Latinx Poetics: Essays on the Art of Poetry
Part of the Afterimages NaPoMo series
The essays in Latinx Poetics: Essays on the Art of Poetry remind me of Monarch Butterflies, oscillating between north and south, bold and beautiful, defining their own territory while transcending lines on the map; in the words of Chilean-American poet Marjorie Agosin (not a contributor here), they are:
“pequeñas ciudadanas del aire, / universalmente hermosas.”
This anthology made me pay attention to every page, expanding and challenging my understanding of what American poetry is and purports to do. Editor Ruben Quesada, and the other 23 contributors, offer wide-ranging insights and good provocations, highlighting the specifics of the varied Latinx experience while connecting those experiences to universal themes – Latinx Poetics: Essays on the Art of Poetry is a significant contribution to debates about American poetics, identity, boundaries, and history. It builds on, among others: the commentary in The Acentos Review (co-founded and edited by Raina J. León, a contributor here); Urayoán Noel's In Visible Movement: Nuyorican Poetry from the Sixties to Slam; Imaniman: Poets Writing in the Anzaldúan Borderlands (co-edited by ire'ne lara silva, a contributor here); The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry (edited by Francisco Aragón, a contributor here); and Angels of the Americlypse: An Anthology of New Latin@ Writing (edited by Carmen Giménez Smith and John Chávez).
Latinx Poetics: Essays on the Art of Poetry is nuanced and exploratory, asking questions rather than insisting on any one response. Rafael Campo's query in his essay here is representative: “Where does one begin to define the territory of any attempt to speak of a Latino aesthetic?” The essays are refreshingly undogmatic, entertaining doubt, self-critique, and personal details that bring their arguments and uncertainties to life. The contributors make it clear that Latinx poetics is polyvalent and resists easy classification (its mutability is a source of its strength). As Quesada says at the outset: “There is no singular voice or common theme among the culture or poetry beyond a connection to the Spanish language.” Yet, far from being random or shapeless, Latinx poetics shares several concerns most prominently. Quesada again: “The ambivalence of identity and displacement of home is a defining characteristic of the Latinx collective.” Latinx Poetics: Essays on the Art of Poetry excels in its varied discussions of identity. The anthology includes poets with connections to Puerto Rico, Cuba, Ecuador, Peru, Nicaragua, Mexico, and hailing from many places across the U.S.A. Noteworthy is its inclusion of Portuguese American poets Millicent Borges Accardi and Carlo Matos. Many of the contributors foreground the intersectional nature of their identity, discussing how this shapes and further defines what it means to be Latinx (especially powerful in this regard are Sean Frederick Forbes' “An Afro-Latino's Poetic and Creative Hungers,” Valerie Martínez's “Peopleness: Ethnicity and the Latinx Poem,” and León's “Duende the Poem, or Poetics at the Intersection of Realities and Identities”). As Andres Rojas says in his essay here: “Welcome to Latino/a poetics, the poetics of identity set free from its own self-policing and unable to resist challenging any such policing from within or without.”
Diversity of approach also drives the aesthetic choices made by the essayists, once again highlighting the inventive, multifaceted nature of Latinx poetry. One of the most striking essays focuses on the combination of word and image, “Poetry in Concert with the Visual Arts: Latinx Ekphrasis and Other Inter-arts Fusions” by Brenda Cárdenas (which includes references to pre-Columbian Aztec art, and to later poetry in Nahuatl). Other contributors delve into the writers who most influenced them, and into the nature of influence itself. For instance, Adela Najarro's “How I Came to Identify as a Latina Writer” chronicles how she went from the biographies of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Daniel Boone she read as a child to the poetry of Blake, Keats, Wordsworth, Vallejo, and Darío, and how the work of Eliot, Bloom, and Anzaldúa each helped her define where she stood: “The Latina poet stands on a figurative borderland and juggles U.S. Anglo culture with the culture of whichever Latin American nation she claims as the homeland.” Many of the contributors demonstrate the central importance of Latinx poetry to American, indeed global, poetry as a whole with subtle readings and refractions of other poems. Aragón's reading of his poem “Bridge Over Strawberry Creek” in light of Dunstan Thompson's work and of Dana Gioia writing about Thompson, is one quietly spectacular example. Others are Laurie Ann Guerrero's “Stealing The Crown,” a meditation on her grandfather with references to the work of Rich, Jong, Cixous, and Didion, and Orlando Ricardo Menes' “Testarudo: An Essay on My Poetic Vocation,” a romp connecting – to name only a few! – Rilke, Lorca, Stevens, Hughes, Rimbaud, Carpentier, Walcott, Brathwaite, Ortiz, Cabrera, and Anania.
Latinx Poetics: Essays on the Art of Poetry's only shortcoming is that it is too short – I want more. Of course, its relative brevity is a feature, not a bug; it is not intended to be encyclopedic or definitive. I would have valued more Latinx slam and breakbeat poets (I missed Elizabeth Acevedo in this collection, to name just one). The anthology would have been even stronger with more discussion about other forms of intersectionality, for instance, Latinx-Filipinx (thinking of poets such as J.C. Rodriguez). More generally, little is said in Latinx Poetics: Essays on the Art of Poetry about similarities and differences between Latinx experiences and those of other American groups. In this regard, a fruitful comparison might be with the poetry and poetics of the Italian Diaspora, with Luigi Bonaffini & Joseph Perricone's monumental Poets of the Italian Diaspora: A Bilingual Anthology (2014) a useful foil. (Arguably the Mezzogiorno was to Spain what Ireland was to England, i.e., for centuries a nearby prototype for the colonialism they exported beyond Europe.) I also suggest that Latinx poetics is increasingly a driving force in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror (exemplified by the poetry of feí hernandez, Lori R. Lopez, Juan Manuel Pérez, and Katherine Quevedo), fields not covered in Latinx Poetics: Essays on the Art of Poetry.
Quesada, in a lively online launch to the volume, notes that he could have curated several more volumes, to meet the rising tide of and demand for Latinx poetry. I hope he gets that chance, and encourage the University of New Mexico Press to make Latinx Poetics: Essays on the Art of Poetry the first of a series. Juan Felipe Herrera, the first U.S. Poet Laureate of Latinx heritage, wrote the foreword to Latinx Poetics: Essays on the Art of Poetry. Perhaps Ada Limón, the first Latina to be Poet Laureate of the United States, might write the foreword to the second anthology in the series, and so on. Espero que sí!
Latinx Poetics: Essays on the Art of Poetry
Edited by Ruben Quesada
Foreword by Juan Felipe Herrera
Published by University of New Mexico Press
208 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
Paperback: 9780826364388 | November 2022 | $24.95
EPUB: 9780826364395 | November 2022 | $24.95
Daniel A. Rabuzzi (he / his) has had two novels, five short stories, 30 poems, and nearly 50 essays/articles published. He lived eight years in Norway, Germany, and France. He has degrees in the study of folklore & mythology and European history. He lives in New York City with his artistic partner & spouse, the woodcarver Deborah A. Mills (www.deborahmillswoodcarving.com), and the requisite cat. More info can be found on his website, www.danielarabuzzi.com