way,” and I now accept that at times, my English is Spanish influenced and that my Spanish is English influenced, and that’s just the way it is.
Najarro recognizes how erasure happens at the linguistic level, and how her compliance with speaking English “the right way” contributed to that erasure. Her desire to uplift her own nuanced use of language is both a political and aesthetic concern: to uplift the cultures that created her voice and to diversify poetic language so that is not merely made up of middle-class American voices.
Andres Rojas also takes up the concept of Latinx identity in his essay, “Invention as Discovery.” Rojas, like Martínez, is interested in the concept of ethnicity, but he takes it further, by thinking through the definition of Latinx and applying it to his own understanding of his personal identity. He begins with defining Hispanic and then moves into the US definition:
…Hispanic originally meant anyone ethnically Spanish (meaning from Spain) or from a Spanish-speaking country, whereas Latino/a indicated a Hispanic from Latin America (Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America, including Portuguese-speaking Brazil). However, the US Census Bureau now lumps the terms together as one ethnicity (“Hispanic, Latino, or [of] Spanish origin”), not quite a “race” such as the uncomplicated “White” or the aggregate “Black, African Am[erican] or Negro”….Per the latest census figures, most Latinos/as are of Mexican descent (63 percent), followed at a very distant second by Puerto Ricans (9 percent) and Cubans and Salvadorians (just over 3 percent each). Of course, Latino/a is a US category: there are Nicaraguan or Spanish-language poets in Nicaragua, but there are no Latinos/as there. Likewise, there are no Latino/a poets in the Dominican Republic, Panama, or Argentina, only Dominican, Panamanian, and Argentinian poets. For good or ill, Latino/a poets exist only in the United States and write in English, even if they let Spanish visit their poems at times.
Rojas refines the definition of Latinx: Latinos/as live in the US and write in English, but also include Spanish in their work. This definition is important because it sets the reader up for the rest of Rojas’s essay, which deals with that specific identity: Rojas spent the first thirteen years of his life in Cuba before becoming a US citizen. He also gives a really succinct explanation of the relationship that exists between English and Spanish:
Transitioning from Spanish to English is relatively easy; they’re both Indo-European languages, share an alphabet and a great deal of Latin and Romance (mostly French) vocabulary, and came conquering to the Americas. To this day, Spanish and a number of “New” World languages appropriated through it remain the largest source of loan words for American English. Consider alligator, barbecue, cafeteria, desperado, embargo, flotilla, guacamole, hurricane, iguana, jade, key (as in a small island), lasso, mosquito, nachos, oregano, patio, quinoa, rodeo, silo, tobacco, vertigo, and of course, Zorro. One may also think of Spanish as a transitional language in the seizure of North American territory from its indigenous populations: present-day Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, the southeastern corner of Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas were occupied by Spanish long before American English forced its way there.
Rojas does more than identify the compatibility between English and Spanish; he shows how the two languages are intertwined on a historical and cultural level, reminding readers that Spanish became the dominant language in North America before English. Rojas seems to have reached a space of enlightenment in his understanding of history in regards to his Latinx identity, however, the essay takes an interesting turn as Rojas discusses his struggles with being a Latinx poet very candidly:
As for my own work, I often questioned whether I was too naïve to insist on writing poetry in a language unknown to me during my childhood. The crafting of a poem requires such intimacy with language that having spent my first thirteen years speaking Spanish seemed an insurmountable barrier to writing poetry in English. To this day, it’s not only my accent that trips me; sometimes when I scan a line, it’s difficult for my non-native ear to get the subtleties of English stresses right. I can manage it with some work, though. Mostly.
Rojas hits upon the central concern of his poetics: wanting to write poetry in English as a Latinx. He continues: “I knew I did not have (that I would never have) the native ear of, say, W.B. Yeats, Robert Frost, H.D., or Seamus Heaney. I could hear how they made English sing; I just couldn’t seem to do it myself.” He also talks about his love for the English language and the fact that his work deals with different subjects than other Latinx poets:
…most of my work is concerned not so much with exile or immigration or discrimination but with privileged, commonplace interests—the origins of consciousness and the inevitable cycle of birth, love, loss, and death. I am more interested in Old and Middle English than in Spanish, and my allusions run to the Bible and classical antiquity rather than to the Afro-Cuban culture into which I was born. So be it, I told myself. I am originally from Cuba, the United States is my home now, and I write in English. That will have to do. That will have to be Latino/a enough (Andres Rojas, 183-184).
