REVIEWS FROM DECEMBER 2000
of the latest books, audio,
video, and software.
los Santos, Marisa. From the Bones Out. Columbia:
Univ. of South Carolina Press, 2000. 90 pp. ISBN 1-57003-322-6,
$15.95 (cl); 1-57003-323-4, $9.95 (pb).
collection of poems expresses the sensual experience of the physical
world as the embodiment of the heart’s desire. These poems are
stories and portraits that reflect intimate, sensuous connections
with particular places and with the rhythms and cycles of the
natural world. De los Santos writes of love and longing, relationships
and the passage of time, grief and regeneration. Many of the poems
deal with death—of a father, a niece, a grandmother, an unknown
boy from another time, a jazz singer—reflecting a preoccupation
with mortality, the obsessions, pleasures, and limitations of
the flesh and their connection with the spirit.
art, music, and poetry the pulse that connects the world of the
flesh with the world of the spirit? Or are these art forms only
the conductor? De los Santos’s language is lush and luscious,
thick and heavy, each moment laden with portent, making the ethereal
corporeal; still, she is lyrical and moving. Her voluptuous imagery
is often elegantly contained by meticulously metered forms: villanelles,
couplets, triplets, and quatrains, rhymed and unrhymed. The conversational
cadences of her exquisitely worded stanzas reflect a nuanced mastery
of metaphor in gorgeous language suffused with heat and light,
memory and desire.
Ray. Turtle Pictures. Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press,
2000. 178 pp. ISBN 0-8165-1964-1, $29.95 (cl); 0-8165-1966-8,
Juan Felipe. Thunderweavers/ Tejedoras de rayos.
Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press, 2000. 74 pp. Bilingual (English-Spanish)
ed. ISBN 0-8165-1986-2, $17.95 (pb).
University of Arizona once again deserves high praise for its
Camino del Sol Latina and Latino Literary Series. Both of these
recent publications in the series deserve all the praise they
are sure to get. González and Herrera, prolific and talented
Mexican-American scholars, editors, and writers of poetry and
prose for children and adults, continue to explore and develop
concerns from previous books.
Turtle Pictures, a memoir in prose and poetry, has echoes
of his earlier work, Memory Fever. Using the turtle as
a symbol, ancient and modern, enduring and eternal, of the Mexican
people, González traces their cultural journey from Mayan
and Aztec origins through the arrival of Cortez and eventually
north to El Paso, Texas, and beyond. González offers a
broad sweep of history and geography but also a detailed look
at specific events and people.
I, "First Shell," contains a wealth of passages to contemplate;
Part II, "Chicano Tortuga Party," with its tongue-in-cheek religious
overtones, is rich with bittersweet wit; but Part IV, "Tortuga
Borders," contains the most powerful and moving images in the
book. Here, the people’s desperate desire to cross the Rio Grande
parallels the turtles’ unrelenting drive to migrate. González’s
water imagery provides a language bath in which every word is
perfectly chosen and placed. The text is multilayered, and the
reader must dive beneath the surface to wring deepest meaning
from these sometimes meditative, often surrealistic lyrics.
Thunderweavers/Tejedoras de rayos deviates from the standard
side-by-side bilingual text. One cover and one half of the book
are in English; flip it over and the other half is in Spanish.
One reads into the book, into the heart of the matter. Thunderweavers
is a natural, if heartbreaking, continuation of Herrera’s earlier
Mayan Drifter. Rather than a historical overview, Thunderweavers
focuses on a specific incident in 1997 when paramilitary forces
massacred Mayan villagers in Acteal, Chiapas. The story of death,
loss, and displacement is told from the perspectives of four family
members: Maruch, a grandmother; Pascuala, her daughter; and her
two granddaughters, Xunka, who is 12 years old and is lost, and
Makal, who is pregnant. Herrera weaves the voices and cries of
these women together to tell a tale of physical, psychological,
and emotional trauma.
simple, enduring ebb and flow of village life is suggested by
recurring images of agrarian domesticity, yarn and wool, sewing
and weaving, and always corn, "the cornfields of spotted corn,/white
corn, red corn/four colors of corn, four suns." This peaceful
natural order is shattered forever by man’s unnatural acts; the
fields are drenched in blood and the people murdered. That Thunderweavers
is a hard book to read is a tribute to the power of Herrera’s
Turtle Pictures and Thunderweavers/Tejedoras de rayos
demand to be read again and again. At each rereading one can participate
in González’s and Herrera’s painful but perceptive re-envisioning
of the past and present.
County (N.J.) Community College
Pinkie Gordon. Elegy for Etheridge: Poems. Baton
Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 2000. 74 pp. ISBN 0-8071-2544-X,
$22.50 (cl); 0-8071-2545-8, $14.95 (pb).
subjects ranging from violins to death, Lane, five-time author
and former Louisiana State Poet Laureate, finds splendor in the
pleasure of home ownership and the hum of the dialysis machine
in her newest compilation.
is clever about Lane’s 29-poem collection is that some poems are
actually "found"—pieces of news articles are rearranged in such
a way as to be considered "poetic." A poem entitled "Gangsta Rap,"
taken from an item in Time magazine, asserts: "Life was
sweet, good, like something out of a song Then he discovered gangsta
rap Records bearing his name sold out in stores. . . . This has
gone too far, he says It’s making us look like animals, he says
. . . It’s time to give people their dreams back, he says . .
