Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Introducing OCHO #15

“…Catching Up With the Joneses”

The full headline on the front page of The New York Times is from November 17, 2007 and reads: In U.S. Name Count, Garcias are Catching Up With the Joneses. The article, early on, reveals: The number of Hispanics living in the United States grew by 58 percent in the 1990s to nearly 13 percent of the total population, and cracking the list of top 10 names suggests just how pervasively Latino migration has permeated everyday American culture.

I would include American poetry in that equation. Readers, however, of what some may term “top tier” publications would not come to that conclusion. Thankfully, there is the world of smaller literary magazines, and the world of online publishing. Journals like Crab Orchard Review in print, or MiPoesías on the web, are but two examples of literary projects that approach their task with diligence when it comes to taking a more accurate pulse of the poetry being written. The necessary challenge for any editor is keeping eyes and ears open for the new—including, I would argue, the changing face of a nation.

On the heels of editing The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry, I wanted to seek out voices beyond this University of Arizona Press anthology, as well as poets who hadn’t published with Momotombo Press, nor those slated to appear in Canto Cosas, the poetry book series I’m editing for Bilingual Press. In short, I wanted to move beyond pre-established comfort zones, but at the same time test my hypothesis that there’s overlooked terrain where new Latino poetry is concerned, even among those of us with a stated interest in Latino literature.

I decided, therefore, that I’d try and gather poets without a book. In Ian Gibson’s two-volume biography of Federico García Lorca, which I read twenty years ago when I’d just moved to Spain, one of the scenarios that stayed with me is that poetry was shared mostly in manuscript form. If there were journal editors among those private readers, poems might be solicited and so would appear in print. By the time Libro de poemas—Lorca’s “first book”—was published, readers were aware of the work because it had been circulating for years in small journals and in manuscript, often times in correspondence. One of the monuments of 20th century poetry, Poeta en Nueva York, did not become a book in Lorca’s lifetime. This more intimate way of engaging with the art has always intrigued me, though in no way should be taken as a position against more intentionally public modes of dissemination. And yet I do get a sense that one's "success" as an artist is often tied to such markers as number and "type" of publication. More and more, I find myself attracted to Jack Spicer's model, which echoed Lorca's, and whose first book, it turns out, was titled After Lorca.

All this might be my way of saying that I am not making conventional predictions about the fifteen poets presented here. I know that some have manuscripts that may very well become fine books one day. Some already have chapbooks. Some have published in journals, including Poetry magazine. But the pleasure I derived from these poems as I read and chose them would not diminish one iota if some of their authors do not go on to publish a prize-winning book(s) nor, for that matter, appear in the pages of Ploughshares.

In reflecting upon what kind of "introduction" I would write, I decided against repeating the gesture I made in The Wind Shifts, where I attempted to paint a poetic group portrait, citing lines of verse throughout. Rather, I would like the poems to speak for themselves. The biographical sketches, I think, more than stand on their own.

And so consider, dear reader, this issue of OCHO a “private letter” to you: one that offers a my particular snapshot—in time—of one thread in a thicker strand of American poetry that continues largely under-explored and under-appreciated.

Francisco Aragón
18 November 2007
Washington, D.C.

Such was the Intro I keyed a weeks ago for MiPoesías Magazine Print Companion. I reproduce it hear hoping readers might venture to see what the fuss is all about, and get OCHO #15 here. And who are the poets in its pages? The are:

Lisa Alvarado
Oscar Bermeo
Xochiquetzal Candelaria
Diana Marie Delgado
Jose B. Gonzalez
Octavio R. Gonzalez
Raina J. León
elena minor
John Murillo
Kristin Naca
Emily Pérez
Ruben Quesada
Peter Ramos
Carmen Gimenez Smith
Rich Villar


A word of thanks to the poets: a pleasure working with all of you.


Robert Vasquez said...


Your list of poets certainly testifies to the ever-growing number of Latina/o voices who enrich us with their ability to write memorable language while proving that American literature includes people of color.

Thank you for your commitment to increasing the public's awareness of and appreciation for gifted Latino/a poets and writers.

All the best,


Francisco Aragón said...

Thank you, Robert.

Thus far, I know of one online review of this issue of OCHO that is forthcoming next week, and I'm hoping there will be others. Anyone out there who would like to review it, should get in touch with me and I'll be happy to send them a PDF version of the issue.

Thanks again for your encouragement and continued support!

barbara jane said...

This is a good intro, Francisco, and I am looking forward to seeing the issue. You've got me thinking more clearly re: traditional "high end" publication and for what reasons we cling to it, what we hope to gain (and where? with/from whom?) for ourselves as individual poets and as communities.