Now that it’s been announced that the Poetry Society of America has partnered up with Letras Latinas to present the national reading series “Latino/a Poetry Now,” (featuring fifteen poets in two and a half years) which will showcase “a sampling of the thematically and aesthetically diverse work being produced by a newer generation of Latino and Latina poets” but more importantly deepen a critical dialogue and appreciation of this poetry—see for instance the Poetry Society of America’s follow up roundtable featuring a conversation on poetics by Latino/a Poetry Now featured poets Rosa Alcalá, Eduardo C. Corral and Aracelis Girmay—I thought it would be an appropriate gesture to take a look back at the Poetry Society of America’s first Latino/a Poets Roundtable which features—among other poets—Emma Trelles, winner of the 2010 edition of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize and Latino/a Poetry Now featured poets RobertoTejada, Raina León, Blas Falconer and moderator and Momotombo Press editor Maria Melendez.
In contrast to the recently released roundtable titled “Latino/a Poetry Now: 3 poets discuss their art” which nurtures a specific dialogue between the three poets, their work and poetic craft, the first Latino/a Poets Roundtable brings Latinidad—with all its sociopolitical, historical and aesthetic diversity—to the forefront and in doing so breaks the necessary ground where other much needed dialogues (such as the specific roundtable on the craft of the three poets) maybe be seeded and cultivated.
In thinking of this roundtable and the issue at its core: Latinidad, I can’t help but compare it to a clay cazuela rich with the knowledge of having tasted and smelled hundreds of stews all made rich in their own vegetables, fats, grizzle and bones: Latinidad being, as Hope Maxwell Snyder points out, “what brings us together” and makes “each of us different.” My point here being that Latinidad is no easy thing to define and that although it serves as a platform—a common ground for communion and communication it would be naïve to restrict Latinidad to a shared homogeneity of aesthetics, ideologies, influences, cultural and ethnic heritages.
Yet taking into account the context of the times in which we live, “times of siege” as Rigoberto Gonzalez would say, it gives me hope that this diversity when presented in frank and brave conversation will lead to complex dialogues that, while acknowledging the rich heritage of Latinidad, will “elevate Latino poetry by insisting it be heard, read and discussed to the point where no one could possibly conceive of American literature without it."
And talking about much needed dialogues and exposure to the craft and contributions of Latino/a poetics my mind keeps going back to these concluding sentences in Maria Melendez’s afterward:
“Exclusion is forced detention's twin oppression. In the U.S., Latinos are highly visible as marked targets for detention, but are nearly invisible as targets for inclusion in other aspects of U.S. culture. This remains the case in too many celebrations, presentations, and publications of poetry.”
And how sad that these words in the year 2011 ring so powerfully true. The current renascent politics of American nativism and the general anti-Latino atmosphere most exemplified by Arizona’s and Alabama’s draconian anti-immigrant-laws goes hand in hand with the intentional or unintentional exclusion of Latino/as from all other aspects of the broader culture—including that of poetry. Take for example the long overdue recognition of Latino/a poets in Eduardo C. Corral’s winning of the Yale Seriesof Younger Poets Award and the Whiting Writers’ Award. Eduardo is the first Latino recipient of this award and this in the year 2011—not 1967 or ’68 or ‘69… but 2011!
Maria Melendez opens up her afterward by presenting a compelling argument for U.S. Latino poetry to “be more consciously foregrounded, more frequently presented, and sought with greater intention in ALL our efforts” as an antidote to those that seek both to detain and exclude us.
Latinidad is brought then to the table in the hope that it will enhance the appreciation and presentation of Latino poetry—in all its richness and complexity—as a necessary beauty in direct and diametrical opposition to all the ugliness of exclusion.