. " In "On Being the Head of the English Department," Lane promises
to "look with detachment/on the signing of contracts; . . . sing
hymns of praise/to the negative, when/it is necessary to survive"
and "hand [them]/the bread and the knife/but never the music and
art/ of [her] existence," leading readers to ponder whether they
have given up the love of something for monetary compensation,
which she refuses to do.
includes many more thought-provoking poems that, among other things,
question the "Sexual Privacy of Women on Welfare," and eulogize
Etheridge Knight, beloved poet. While readers who are not familiar
with Knight or his work may not understand the reason for Lane’s
elegy, they will appreciate the respect that Lane shows for such
a poet and may be inspired to read his work. Admittedly, readers
may have to reread this treasury to appreciate fully Lane’s flair
and zeal for life, love, and simplicity. Such a task is well worth
it in the end.
Pablo. The Floating Island. Buffalo, N.Y.: White
Pine Press, 1999. 104 pp. ISBN 1-893996-01-8, $14.00 (pb).
poem in this anthology made me cry. Was it because the poem was
about Cuba, and I’m Cuban? Definitely. But to explain away my
reaction on the basis that the author and I share a common emotional
background does not render justice to an outstanding poet.
Medina’s talent goes beyond the island, goes beyond boundaries.
Witness these lines:
don’t know what I would be
there were no Cuba,
there were no childhood,
malecón or José Martí
we hadn’t left behind a frown,
sweet and sour pill
arroz con frijoles of politics and laughter.
is an eloquent sadness in these lines that speaks for us all,
no matter the country of birth. The poem addresses what there
was but is no more. The poem speaks of the marginal existence
that we all experience sooner or later. Medina captures this sentiment
with words that are simple and direct, maybe even minimalist.
But the sentiment speaks loudly because, as a poet who lives in
exile, he knows quite well what it means to be an outsider and
to remember a time when he belonged to something and someone.
exile condition allows Medina to notice the loneliness of a November
afternoon, the melancholy of a deserted beach, the nostalgia of
an old Cuban wishing for his island. The condition of exile provokes
pain, and the pain, like a pearl in an oyster, yields a thing
of beauty: Medina’s poetry. This anthology might not make all
readers cry. But it will make readers recall what they have left
park and turn the motor off.
long walk in the cold wind…
Simon. From Sand Creek. Tucson: Univ. of Arizona
Press, 2000. 94 pp. ISBN 0-8165-1993-5, $10.95 (pb).
titles this volume after the Sand Creek, Colorado, site of the
1864 massacre of Cheyenne and Arapahoe men, women, and children,
and thereby he gives voice to the Native American experience.
This book of short poems, each preceded by a brief entry, more
caption than title, is full of deep feeling obliquely presented
in the way only poetry can express the otherwise unspeakable.
Not overt regret, but quiet sorrow, not uncontrolled fury, but
righteous outrage; these emotions are presented as rather inert
offerings—take them or leave them, but know that if you are capable
of taking them, you will be changed. In common with Lance Henson’s
Strong Heart Songs, several of the poems in From Sand
Creek are set in a V.A. hospital. The eventual institutionalizing
of the Indians—even, ironically, those who have served the U.S.
government—seems somehow inevitable, the last affront. Yet in
From Sand Creek springs hope as well. The land heals, time
passes, and nature and human nature, in the Indian sense, prevail.
(Wash.) Timberland Library
William Jay. The Cherokee Lottery. Willimantic,
Conn.: Curbstone Press, 2000. 100 pp. ISBN 1-880684-66-7, $13.95
poet Smith has composed a sequence of poems reconstructing the
nineteenth-century history of the removal of indigenous peoples
to the Indian territory of Oklahoma. The title poem, "The Cherokee
Lottery," refers to the dispersal of Cherokee lands to non-Indians
by drawing lots. The topics of Smith’s poems cover a variety of
well-known historical events, including Sequoyah’s alphabet, the
theatrical play based on the life of Osceola, and Buffalo Bill
and Sitting Bull’s participation in his Wild West show. A bonus
in the book is the inclusion of historical illustrations tied
to the poems’ topics.
ventures into the contemporary age with two poems. The first addresses
the issue of "Purebloods" and relies on the illustrations and
narrative reconstructions of Charles Banks Wilson. The last poem
discusses the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, but brings the volume
full circle by referencing the Cherokee Lottery.
the poetry in this book is a powerful retelling of events, it
also has a certain intellectual distance. For example, it lacks
the knowing passion found in Navajo Luci Tapahonso’s recounting
of "The Long Walk," where the reader feels that the poet is living
events heard all her life. Likewise, Smith’s poem about "purebloods"
seems to be a superficial treatment of complicated political issues
of identity and blood quantum. The poems in this volume raise
the reader’s interest in American Indian events, yet leave him
or her yearning for an indigenous point of view.
of Nevada–Las Vegas
Derek. Tiepolo’s Hound. New York: Farrar, Straus
& Giroux, 2000. 166 pp. Illus. by the author. ISBN 0-374-10587-1,
this recent tale in verse, Nobel laureate Walcott examines the
world of artists, their inspiration, and their work. A painter
himself, Walcott possesses the exceptional ability to marry content
and style and has produced a stunning verbal work of art.
text centers on the musings of a Caribbean narrator and painter
on "the art of seeing" and the life of Impressionist artist Camille
Pissarro. The latter, a French-born Jew of Portuguese descent,
was reared on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas but returns to
his native land to paint. There, his innovative, "heretical" vision
causes him repeated rejection and self-doubt. The narrator, however,
has nothing but praise for Pissarro, whose tenderness shows through
even in winter scenes of Paris.
artistry of the style is evident in the richness of colors and
odors described in the first pages of the book. Two recurring
images, a white dog’s thigh in a European painting and a black
mongrel symbolizing island culture, epitomize the split between
European art and the "life fermenting around" the people of the
Caribbean. The addition of Walcott’s own paintings as illustrations
helps to solidify the rapport between the text and the world of
art. Highly recommended.