Maya Angelou, Mexican History, poetry, Poetry Month, poets, Sandra Cisneros, Social Justice, Strength

Poetry on Wednesdays-Political Poetry

Poetry and Politics-JFK quote.
Poetry and Politics-JFK quote.

Remember high school English classes?

That was my first introduction to poetry. Old poets. Lot’s of ‘thee’s and thou’s,” and too much Old English stuff.

I was a studious person, more logical than emotional, so many poems went over my head.

That was until I went to college, in the mid ’70’s. It was an eyeopener when I read the profound words of contemporary poets Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni, who spoke of racism and the strength of women.

I found only two Chicano/Mexican American poets, both male: Alurista and the political activist, Rudulfo “Corky” Gonzales.

Yo Soy Joaquin, I am Joaquin, gripped me from the beginning.

This bilingual poem, published in 1967, summarized Mexican and Mexican American history, from the exploitation of the natives through colonial times, to the present. The poem served as a nationalist ideology for political activism, using the historical events of the 19th Century social rebel, Joaquin Murrieta.

The poem was groundbreaking, revitalizing, and began a social movement. Since it is several pages long, here’s an excerpt from the middle of the poem:

I am Joaquin. 
I rode with Pancho Villa, 
crude and warm, a tornado at full strength, 
nourished and inspired by the passion and the fire of all his earthy people. 
I am Emiliano Zapata. 
“This land, this earth is OURS.” 
The villages, the mountains, the streams 
belong to Zapatistas. 
Our life or yours is the only trade for soft brown earth and maize. 
All of which is our reward, 
a creed that formed a constitution 
for all who dare live free! 
“This land is ours . . . 
Father, I give it back to you. 
Mexico must be free. . . .” 
I ride with revolutionists 
against myself. 
I am the Rurales, 
coarse and brutal, 
I am the mountian Indian, 
superior over all. 
The thundering hoof beats are my horses. The chattering machine guns 
are death to all of me: 
I have been the bloody revolution, 
The victor, 
The vanquished. 


You can read the entire epic poem here. 

In the 80’s and ’90’s, I fell in love with poems and novels by Sandra Cisneros. My love affair with Ms. Cisneros’ work is well documented on my blog. For me, her poems in “Wicked, Wicked Ways” and “Loose Woman,” spanned the politics of women.

Ms. Cisneros is my ‘she-ro.’  My favorite poem is “You Bring Out the Mexican In Me.”

It’s also fairly long, so I’ll print one of her short poems:

Black Lace Bra Kind of Woman


Watchale! She’s a black lace bra

kind of woman, the kind who serves

up suicide with every kamikazi

poured into neon blue of evening

A tease and a twirl. I’ve seen that

two-step girl in action. I’ve gambled bad

odds and sat shotgun as she rambled

her ’59 Pontiac between the blurred

lines dividing sense from senselessness

Ruin your clothes, she will.

Get you home after hours

driving her ’59 seventy five on 35

like there is no tomorrow.

Woman zydeco-ing into her own decade.

Thirty years pleated behind her like

the wail of a San Antonio accordion.

And now the good times are coming. Girl,

I tell you, the good times are here.

From LOOSE WOMAN, 1994 pg. 78


Until next week, thanks for reading.









Authors, Barbara Kingsolver, Bloggers, Books, Jennifer Chow, Lisa See, Louise Erdrich, Maya Angelou, Sandra Cisneros, Writers, Writing, Writing Process

Writers Tell All

Jennifer Chow made me do it. Her chirpy words of “fun challenge” has me participating in my first ever Blog Hop called “Writers Tell All.” 

A writer often works in isolation, for long periods of time, before any finished work is produced. It’s rare to have the opportunity to share thoughts with other bloggers/writers, so when Jennifer ‘tagged’ me I decided I’d share my thoughts.

Because we often work in seclusion we writers need to know if crying, throwing paper, groping for a pen in the middle of the night, talking to ourselves or passing up a party to write is normal. 


So let the sharing begin. 

Question 1: What are you working on? 