Rojas poetic concerns are similar to Martínez: although he is Latinx, his work does not contain “ethnic markers.” But again, he hits upon an important truth: his identity as a poet from Cuba with US citizenship writing poetry in English is his authentic self. Rojas talks more about his identity struggles: “I felt, in short, like I was no one thing fully, and that was close to feeling like I was nothing. I was partly a person originally from Cuba and partly a person reborn in the United States, and thus neither one completely.” It wasn’t until he began reading Derrida that he came to understand and embrace the complexities of his identity: “I was not partly both the kid from Cuba and the Latino/a adult, to the extent I was a Latino/a adult at all. I was not even the conflict between them. What I was was the undecidability of that conflict: not the process itself but its refusal or even inability to resolve itself.” Rojas takes this realization further: “I didn’t have to resolve that conflict. In fact, the possibility that such a conflict could be ultimately unresolvable was liberating. I was the (irresolvable?) playing out of the contradiction, among many others, of being both a Latino/a poet and not being one. And thus I belonged somewhere, even if that somewhere was an undecidable contradiction.” Martínez, Najarro, and Rojas all explore the topic of Latinx identity from different angles, which gives readers deeper insight into what it means to be a Latinx poet (either including or not including “ethnic markers”), what it means to be Latinx and feel the heaviness of erasure due to colonialism, and what it means to be Latinx and not have to define it. Rojas’s final conclusion about Latinx identity surpasses his initial definitions: as a human being, Rojas—and each Latinx poet, as individuals—create the definition through their lived experiences within Latinx and American culture.
Laurie Ann Guerrero’s excellent essay, “Stealing the Crown” explores the craft of poetry; it deals with the sonnet form from a personal perspective. Guerrero took on the challenging task of writing a heroic crown of sonnets in order to honor her grandfather after his death. However, the process of writing sonnets was incredibly difficult:
I needed to contain myself. I thought immediately of sonnets—sonnets, which I had, until then, despised for their arrogance and institutionalization. So damn full of rules and inflicting centuries of conformity. And challenging—both mentally and spiritually—as a brown woman who has watched so many of her own, grandfather included, suffocate under the weight of induced borders, labels, lines we ought not cross, assimilation in language and culture. Why would I, or anyone like me, choose to corral our voices, our spirits into a small box of someone else’s making—especially when we’re still having to exist in such a contrived manner in so many other aspects of our lives?
Even as Guerrero resisted the sonnet form because of its restrictive nature, she felt compelled to write in the form: “If I could force myself to write a sonnet, if I could switch gears for a minute, gather my brain close enough to work, then maybe I would be able to gather up the other parts of my body that I felt I was losing, too.” Another interesting aspect of the essay are the comparisons Guerrero makes between the sonnet form and the tomato garden that her grandfather maintained. This helped her to understand why she felt compelled to write sonnets. The aesthetic comparisons gave her deeper insight into the sonnet form:
And while I had a hard time finding an access point into the sonnet, I was well aware of the workings of a tomato garden. I knew, then, that what I had chosen, this working of sonnets, was like a return to that field between our two houses. The challenge that I had taken on excited me, brought the only kind of engagement that could bring me comfort. I thought, too, about the heroic crown and how the last line of one sonnet would pull you into the next, just like the water trickling over to the next row of tomatoes. I wrestled with the idea of using the form for a man who would never know it. I thought about how he created, how he sustained himself: he used what he had. It was then that I really understood the magnitude of my own education. I knew how to write. In English. I knew poetry. I knew sonnets. I, too, used what I had.
