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Reviewed by:
  • Poems from the Río Grande by Rudolfo Anaya
  • Sandra Dahlberg
Rudolfo Anaya, Poems from the Río Grande. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 2015. 128pp. Paper, $16.95.

In Poems from the Río Grande, award-winning novelist Rudolfo Anaya explores the Nuevo Mexicano landscapes (human, natural, and spiritual) through the intercultural mythopoetics and mestizaje philosophy that are fundamental to his fiction. This is Anaya’s first poetry collection, yet its twenty-eight poems exemplify his distinctive wit, artistry, and intertextuality.

In “A Child’s Christmas in New Mexico,” the volume’s first poem, Anaya examines the miraculous intersection of artistic revelation, [End Page 121] the richness of rural life, and Christmas rituals that fostered the “clarity I felt that Christmas Day” he became aware of himself as a poet, a storyteller (10). Anaya’s poem pays homage to generations of Nuevo Mexicanos whose “survival was engraved in the sound of / their voices” and caringly portrays their perseverance amid the upheavals of post–World War II New Mexico:

Long after I am a grown man, I will come to the knowledge that not every shepherd arrives at the manger, that the path was difficult for our fathers, and the chalice they raised contained not the blood of Jesús Cristo but their blood, blood of vaqueros who once ruled the llano like conquistadores. Now they walk the earth like broken men and work for wages. The bread they eat is not the eucharist, but the daily bread, tortillas made from hard-won fifty-pound sacks of flour put away for long winter days, leavened with the yeast of a wife’s love.


Anaya’s childhood Christmas is alive with family, neighbors, and literary progeny like his father’s friend Narciso who “will die years later, in a story told by me” in his critically acclaimed Bless Me, Ultima (8).

In “Cornerstones,” Anaya chronicles sedimentary layers of rituals that connect the peoples who formed petroglyphs and built Mesa Verde with the makers of “thousands of adobes placed by / brown hands,” a human landscape now “crumbling under the weight of our troublesome needs” (13). The tone of “Cornerstones” is hopeful, with Anaya suggesting communal collaboration as a means to stem ecodestruction. Elsewhere in the collection, he derides the contamination caused by manmade pollutants, “trash of the river / Oil, sewage, arsenic, and plutonium atoms,” an eco-ethic that undergirds many of Anaya’s fictional works such as Rio Grande Fall and “Devil Deer” (93). “Song to the Río Grande” is a joyful ode to the river as “the soul / of our New Mexico” (12). Anaya’s poems portray a spirit-filled New Mexican landscape that represents the promise of universal collectivity even as they acknowledge the ugly scars of racism, poverty, and atomic radioactivity. [End Page 122]

As storyteller, Anaya interweaves contemporary narratives with mythic encounters, as in “Isis in the Heart: A Love Poem for Patricia,” where, as narrative trickster, he reconceives the Egyptian myth of Isis and Osiris as an ode to the feminine divine that is personal yet intrinsic to New Mexican culture. The collection’s last poem, “Sailing to Barcelona,” is an intertextual journey retracing the collisions between the Old World and the Americas “into my ancient history” to “make peace with my ancestors” through a reclamation of historical and poetic traditions (98, 99). As “a Mexican Odysseus returning home,” Anaya opens by invoking W. B. Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium” in tandem with the legacy of Quetzalcóatl to explore the remnant consequences of a long-ago conquest (100). He posits a New World consciousness predicated on Mexican philosopher José Vasconcelos’s vision of “La Raza Cósmica” and Dylan Thomas’s “rage against the dying of the light,” fluidly navigating the influences philosophy, violence, art, and human persistence had on the Chicano poetic tradition.

The collection also contains previously published but out-of-print poems that are essential to the study of Chicana/o literature, such as “Walt Whitman Strides the Llano of New Mexico,” Anaya’s expressive call to a collective consciousness, and his poignant “Elegy on the Death of César Chávez.” A third is his wonderfully raucous mock...


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pp. 121-123
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