This April, celebrate National Poetry Month by introducing a child to the many forms of poetry, convincing reluctant teen readers to try a poem each day or by starting a stimulating discussion among friends through poetry that blends the aesthetic and the political. Poetry is for everyone!
Invoking Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos’ famous poem about the Loiza River, this lyrical text is combined with Oscar Ortiz’s breathtaking illustrations of the natural world and the animals that inhabit it. An inspiring picture book for children ages 5 to 9, it demonstrates the power of the written word as Juliana learns that poetry can change the world.
Juliana is too sick to go to school one cold, winter day. So she stays at home in bed and looks out her bedroom window. She watches as a tall lady in a red coat and hat carries her boxes of books and papers upstairs. Her mother has heard that the mysterious woman is a poet writing a book. Juliana loves books and can’t wait to meet the poet upstairs. The next day, she receives an invitation from the poet to come upstairs. As they make pictures with words, the walls of the cold apartment become a beautiful vista of mountains, palm trees, birds and flowers. That special day, poetry takes Juliana from her cold and ordinary apartment to a sparkling island habitat.
Estas manos: Manitas de mi familia / These Hands: My Family’s Hands by Samuel Caraballo, illustrated by Shawn Costello
Released in late 2014, Estas Manos / These Hands uses lyric poetry to introduce children to basic naturalistic metaphors and the idea that one thing can represent another. The narrator’s father’s hands are strong like the mahogany tree; her siblings’ friendly like the blooming oak tree. Grandma Inés’ are the happiest hands, like tulips that tickle and hug tightly. And Grandpa Juan’s are the wisest, like the ceiba tree, considered by many indigenous peoples of Latin America to be the tree of life and wisdom and the center of the universe. His are the hands that teach his granddaughter how to plant and care for the earth and how to play the conga drum. Samuel Caraballo’s poetic text is combined with Shawn Costello’s striking illustrations depicting loving relationships between family members.
The Desert Is My Mother / El desierto es mi madre by Pat Mora, illustrated by Daniel Lechón
A beautiful poetic and artistic rendition of the relationship between nature and Hispanics and Native American peoples. Rather than being an expanse empty of life and value, the desert is lovingly presented as the provider of comfort, food, spirit and life. The first picture book published by Piñata Books, this text introduces the partnership of an award-winning poet and a prize-winning painter.
For Young Adults:
American Copia: An Immigrant Epic by Javier O. Huerta
In this innovative work that uses grocery stores as a guiding motif, Huerta deftly combines English and Spanish to explore his identity as an immigrant, naturalized citizen, son, brother, lover, graduate student.
Through poetry written in Spanish, a short play, non-fiction passages and even text messages, Huerta delves into subjects such as consumerism and health foods available only to a limited class of people. The diverse pieces and themes in American Copia pulsate with all that can be both communal and autonomous in everyday life. Though Huerta touches on serious subjects, many of these short vignettes are quirky and humorous. His is an original, evocative voice that articulates the immigrant perspective to create a thought-provoking look at the land of plenty. This is a must-read for anyone interested in experimental or Mexican-American literature.
Cultural traditions permeate these verses, from the curanderas who cure every affliction to the daily ritual of the afternoon merienda, or snack of sweet breads and hot chocolate. The community’s Catholic tradition is ever-present; holy days, customs and saints are staples of daily life. Fond childhood memories of climbing mesquite trees and eating raspas are juxtaposed with an awareness of the disdain with which Mexican Americans are regarded. Texas museums, just like its textbooks, feature cowboy boots worn by Texas Rangers, but have no “clue or sign of the vaqueros, the original cowboys / or the Tejas, the native Indians there.” Inspired by the archetypes found in the Mexican bingo game called lotería, these poems reflect the history—of family, culture and war—rooted in the Southwest for hundreds of years.
My Own True Name by Pat Mora
A major selection of new and previously published poems chosen by Pat Mora with young-adult readers in mind. Using the cactus plant as her guiding metaphor for our existence, she presents more than sixty poems grouped variously into “Blooms,” “Thorns,” and “Roots.” Each section opens with a graceful line drawing from artist Anthony Accardo, and the whole is prefaced by a whimsical and intimate introduction, “Dear Fellow Writer.”
My Own True Name, an anthology fifteen years in the making, is sure to be sought by deeply rooted and still-budding lovers of poetry.
Todos somos Whitman / We Are All Whitman by Luis Alberto Ambroggio
Luis Alberto Ambroggio was inspired to respond to Whitman’s work after translating a series of essays about Song of Myself. This collection of 53 poems in English and Spanish is the result. Sometimes he includes a line from the master in his own piece, other times an epigraph introduces the verse. Either way, Whitman’s influence is notable. Many of Ambroggio’s poems—like Whitman’s—deal with physical pleasure. A native of Argentina, the poet views Whitman’s work through his Latin American lens, noting that Whitman’s “multitudes” include those who will not be denied, ignored or declared undocumented. Other poems consider nature and death.
Focusing on themes of identity, love and life, this collection will inspire readers to understand the universality in us all. Ultimately, we will all go to where we came from, “air, shadow, sun, dust.” Originally published in Spanish by Vaso Roto Ediciones, this edition includes the original Spanish text and a luminous English translation by Brett Alan Sanders.
