- I’m Still Standing: Treinta años de poesía / Thirty Years of Poetry by Luz Maria Umpierre-Herrera
In I’m Still Standing: Treinta años de poesía / Thirty Years of Poetry, Luz Maria Umpierre-Herrera offers her readers a bilingual compilation of her life’s work in poetry. Based on eight collections of poems written between the years 1979 and 2010, the collection also includes biographical essays that help place these poems into a context that is personal as well as political. Writing as a Latina Lesbian, as a feminist, and as a woman of color, Umpierre-Herrera shares a goal of “speaking truth to power” with poet Audre Lorde, whom she claims as one of her most influential poetic foremothers.
In her essay, “In Cycles,” which introduces The Margarita Poems, Umpierre-Herrera credits Lorde with giving her the courage to accept and not deny all of the parts of herself and of her creativity, even those “forbidden” parts that society might censure or try, otherwise, to punish the poet for publicly expressing. Like Lorde, she realizes that to eclipse or deny vital parts of the self “is a destructive and fragmenting way to live” (104). Both poets also believe in the importance of delving into the deepest and darkest places of the imagination that are both sexual and spiritual. For instance, in Umpierre-Herrera’s poem “Madre,” which she dedicates to Lorde, the speaker searches longingly and ecstatically for the archetypal Mother in other women that might be able to provide some of the missing nutriment for hunger, desire, and communion (both spiritual and sexual) that she seeks. Combining homoerotic and mythic imagery, the speaker describes her quest:
I staggered, searching for your essenceon lips that spread themselvesto my mouth.I sucked the flowers,licked the petals with the tip of my tongue,following muses of every color.I ascended the mountains of Venus,descended a thousand caverns, [End Page 177] and sank into grottos and cavesof flesh.(10–19)
These lines, and other homoerotic poems, especially from The Margarita Poems and Our Only Island, virtually embody Lorde’s theory, as expressed in “Poetry Is Not a Luxury,” that “Within these deep places, each one of us holds an incredible reserve of creativity and power, of unexamined and unrecorded emotion and feeling. The woman’s place of power within each of us is neither white nor surface; it is dark, it is ancient, and it is deep” (Lorde 223).
Many poems in I’m Still Standing also seem to follow the credo that for women poets especially, the empowering qualities “(pride, anger, self-centeredness, daring, the need to assert oneself not just emotionally but intellectually) … are not only fundamental to the creative process but are absolutely indispensable to the creation of a convincing poetic persona or lyric self” (Bennett 3). These words, which feminist critic Paula Bennett uses in My Life a Loaded Gun to describe the works of Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, and Adrienne Rich, could also readily be applied to Umpierre-Herrera’s polemical, confessional, and iconoclastic poems in this collection. One such poem, “No Hatchet Job,” is dedicated to Marge Piercy (another strong female poet) and includes a grave challenge, a veritable trumpet blast, to those in power that would like to see this female warrior poet “repeatedly raped on a billiard board / so that they can say in their minds: / ‘We have finally reduced this superior woman’”(21–23). The angry, defiant, and prideful tone of the wounded but unvanquished speaker extends to the emblazoned last lines,
But headstrong she is unleashed,Intractable she nourishes her mind,defiantly she lives on in unity,obstinately she refused the limelight, the pomp and the glory.Eternally she breathesone line after the next,unrestrained, unshieldedwillfullyWRITERWOMAN(37–46)
Along with the polemical poems, some of the most politically controversial poems in this collection are blisteringly satiric. In “The Caretaker,” for instance, a psychotherapist and former flower...