Ten Latinx Poets on #NationalPoetryDay

I want to do what spring does to cherry trees-Pablo Neruda

Yesterday was the first day of Spring and the first day I caught a breath. A weeklong cough and a road trip of 1100 miles will do that to you.

Today is National Poetry Day. BookRiot published a list of “25 Gateway Poets to Start Reading for World Poetry Day.”

This had me thinking about the first time I became interested in reading poetry. It wasn’t any of the poets in my English Lit classes in high school.

In college, I bought, and read, my first book of poetry:

1-Floricanto by Alurista. His words caught me up in poetry, the poems reflected my childhood, my experiences. My favorite: “We Walk On Pebbled Streets.”  I still have the old book, weathered and marked up in the margins with images that resonated, made me think, ask questions.


Poetry book by Alurista
Floricanto by Alurista

The following are Latinx poets I’ve read.

2- Sandra Cisneros: My Wicked, Wicked Ways and Loose Woman. Every woman finds themselves in her poetry. My favorite, a three-page poem:

You bring out the Mexican in me

The hunkered thick dark spiral

The core of a heart howl

The bitter bile.

The tequila lágrimas on Saturday all

through next weekend Sunday.

3. Margarita Engle writes novels in verse, many of the novels are for Middle Grade and Young Adult readers. The Lightning Dreamer : Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist and Poet Slave of Cuba are favorites.

4. Frank Acosta publishes poetry on Facebook. Here’s a post about his poetry.

5. Juan Felipe Herrera, the first Latino Poet Laureate and awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for his collection of poems “Half of the World in Light.”

6-Gloria Anzaldúa, a NEA award winner and co-author with writer/playwright Cherríe Moraga of Borderlands.

To live in the Borderlands means to

put chile in the borscht,

eat whole wheat tortillas,

speak Tex-Mex with a Brooklyn accent;

be stopped by la migra at the border checkpoints;

Living in the Borderlands means you fight hard to

resist the gold elixir beckoning from the bottle,

the pull of the gun barrel,

the rope crushing the hollow of your throat

7. Jimmy Santiago Baca‘s poetry is gut-wrenching and intense. He’s written several books of poetry besides a screenplay, Bound by Honor.

8. Verónica Reyes, Chopper Chopper centers on poems from “Bordered Lives.”

Poems by Veronica Reyes

9. Melinda Palacio. I first read “Folsom Lockdown” her chapbook, and went on to  “How Fire is a Story Waiting.” My favorite is “Things to Carry,” her poem about visiting her father in prison.

10. Ada Límon. “Sharks in the River.” She made a blog entry that described a feeling I also had:

I feel like everything these days is just notes. No completed thing, just notes. But I am taking them and walking with them and move them around in my body and flying them like kites and listening to them rustle and maybe someday I will make something.

Now go read some poetry, an old favorite and someone new.

Books, Latino culture, poetry, poets, Writing

Singing At The Gates: Selected Poems

Singing At The Gates: Selected Poems
Singing At The Gates: Selected Poems

Jimmy Santiago Baca, an award-winning writer and poet (National Endowment of Poetry Award) does it again. Singing At The Gates is a collection of new and previously published poems that reflect back over four decades of Baca’s life.

This selection of poems includes his early work as a budding poet, written while he was 18 years old and serving a five-year prison sentence, poems drawn from his first chapbook and recent pieces on family, nature and the environment.

“What an achingly beautiful collection this is. So split open, so raw, honest, vulnerable, real. Spanning Baca’s life in poetry, you feel the enormity of his heart and intelligence.” —Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones and The True Secret of Writing

When I read poetry, it’s usually two or three poems at a time. I’m partial to shorter narrative poems that are rich with description and weighty with a single word. My favorite poets are mainly women but sometimes I’m drawn to a poem by a male poet such as Jimmy Santiago Baca.

Baca’s voice captured me at his introduction and I didn’t want to stop reading until I was exhausted.

“I love the growl of poetry, the staggering crash of idols and the burning of literary pacifiers…writing was for me, everyday-me snatching memories and writing them down before the fire of forgetfulness and trauma relegated them to the dark chambers of amnesia…I take only what I can carry and what is most meaningful to me-and that is the narrative, the story, the poem.”

The rawness and vulnerability that Baca writes about in the first half of the collection is so heavy, at times, that my emotional exhaustion came after five or six poems. Many of the poems are viscerally descriptive:

“I wear the moon like yanked out roots

glowing orange

in my heart’s fang as I search for secrets

in my life”

Approximately halfway in the collection we come to poems of awakening, growth, family and celebration.

“The reason I wake this morning

is because those people who’ve lived

through tragedies and loneliness and

anxiety found in their shattered-pottery

hearts fragments that fit perfectly

into the puzzle of night stars,

into the joyous cry

of a child at dawn

dashing out on the playground,

into the hands of men like me

who rise and dress and walk

out the door, culling from winter night

residues of summer

to dream a bit more

of the growing season.”

The last third of the collection is from 1998 to present. In Baca’s poem “It Makes Sense To Me Know,” he writes about his time as a volunteer teacher of reading and writing. He asks the children to write a letter poem about their journey to America and describes a shy little girl asking him to sit on the floor next to her as she stood on a small stage in a bookstore.

“When she uttered that first word/a glint of light sparked across her brown eyes into the world, as if it were/golden/speech without sound. I sat amazed/at the light in her eyes, igniting a memory/in/me–when/I too recited my first poem. The intensity/and/radiance of/a child reaffirmed my original reason for/writing, one I had forgotten along the way./Suddenly/I knew, keeping the light intact,/not teaching writing, not to mold or direct,/just to keep it burning, blowing on the /embers so hope doesn’t go out…”

I cannot name one favorite poem but I have a top ten list of Baca’s poems because there are so many touching, gripping, slap you upside the head words of poetry in this 254 page collection (for Kindle).

Singing at the Gates debuts in January 2014 but is available for pre-order through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other bookstores. I read the collection as a participant of NetGalley.