  1. Revision 8 of a query letter for my second manuscript: Winter Without Flowers, a contemporary adult fiction. 
  2. Revising a synopsis for WWF.
  3. Sending out 10 queries per month for my first manuscript: Strong Women Grow Here, YA fiction about a 17 year old wife and mother in prison.
  4. Getting ready for the AROHO Retreat in Ghost Ranch, Abiqui, New Mexico next month. I’m so jazzed to be included in a group of such accomplished writers. I received a fellowship to attend. 
Question 2: How does your writing process work? 

My isolation space
  1. Six days a week I put my butt in the chair (see photo above) with a mug of coffee.  
  2. When I feel stalled I look at the inspirational messages, photos, or words from friends on my bulletin board behind my laptop. (It’s an organized mess). Or I take the dog for a walk to clear my mind.
  3. I have a writing goal for the morning: type x amount of words, revise x amount of pages, work on a character sketch. 
  4. I’m a pantser who has vowed to do an outline for my next project. This may reduce the amount of revisions. 
  5. When I’m thinking of an emotional scene I’ll write longhand. There is something about the heart/pen connection. 
  6. Twice a month I meet with my critique group, Women Who Write (WoWW), and we go over five pages of our project after potluck. I’ve been with them since I started writing in 2008. 
Question 3: Who are your favorite writers? 
  1. Sandra Cisneros– her poetry and prose has sparked my heart for many years.
  2. Lisa See– her historical fiction is so good that I feel I’m wandering the back streets of post-WWII China or Chinatown in 1940’s Los Angeles.
  3. Barbara Kingsolver– I was hooked when I read The Bean Tree in 1988. Her character, Turtle, has stayed with me ever since.  
  4. Louise Erdrich-She is a master of evocative prose. 
  5. Maya Angelou– I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was required reading in one of my college classes. To be left alone on the tightrope of youthful unknowing is to experience the excruciating beauty of full freedom and the threat of eternal indecision.”  I still have my book!

Now it’s my turn to tag three writers. 

Please visit their blogs and see what they’re up to and willing to share when Writers Tell All. 

Adam Sorkin, Agatha Christie, Authors, Balzac, Encouragement, Jim Morrison, Maya Angelou, Sandra Cisneros, Truman Capote, Victor Hugo, Weird writer habits, Wisdom, Writing

Weird Writer’s and Other Artists

I think writer’s, poets, artists have built in weirdness-mostly good weirdness. That’s why I found Jacob Nordby‘s drawing and quote so inspirational. 

He says we’re blessed, we see the world through different eyes. His statement makes weirdness a good thing. It’s validating and something to embrace. 

I occasionally hear “You writers are weird.” This statement uttered by one of my own kids, usually after he’s ignored the hotel DO NOT DISTURB sign that must turn invisible when I close my door. When he interrupts me for the second time while I’m typing away, I usually shoot him the ‘don’t mess with mom’ look, roll my eyes, or yell “What?!” with a huffy puff, or all three, and yell “Can I just have one hour?!” to which he repeats, “You writers are weird.” 

I write in my PJ’s, with my breakfast of coffee and peanut butter toast at the side of my laptop, in my bedroom. When I see/hear/feel something interesting I jot it down on my Note app on my iPhone. Much of the time I live in my head. That’s the ‘right’ side of weird. 

What about the left of weird? 

Truman Capote. “I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis. No, I don’t use a typewriter. Not in the beginning. I write my first version in longhand (pencil). Then I do a complete revision, also in longhand.

Truman Capote

Aaron Sorkin, man behind the West Wing and Social Network has a habit of acting out his confrontational dialogue while gazing at his own reflection. In 2010, he worked himself into such a frenzy that he head-butted a mirror. “I wish I could say I was in a bar fight,” confessed Sorkin, “but I broke my nose writing.”

The center of weird:

Maya Angelou, author of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, rises at 5am and checks into a hotel, where staff are instructed to remove all stimuli from the walls of her room. She takes legal pads, a bottle of sherry, playing cards, a Bible and Roget’s Thesaurus, writing 12 pages before leaving in the afternoon and editing the pages that evening. (Someday, but with a nice Cabernet and bar of dark chocolate). 

