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Pablo Miguel Martinez in Conversation with Dan Vera at Letras Latinas

By Harriet Staff


A great conversation between Pablo Miguel Martinez, first-book author and co-founder of the national Latino poetry collective, CantoMundo, and Dan Vera is up at the Letras Latinas Blog. Vera talks to Martinez about his debut volume, Brazos, Carry Me; and much else. An excerpt:

…You manage to seamlessly weave in Pre-Columbian imagery in a number of your poems, like “A Full Moon Rises Over Juárez,” where you address the massacre of maquiladora workers that’s been committed along the [U.S.-Mexico] border with the story of Coyolxauhqui, Coatlicue and Huitzilopochtli. For lack of better terms, what do you think is the relationship between the older and newer gods in your work, the Azteca and the Christian?

This braiding together of different cosmologies is something poets have been doing for millennia. It’s what I do in some poems: selfishly, through the drafting of a poem, I am trying to figure something out for myself. And because of my strict, Mexican Catholic upbringing, I often find myself returning to that tradition, but in ways that are more open, less restrictive. In the poem you reference, I was trying to explain (to myself, mostly!) how work, as in the maquiladoras along the U.S.-Mexico border, has become a sort of cruel, omnivorous god. Young Mexican women leave their rural homes and head north to better themselves economically. But the reality, as we know, is something far less bright—more sinister, in fact—than those young women might imagine. The north’s hunger for cheap, dexterous labor, and the goods it produces, has literally killed off many — too many — of these young women. And yet we wince at the thought of human sacrifice as practiced by the Aztecs. Such hypocrisy. So I was trying to figure out ways in which history and personal narrative might be intertwined in ways that make for interesting, thoughtful poems. I was especially drawn to your poem “Commemorations of Forgotten History,” a deeply touching, poignant poem. I’m not of Cuban descent, but it speaks directly to me. (Universality through particularity — I love it.) It’s a wonderful example of the musicality of your poems. (That second stanza is gorgeous.) Many of us who were born into families on the margins (racially, linguistically, ethnically, socioeconomically) pay tribute to our overlooked, obliterated histories in our work, as you do so emphatically in this and other poems in your book. This reminds me of ways in which our internalized racism and self-loathing are sometimes responsible for that obliteration: A few years ago I attended a conference where a young Chicana poet participated on a panel; she began her presentation with a [somewhat?] tongue-in-cheek imperative, “Don’t ask me to write another abuela poem.”

I’ve run across the anti-abuela commentary. First of all, I don’t know anyone who goes around telling people to write abuela poems. But I take those comments as a defensive posture against a perceived trope in Chicano/Latino poetics. Why would abuelas, who for many of us represent the primary contact to antepasados, be off the table? Ultimately the important question should be, as it is for all of our work, is it a good poem? Does it speak a truth? Have I done a service to the subject? If you can live with a poem, then abuelas shouldn’t be forbidden from showing up in our work. I have to say I find it a bit troubling too. I mean what is it about our abuelas that sets some people off? It may be a response to a lot of bad abuelo poems, but that’s an issue of quality not subject matter. It’s reminiscent of the hit against “love poems.” There are some who say no to love poems or political poems. And I find it ridiculous. Write about anything and everything. Then look at it and edit it and see if there’s something there. Ultimately poets are about breaking rules, not setting them down and I don’t think a poet should be in the business of circumscribing their own subject matter.

Well, I understand the point she was making—we should not narrow ourselves and/or play into heavy expectations. But I vividly recall leaving that event feeling defensive. I suppose part of that is due to my occupying that in-between historical space: I was born too late to be part of the Civil Rights/Chicano movements, but before notions of post-identity began to take hold.

Read it all here.

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Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, August 1st, 2013 by Harriet Staff.