I do not recall when the poem "El Louie" entered my consciousness.
But somehow it did. It my own private pantheon, the poem came to occupy a place that seemed to announce: This is a seminal poem in the history of Chicano/Latino poetry. It's a poem I have read perhaps half a dozen times over the years from Chusma House's IN FORMATION: 20 Years Of Joda. It has always seemed a masterpiece to me, but it's a claim I make from a visceral place, which may have to do with my relationship to the Spanish language. The New York Times, in a blurb on the back of IN FORMATION, said this:
"When Latino writers like Jose Montoya overcome the need to explain themselves to people who do not understand Spanish or use code-switching to energize and enrich their work , the result can be electrifying."
I read that and wonder who wrote it, what book is being reviewed and what year. In any case, it's remarkable to me that The New York Times would give the time of day to a poet like Jose Montoya. But there you have it.
One of the things that I liked about last night's event is that Jose Montoya and his person and his story and his work were being honored before a sizable audience that included, from my unscientific observations, many people who I suspect don't read much poetry. This particular writers conference (which I'll comment on another time soon) privileges, in my view, prose. And yet the keynote speaker of the whole affair was a poet.
Jose Montoya gave this wonderful informal chronicle of a talk laced with anecdote and humor that contextualized how his poetry came to be, and then he read two poems: "El Louie" (from 1969) and "Portfolio Pachuco" (from 1990).
I write these lines as I prepare to leave Albuquerque. I will continue later. I'll end by saying that anyone who has aspirations of getting a grasp of the history and breadth of Chicano/Latino poetry must own (it's still in print; I bought another copy) IN FORMATION (Chusma House, 1992).