Sandra Cisneros, in a presentation “Writing in My Pajamas,” she says she is usually in her monkey pajamas, with  unbrushed hair, writing. “…I am wearing my pajamas and write something in the language I’d use if I was sitting at a dirty kitchen table talking to one person…that’s my first draft…that allows me to sound like me…that’s my truest voice.” This photo is part of the Smithsonian Photo Exhibit-“Our Journeys/Our Stories: Portraits of Latino Achievement,” hence the conservative pajamas. 

The far left of weird: 

Hemingway said he wrote 500 words a day, mostly in the mornings, to avoid the heat. In the afternoons he got drunk. Though a prolific writer, he also knew when to stop. In a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934, he wrote, “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.

Coffee was Honoré de Balzac’s poison. But we’re not talking about an espresso. He would drink vast quantities of black coffee, ensuring that he could write through the day and into the night, once clocking in 48 hours straight.

French novelist Victor Hugo wrote both Les Misérables and The Hunchback Of Notre-Dame in the altogether. Being nude meant he wouldn’t be able to leave his house. As a safety measure, he’d also instruct his valet to hide his clothes.

More nudists: French poet and author Edmond Rostand who is best known for his play Cyrano de Bergerac, was so sick of being interrupted by his friends that he took up working naked in his bathtub. Benjamin Franklin and Agatha Christie liked the bathtub idea too. 

Now that you have great examples of great writers being ‘weird,’ think on this:

Where’s your will to be weird?-Jim Morrison

 And do fill in the blanks:

 I write in _______________with ____________?

A Woman Should poem, Chingona, Chingonas, Faith, Maya Angelou, Pamela Satran, poetry, Strong Women, Wisdom

‘A Woman Should Have’ and Maya Angelou

Sometimes you land on the best things when you least expect it. It was ‘clean out the email folders’ today and I found this “A Women Should” poem in my folder marked “Inspirational.” Seems I forgot that I had such a folder, since the last entry was in 2009. There had to be inspirational quotes and other stuff I’ve discovered since 2009. That’s not the point though. 

Before I posted this poem, allegedly by Maya Angelou, I did a search so I could ascertain what year it was written. Funny thing happened on the way to Maya Angelou. This poem wasn’t written by her, it was written as a magazine article by Pamela R. Satran, a writer of several novels, in 1997. The original name was “30 Things Every Woman Should Know or Have by the Time she’s Thirty.” Soon this became a hot email chain poem and somehow became attributed to Maya Angelou. I can kind of see (and hear) her wise and warm voice telling us all what a woman should have, so I can see how this was attributed to Ms. Angelou. 


enough money within her control to move out
and rent a place of her own, even if she never wants to or needs to…
something perfect to wear if the employer, or date of her dreams wants to see her in an hour…
a youth she’s content to leave behind….
a past juicy enough that she’s looking forward to
retelling it in her old age….
a set of screwdrivers, a cordless drill, and a black lace bra…
one friend who always makes her laugh… and one who lets her cry…
a good piece of furniture not previously owned by anyone else in her family…
eight matching plates, wine glasses with stems, and a recipe for a meal, that will make her guests feel honored…
a feeling of control over her destiny.
how to fall in love without losing herself.
how to quit a job, break up with a lover, and confront a friend without; ruining the friendship…
when to try harder… and WHEN TO WALK AWAY…
that she can’t change the length of her calves,
the width of her hips, or the nature of her parents..
that her childhood may not have been perfect…but its over…
what she would and wouldn’t do for love or more…
how to live alone… even if she doesn’t like it…
whom she can trust,
whom she can’t,
and why she shouldn’t take it personally…
where to go…
be it to her best friend’s kitchen table…
or a charming inn in the woods…
when her soul needs soothing…
what she can and can’t accomplish in a day…
a month…and a year…

I totally understand why this email went viral (can email be viral or just video’s?) and I love that the title was changed. I don’t think it was done with malice, but because it is applicable to women over thirty. Listen if I found this when I was thirty I may have paid more attention and had less angst.  It wasn’t until I was deep in my forties that I could say I completed the items listed in this poem, even the cordless drill.