Memorials to Victor Martinez, Chicano Poet/Author

This is from Letras Latinas Blog. It is edited for length purposes. For full article please visit LLB:

by Francisco X. Alarcón
WHAT IS A POET ?

in homage—
Víctor Martínez
(1954-2011)

by Francisco X. Alarcón
translated by the author with Francisco Aragón

a question roaming
here and there—a cat
in a darkness so complete…

a door opened
—no lock no key—
to face the sea…

a lamp
that burns
from dusk to dawn

a voiceless voice
that is at once joy
and rage

a persistent monk
who in keeping
words lit turns

himself into
a living torch
lighting the world…

an unending gaze
keeping vigil over
the fate of others

an honesty so fierce—
not ceasing till it gets
at the naked truth

a perennial presence
that confronts
any given absence

a conversation
without end
between life and death

a butterfly flitting
a humming bird hovering—
here but never bound…

when a poet dies
his poems unfurl
inside your chest

Guatemala City
February 20, 2011

 Mission District photographer Linda Wilson, long time staff member of El Tecolote, the bilingual newspaper of San Francisco, called me at home to let me know that my friend of more than 33 years, Chicano poet/author Victor Martinez had passed away.  I am very saddened by the passing of this great poet, author of the celebrated novel Parrot in the Oven which was awarded the 1996 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature among other prestigious literary awards.
I first met Vic at Stanford University in 1977 where he held a Wallace Stagner fellowship in the Department of English.  At Stanford University I had also met Juan Felipe Herrera at the International House during Orientation Week at the beginning of Fall Quarter of 1977. Victor Martínez became a very active member of the tertulias literarias that were regularly held at Chicano poet/muralist/visual artist José Antonio Burciaga’s home in Menlo Park, near Stanford, with his wife Cecilia Preciado also hosted always so graciously.  Bernice Zamora, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Gloria Velázquez, Gary Soto, Lucha Corpi, Emy López, Javier Pacheco, Francisco Santana, José David Saldívar, Orlando Ramírez, were some the writers who were part of his circle of literary friends.
Later Vic moved to the Mission District as Juan Felipe Herrera and I also did. The three of us lived and passed on to each other the same apartment we had rented at different times on Capp Street in the heart of the Mission District.Vic was one of the regular writers and editors of La Revista Literaria de El Tecolote, contributing stupendous book, theater, and film reviews. One outstanding film review that comes to my mind at this moment was a collective film review of El Norte that Victor Martinez, Juan Felipe Herrera and I did together and  which included an interview with its acclaimed director, Gregory Nava.
I am including below a biography, a book review, and the transcript of a PBS interview done one day afer Victor was awarded the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 1996:


 Biography:
Victor Martinez was born and raised in Fresno, California, the fourth in a family of twelve children. He attended California State University at Fresno and Stanford University, and has worked as a field laborer, welder, truck driver, firefighter, teacher, and office clerk. His poems, short stories, and essays have appeared in journals and anthologies. Mr. Martinez was awarded the 1996 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for Parrot in the Oven, his first novel. He now makes his home in San Francisco, California.
Victor Martinez was born into an impoverished family in west Fresno, California. It was here, growing up with his eleven brothers and sisters, that he formed his Hispanic identity and began to mentally record events for his eventual writing. Despite their monetary struggles, the Martinez family remained strong, avoiding the pitfalls that plague project housing. 11 out of the 12 Martinez children all hold B.A.s or higher; Victor attended California State University and Stanford.
Martinez’s literary career didn’t come easily. His first poem was tossed away to the trash can by a grade school teacher who didn’t mind shaming him in front of the class. Self-described as a “student who sat in the back of the class” and as someone who wasn’t “that high of an achiever”, it took some time for his skills to get recognized. In 1996 however, Parrot in the Oven won the National Book Award and got him major recognition for YA literature.
Parrot in the Oven is Martinez’s first novel and only major publication. In 1992 he did publish a collection of poetry titled Caring for a House with Chusma House Publications, but it has since gone out of print. Many of his works have been published in other various collections and anthologies. He lived in San Francisco with his wife, Tina Alvarez, and writes six hours per day.


Categories: poetry, Victor Martinez memorial

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