Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-viii

“Latino Poetry: Pivotal Voices, Era of Transition” is a lecture delivered at the Library of Congress on April 10, 2014, on the occasion of National Poetry Month, sponsored by Letras Latinas, the literary initiative at the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. With thanks to Francisco Aragón. “Alurista: Toward a Chicano Poetics” includes the preface written for Alurista’s volume of poetry, which I also edited, Xicano Duende: A Select Anthology (Tempe, AZ: Bilingual Press, 2011). With...

Contents

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pp. ix-x

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Critical Essays

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pp. 1-2

I have always contended that the most important work being done today is in the field of ethnic letters. I’d like to add that within that field, the most critical pressure point pulses from the queer body of color—its representation and its cultural production. And this speaks to the necessity of scholarly conversations like the ones I am initiating in these essays, which give context, language, and energy to the study and appreciation of the difficult but beautiful journeys of some of the most exciting writers...

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Latino Poetry: Pivotal Voices, Era of Transition

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pp. 3-16

The recent deaths of some of our legendary Latino citizen-writers gives fresh perspective to the remarks I’m about to make because it reaffirms the need to continue our community’s artistic production and to contribute to the literary legacy of those who, long before many of us even knew how to read, placed expression on the page in order to inspire, motivate, and educate the audience of their time and the audience yet to come. The loss of those writers who precede us underscores the...

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Alurista: Toward a Chicano Poetics

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pp. 17-29

How I dislike that word Latino. And yet I seem to be on a one-man campaign to abolish it. It’s a failed enterprise because I too have to use it as a collective, all-encompassing, all-inclusive noun. It’s a term of convenience, and there is no better word to use (at the moment) when I’m referring to a community whose ancestors have roots in one of the many colonized countries in Latin America. If your people come from the Dominican Republic, you’re Latino. Mexico? Latino. Brazil? Latino. And so...

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The Twenty-First-Century Queer Chicano Poetics of Eduardo C. Corral

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pp. 30-42

Shortly after the announcement was made public in early 2011 that Eduardo C. Corral’s manuscript Slow Lightning had been selected by contest judge Carl Phillips to become volume 106 in the Yale Series of Younger Poets, I pitched the story to Poets & Writers magazine. After all, Corral was the first Latino to be selected for that series, stepping through a door that had been mostly shut to poets of color. Before Corral, the series had included only two Chinese American poets, Cathy Song (vol. 78)...

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The Double Doors into J. Michael Martinez’s Heredities

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pp. 43-52

In genetics, heredity is “the passing of traits from parents or ancestors to offspring.” This is a biological process “by which an offspring cell or organism acquires or becomes predisposed to the characteristics of its parent cell or organism.” This scientific term seems like the most unpoetic word to title a book of poetry, especially when there are less abstract words available, like bloodlines. But take a few steps back from the concept, the clinical language, and suddenly that word—heredities—bears music, a sound that smatters of something mythological, someone Greek. The...

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Hayden’s Mexico

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pp. 53-58

Robert Earl Hayden was born Asa Bundy Sheffey. He was raised, though never adopted legally, by the next-door neighbors who renamed him. Although he carried that name for decades, it wasn’t until he applied for a passport in 1953 that he discovered there was no official birth certificate on record reflecting his new name. People were contacted, affidavits were signed, and identities were confirmed before the passport was issued, before Hayden could travel to Mexico on the Ford Foundation grant he had been awarded....

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The Blatino Poetics of Aracelis Girmay

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pp. 59-72

The biographical paragraph in Aracelis Girmay’s books of poetry Teeth (Curbstone Press, 2007)—which will be the focus of this study—and Kingdom Animalia (Boa Editions, 2011) states quite explicitly “her heritage combines Eritrean, Puerto Rican, and African American traditions.” As a declaration of ethnicity, she all but includes the word “proudly,” as in “her heritage proudly combines,”—but she doesn’t need to. That’s one of the functions of the bio, to announce one’s professional achievements,...

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insert [gay black] boy

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pp. 73-82

The response by African American poets to an alarming increase in cases across the country of racial profiling, police brutality, self-appointed vigilantism, and other prejudicial acts that have resulted in the deaths of young black men was particularly compelling in 2014, a year that closed with the birth of two important movements that dovetailed on social media: #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackPoetsSpeakOut. One of the most visible books of poetry that examined society’s fears and anxieties about black...

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Queer Immigrant World, Queer Immigrant Word

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pp. 83-94

At the time of this writing, all I have in my hands are the manuscript versions of two books slated for publication in 2016. The first is by the Indo-Caribbean poet Rajiv Mohabir, whose first book, The Taxidermist’s Cut, won the 2014 Four Way Books Intro Prize in Poetry, judged by Brenda Shaughnessy. Mohabir was born in 1981 in London to Indo-Guyanese parents who, eighteen months after his birth, migrated to the United States. Two places the family called home, and which made an indelible...

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Mexica Warrior: The Amerindian Vision of Natalie Diaz

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pp. 95-104

Since Sherman Alexie, of Spokane/Coeur d’Alene ancestry, no other Native American poet has been as popular as Natalie Diaz. Since Sherwin Bitsui, of Diné (Navajo) ancestry, no other Native American poet has been as critically acclaimed. And no other female Native American poet has skyrocketed into the spotlight as swiftly as Natalie Diaz, of Mojave and Spanish ancestry. The publication of When My Brother Was an Aztec by Copper Canyon Press in 2012 launched one of the most impressive writing...

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Critical Reviews

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pp. 105-106

I’d like to clarify that I’m more of a reader and book critic than a scholar and many of the pieces in this book are close readings that open up a few doors into the worlds of the poets I admire. There is so little criticism of poetry, particularly criticism of books by poets of color, that I couldn’t resist the plunge into this field that I did not study formally, but which is a conversation that I have learned to articulate after many years as a book reviewer, reader, and evaluator on numerous award panels and...