Diaspora: Selected and New Poems by Frank Varela
In this collection of 55 poems, Varela writes about growing up Puerto Rican in Brooklyn, noting that there are two types of Puerto Ricans: “those born on the island, / others like me, / the children of exiles.” Pondering the universal sentiment of immigrant children, he notes that he was considered a spic in the United States and a gringo in the land of his parent’s birth. “All I wanted was the impossible: / To be the who I am in a land / unafraid of the me I have become.”
Like his grandfather who cleared ten acres in Cibuco, Puerto Rico, “to wrench subsistence from red clay,” Varela loves the land and what it provides. “The land is rich with decay and past seasons. / On my best days, I can reach into the soil / and marry my soul with the green world— / tarragon, escarole, lemon balm, sage.” Expressing love and appreciation for his Puerto Rican family and culture, Varela’s poems reflect on the universal joys and pains of everyday life. This collection contains a mix of previously published and new poems that offers a survey of the poet’s work from 1988 to the present.
En carne propia: Memoria poética / Flesh Wounds: A Poetic Memoir by Jorge Argueta
In this moving, bilingual collection, renowned poet Jorge Argueta reminisces about growing up in El Salvador, the impact of war on his family and neighbors, life as an exile in the United States and ultimately his rebirth as a poet. He became involved in the revolution as a teen, not realizing what was to come. Mothers lose sons, their bodies beat beyond recognition. Friends’ bodies are thrown into common graves. Husbands lose wives and wives lose husbands. Argueta’s words recall the horrific violence and atrocities committed, frequently against the poor and powerless.
The 48 poems in this collection—in Spanish and English—smolder with loss and longing. Argueta’s indigenous Pipil-Nahua roots ultimately contribute to his salvation after he flees his homeland. In San Francisco, he becomes part of the city’s exile community, yearning for home but knowing his friends and relatives are dead or gone. Eventually, he returns to writing and becomes a successful children’s book author. In spite of the pain and sorrow expressed in many of these poems, Argueta’s work is a powerful testament to love, hope and the strength of the human spirit.
Monsters, Zombies and Addicts: Poems by Gwendolyn Zepeda
This collection of 62 narrative poems contains witty observations about the rituals of contemporary life. In “Cocktail Hours,” Houston Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Zepeda wonders, “What if all my nights were Christmas lights on patios with tinkling drinks / and fun conversations.” And in “Recipe for Fun,” Zepeda offers a ten-point guide to soothing away life’s frustrations, including a suggestion to get some peace by giving “everyone in your house pizza, cat food or video games.”
Musings on family, remembrances of childhood games and encounters with strangers (and ants!) fill this clever, thought-provoking collection in which Zepeda dares to express her individuality. She doesn’t follow others blindly, or do what society expects of her. Readers will appreciate this second poetry collection, which is deeply personal yet universal in its hopes and fears.
¡Manteca! An Anthology of Afro-Latin@ Poets edited by Melissa Castillo-Garsow (April 30, 2017)
Containing the work of more than 40 poets—equally divided between men and women—who self-identify as Afro-Latino, ¡Manteca! is the first poetry anthology to highlight writings by Latinos of African descent. The themes covered are as diverse as the authors themselves. Many pieces rail against a system that institutionalizes poverty and racism. Others remember parents and grandparents who immigrated to the United States in search of a better life, only to learn that the American Dream is a nightmare for someone with dark skin and nappy hair. But in spite of the darkness, faith remains. Anthony Morales’ grandmother, like so many others, was “hardwired to hold on to hope.” There are love poems to family and lovers. And music—salsa, merengue, jazz—permeates this collection.
Editor and scholar Melissa Castillo-Garsow writes in her introduction that “the experiences and poetic expression of Afro-Latinidad were so diverse” that she could not begin to categorize it. Some write in English, others in Spanish. They are Puerto Rican, Dominican and almost every combination conceivable, including Afro-Mexican. Containing the work of well-known writers such as Miguel Piñero and E. Ethelbert Miller, less well-known ones are ready to be discovered in these pages.
Looking Out, Looking In: Anthology of Latino Poetry edited by William Luis
The poems included in this comprehensive anthology run the gamut of styles and themes, but all are by Latinos writing from the mid- twentieth century to the present. Some deal with issues specific to the Hispanic experience, such as displacement, identity and language. In “Who Is Going to Tell Me?,” Puerto Rican / Dominican Sandra María Esteves chastises her Spanish ancestors “who captured my mother as slave, stripped her naked, / plowed treasures from her shores,” and wonders where she can learn about her African forefathers: “In whose library will I find their books? Tales of their lives?”
More than 80 Latino poets are represented in this wide-ranging collection that focuses on poetry from the four largest groups in the United States: Mexican Americans, Cuban Americans, Puerto Ricans and Dominican Americans. In his introduction, scholar William Luis gives an overview of the origins of Latino literature in the United States, providing historical, political and cultural frameworks for these groups and their writings.
In Other Words: Literature by Latinas of the United States edited by Roberta Fernández
Roberta Fernández has gathered the best and most representative examples of fiction, poetry, drama and essay currently being written by Latina writers of the United States. The work is arranged by genre, and topics are as varied as the voices and styles of the writers: the challenge of living in two cultures; experiencing marginality as a result of class, ethnicity and/or gender; Latina feminism; the celebration of one’s culture and its people. Most of the pieces are in English and some are presented bilingually in English and Spanish. A preface and an introduction by the editor and a foreword by the noted critic of Latin American literature, Jean Franco, serve to contextualize the writers and their work; a primary and secondary bibliography serves as an appendix.