“I don’t know how it happened, but I ended up being the writer in my family,” Jorge Argueta says in his poetic memoir. He wrote his first lines as an adolescent, though he didn’t know what the words meant or that it was poetry. “But now I see that in putting down those words, I was stepping into a huge world, much bigger than my own: beautiful and mysterious, full of profound joy and infinite possibilities.” 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, “a bloody massacre … An entire generation disappearing / As if it were a trifle / To lose the entire future of a country.” Mothers lose sons, their bodies beat beyond recognition. Friends’ bodies are thrown into common graves. Husbands lose wives and wives lose husbands. “Death saunters / Dressed in olive green / A rabid dog / Snapping at anyone in its path.” 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 roots ultimately contribute to his salvation after he flees his homeland. His braids, he writes, “are rivers / Of my village / Running / Down my back.” 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. His pain is like a ring that “lives on my left hand / as if I were / married to it.” 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.
Click here to listen to an interview with Jorge Argueta about his poetry collection book, En carne propia: Memoria poéica/ Flesh Wounds: A Poetic Memoir.
Click here to listen to an interview with Jorge Argueta about his poetry collection, En carne propia / Flesh Wounds, and his new trilingual picture book for children, Agua, Agüita / Water, Little Water.
Click here to watch Jorge Argueta talk about his poetry collection, En carne propia / Flesh Wounds, and his new trilingual picture book for children, Agua, Agüita / Water, Little Water.
“From his trying upbringing in rural El Salvador to his arrival on the literary scene in San Francisco in the 1980s, Argueta alternates between prose and poetry to create this genre-blending, bilingual memoir of his long journey north in flight from guerrilla violence. In short chapters, Argueta narrates life at home with his family, interrupted by the onslaught of civil war, and his subsequent escape from Central America. Argueta’s poems are interspersed between these chapters, the best of them hovering, koan like, and momentary.”—Booklist
“The book’s hybrid form complicates the canon away from simple binaries (winners/losers; rich/poor; alive/dead) by giving nuance to the roots of Argueta’s despair—his fear of harming his family by association to the revolution as well as his fear of never seeing them again—and expounding upon what other narratives have yet to give serious credence to: not the disappeared, not the dead, but the displaced. As much as Argueta’s memoir is about war, it’s also about the dignity of moving on, of discovering one’s potential, of finding solace as a refugee.”—Ploughshares
“Jorge Argueta’s brilliant En carne propia: Memoria poética/Flesh Wounds: A Poetic Memoir emerges as a text that challenges straightforward narratives surrounding immigration to the United States from Latin America. At a moment when some politicians cannot locate the countries from which refuges are fleeing on a map, Argueta’s memoir serves as a reminder of the human costs of these conflicts, as well as of the indelible contributions these people make to the adopted countries they come to call home.”—Asymptote Journal
Jorge Argueta, a Pipil Nahua Indian from El Salvador and the 2023 Poet Laureate of San Mateo County, is a prize-winning poet and author of more than twenty children’s picture books. They include Una película en mi almohada / A Movie in My Pillow (Children’s Book Press, 2001) and Somos como las nubes / We Are Like the Clouds (Groundwood Books, 2016), which won the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and was named to USBBY’s Outstanding International Book List, the ALA Notable Children’s Books and the Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices. His Madre Tierra / Mother Earth series celebrates the natural world and is made up of four installments: Tierra, Tierrita / Earth, Little Earth (Piñata Books, 2023), winner of the Salinas de Alba Award for Latino Children’s Literature; Viento, Vientito / Wind, Little Wind (Piñata Books, 2022), winner of the Premio Campoy-Ada given by the Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española; Fuego, Fueguito / Fire, Little Fire (Piñata Books, 2019); and Agua, Agüita / Water, Little Water (Piñata Books, 2017), winner of the inaugural Campoy-Ada Award in Children’s Poetry. His poetry collection, En carne propia: Memoria poética / Flesh Wounds: A Poetic Memoir (Arte Público Press, 2017), focuses on his experiences with civil war and living in exile. The California Association for Bilingual Education honored him with its Courage to Act Award. In addition, Jorge Argueta is the founder of The International Children’s Poetry Festival Manyula and The Library of Dreams, a non-profit organization that promotes literacy in rural and metropolitan areas of El Salvador. Jorge divides his time between San Francisco, California, and El Salvador.