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Publishers on a Mission: Three Excellent Debut Poets

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pp. 107-117

The poetry contest continues to be one of the few opportunities for early-career poets to publish their first books. This avenue doesn’t come without serious challenges to young writers, like the suspicion that such contests are money-making schemes, or, even more egregious, fixed. Plus there’s the issue of the cost of contest fees, which can become an unwelcome expense to young writers. There have also been some disappointing developments, like when the contest judge deems no manuscript...

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Powerful Debuts by Three African American Poets

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pp. 118-125

By now it’s an industry certainty that Cave Canem, the nation’s leading literary organization whose primary mission is to nurture emerging African American poets, will have a number of its fellows publish books of poetry within the same year. This speaks to the seventeen-year-old organization’s long-standing ability to identify and mentor promising writers, and their eventual successes only add to Cave Canem’s renown....

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On Karankawa and The Animal Too Big to Kill

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pp. 126-133

Employing the Texas landscape as a metaphor for her speaker’s troubled psyche helps Iliana Rocha give shape to personal history in her exceptional debut Karankawa, winner of the 2014 Donald Hall Prize for Poetry. Karankawa takes its title from the Native American culture buried under the “concrete musculature” of Lake Jackson, the setting for this emotional journey in which a young woman mourns her mother’s death and absence as she navigates the distressing terrain of womanhood....

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Midcareer: Three Poets and Their Four Books

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pp. 134-147

In the literary profession, the designation “midcareer” is open to interpretation. It’s not necessarily measured by a writer’s age but by a writer’s publications and/or the span of a writer’s participation in the field—at least one to two decades of professional life. For poets, the third book usually covers that territory, though for the more prolific one, it’s the fourth that signals entry into what is known vaguely as “midcareer.” The expectation is that four published poetry books provide enough material to...

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Twelve Essential Latino Poetry Books

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pp. 148-169

In the poem “Pobres poetas / Poor Poets” Francisco X. Alarcón describes bards as romantic, sensitive, and even heavenly possessors of a wisdom whose magnitude and power not even they can measure. The final stanza closes the poem with the expectation that

one day
they’ll finally use
that key they carry
forever in their pockets....

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Juan Felipe Herrera’s Global Voice and Vision

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pp. 170-182

When the Library of Congress made the official announcement on June 10, 2015, that Juan Felipe Herrera had been selected the next poet laureate of the United States, the first Latino to hold the honorary post of “consultant in poetry” since the first appointment in 1937, the news went viral on social media and was met with universal praise. Though the prolific and popular Herrera is by no means an obscure candidate—he is also currently a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and...

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Critical Grace Notes

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pp. 183-184

Because I became an advocate for marginalized writers and a mentor to many young artists, I have had to give plenty of pep talks and motivational speeches over the years. So besides the academic essays and book reviews, I’ve made a deliberate choice to include a keynote address, a commencement address, and an acceptance speech, as well as a few reflective essays about my work. This is the section in which I give myself permission to...

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The Activist Role of the Writer

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pp. 185-193

The queer Chicano writer Michael Nava said, “Invisibility is the precursor to persecution.” He made this statement in response to my question about his most recent novel, The City of Palaces (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014), in which he essentially queers the Mexican Revolution by including protagonists who are discovering or expressing their homosexuality while the nation is in the midst of war. “Why,” I asked, “is it important to locate our queer bodies within the historical narrative?” Nava...

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The Writer’s Journey: A Motivation

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pp. 194-200

Receiving a degree in creative writing is but a formality for those who don’t need a license to imagine, and I suspect that most readers coming into a creative writing program already know that because they have been practicing that skill most of their lives. Attending a creative writing program means they responded to the hunger to move among those who have unusual capacities for listening, thinking, and communicating—capacities that appear to be in short supply if one gazes too long at the...

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Poetry Brings out the Mexican in Me

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pp. 201-207

I identify as Chicano, a term that situates me, politically and geographically, within the borders of the United States. It’s a term I’ve learned to embrace since my days in college when I declared myself part of a community, a social movement, a legacy. The word gave me orientation when I needed it the most, when I realized I had moved out of my Mexican family’s home permanently. Chicano offered me a direction: it was forward thinking, it was progressive, and yet it often reached back to my Mexican roots because it valued memory, history, and story....

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Unpeopled Edens

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pp. 208-215

With each of my books I have become more interested in absence and silence, the painful evidence of loss. Unpeopled Eden explored this world through its ghosts. But I’d argue that their stories and therefore their lives continue to inhabit the spaces their bodies once occupied. I subscribe to the notion that land carries memory, so people are never truly gone, not with so many prints and impressions left behind. Our actions, positive and negative, become absorbed by the land. This is how we...

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Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement Speech

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pp. 216-219

In the spirit of gratitude and generosity, I want to share with you something I have never before written about, something that will help contextualized why I do the many things I do, why I became the person I am.
I lost both my parents by the age of fourteen, so I was taken in by my grandmother, a Purépecha from Nahuatzen, Michoacán, who knew how to write only two words. Her name: María...

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Erotic Light, Amor Oscuro: On the Queer Poetics of Francisco X. Alarcón and His Muse, Federico García Lorca

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pp. 220-235

In 1992, while I was a graduate student at the University of California–Davis, I crossed paths with a recent faculty hire in the Spanish department. I was enrolled in the MA program in English, but both departments were housed in the same building. I sought him out after a friend casually noted as he walked past us, “That’s the poet Francisco X. Alarcón. He’s from the Bay Area. He’s Chicano. He’s gay.” Eventually I concluded that this language building was the perfect metaphor for the work of...