Although Guerrero mentions being concerned about using a poetic form to honor a man who never knew the workings of a sonnet, what readers come to realize is that her grandfather did understand the sonnet form on a metaphoric level, through caring for a garden, which is a contained object, that if tended to properly, flourishes. On a subconscious level, her grandfather taught her poetic craft through his own work as a gardener and as a carpenter. Guerrero begins to see her grandfather’s aesthetics as a carpenter in a new light:
I remembered my grandfather in his workshop, how he often left edges of a table, a birdhouse, a slab of sheetrock a little roughed up, never perfect. On the kitchen hutch he made for me of reclaimed wood, he left an emptied wasp’s nest intact and attached: character, he said. I wanted sonnets like that. Roughed up with wasps nests attached. Dampened with rainwater, smelling of dirt. My sonnets were not perfect—in the English or Italian sense—but charactered, like us…working class, rough, Tejano…maybe even beautiful (Laurie Ann Guerrero, 195).
Recalling how her grandfather built objects in his own nuanced way showed her how to write sonnets in her own nuanced way. She could bring in the aesthetic influence of her grandfather to craft a heroic crown of sonnets that were not just examples of the traditional form, but a representation of the form as a vehicle for aesthetic and emotive expression. What readers might intuitively understand is that Guerrero’s intense experience of writing sonnets honoring her grandfather also helped deepen her understanding of love:
Watching my grandpa die, and then existing in a world without him, has only led me to understand the kind of transcending love that can exist between two people—beyond time, beyond space, beyond the named boxes we have created for ourselves in which to exist. Like sunlight that comes in through a window—if the building is destroyed, the light will still exist in that space. Such is our love. I didn’t understand that before now.
That intense writing experience also deepened her understanding of poetry, and what it means to be a Latinx poet:
But I think through writing. And I love this, too. It is where I go to reconcile ideas and sorrow, to relive harmony or to raise my dead. It is where I can distill the histories that move my hands to do the work, where I write new definitions for words like warrior or fight or grace, where I learned to understand my own ego and need to reclaim things as my own—people, places, even poetic forms.
I write. It’s how I learn who I am.
Here, poetic craft and identity are both at play on an aesthetic level. In addition to being personal in nature, Guerrero’s essay is also instructional because it shows the complex interplay that happens between poetic form, experience, identity, memory, love, and loss—how all of these elements create complex and meaningful poetry. And all of this happens through the act of writing, which in itself is a liberating and enlightening experience: “I write. It’s how I learn who I am.”
According to Quesada, “These essays are for educators, writers, and lovers of poetry.” Latinx Poetics is an essential read for those who want to teach poetry, those who want to write better poetry, and those who want to deepen their understanding of poetry. But it is also a book that deals with overarching themes that have to do with history, race, politics, gender, and identity. Through the experience of reading Latinx Poetics, readers will also come to understand those bigger subjects on a deeper level—that being a Latinx poet is not simply a label; it is a way of being in the world for those whose cultures were overrun by European colonizers and then further devastated by the US government. Latinx poets live in the US and have a complicated relationship with that country politically and culturally. Latinx poets write in Spanish and English, two languages that came from colonizers. And yet, they love the languages they write in, even as they have complicated relationships to those languages. Latinx poets are human beings who live in two different cultures: Latinx and American culture. This is the positioning they write from, and it is distinct, and it is nuanced. Hopefully, after engaging with Latinx Poetics, readers will begin to examine the complex natures of their own identities and their relationship to poetry (whether as a teacher, a poet, or a poetry reader). This book is also meant to stimulate the reader to reflect on identity, and it does this in incredibly compelling ways—it holds a mirror up to the reader and compassionately asks: What are you made up of? What makes you you? Rojas gives a brilliant interpretation of how he has come to view Latinx identity and it can be applied at the human level as well: “I have come to think of Latino/a poetics as an open prairie in which we may gather the tribes rather than as a walled citadel to be scaled or defended….here we are as we were, as we are, and as the conflict between the two tenses will continue to make us; here is what we will do with what we have and what we will not do, for now, at least, and the possibilities inherent in both. Welcome to the tribe of the future.”
February 27, 2023