This April Letras Latinas announced the winner (Laurie Ann Guerrero’s A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying) of the fifth edition of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize and also the winners (Dan Vera and William Archilla) of the first edition of the Letras Latinas / Red Hen Poetry Prize, thus culminating a cycle of publications that began in 2005 with Sheryl Luna’s Pity the Drowned Horses (University of Notre Dame Press, 2005) the inaugural winner of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize.
Of Pity the Drowned Horses, Robert Vasquez said: “Luna exquisitely captures—like no other poet before her—the “unsung positive capability / of the desert;” her syntax—sometimes raw and edgy—creates a tableau where everything rushes toward “our wild need—all sweat, all shiver.” The overall effect is simply mesmerizing: “Even the moon offers its solace like a lover / that will never leave.”
Sheryl is also the author of the forthcoming collection of poems Seven (A Taos Press, 2013) for which she was nominated for the Ernest Sandeen Poetry Prize and is currently profiled in an interview for Copyleftwebjournal in which she discusses her literary fluencies and her craft; the “raw and edgy” syntax arrived at by her creative process: “My poems tend to shrink then grow, shrink then grow, and where the process ends is often a surprise. I often cut out many lines, then go back and elaborate on things for clarity. Then I may cut words, replace words, and rearrange words, stanzas and lines.” Sheryl also recognizes poets like Elizabeth Bishop and Benjamin Alire Saenz as being instrumental in her development as a poet. Similarly in this Letras Latinas oral history interview, Sheryl Luna expands on her experience as a poet while in graduate school and expands on the role that poets like Bishop, Saenz and other Chicano/a writers played on her formation as a poet.
Dan Vera likewise is an inaugural winner of another Letras Latinas poetry book prize, in this case his manuscript Speaking Wiri Wiri was selected (along with William Archilla) by Notre Dame professor Orlando Menes—who currently directs Notre Dame’s MFA program—as the inaugural winner of the Letras Latinas/Red Hen Poetry Prize. And like Sheryl Luna, Dan Vera also recognizes the importance of literary figures in his development as a poet. His essay “Sterling A. Brown” is currently featured in the Beltway Poetry Quarterly’s “Poetic Ancestors” issue:
“Perhaps most importantly for me, I come to Sterling Brown by way of neighborhood. When I moved to this city and settled in Brookland, I discovered his home on Kearney Street; that simple home with the plaque at its base reading “The Poet's House.” The very idea that a writer had lived a few blocks from where I now lived was inspirational to a newcomer attempting to ground himself in this city as a writer.”
Like Sterling Brown, Dan Vera is a poet deeply grounded in Washington D.C. In his debut collection The Space Between Our Danger and Delight (Beothuk Press, 2008) pop culture and Bush-era politics are intermingled with personal narratives of growing up gay and Latino in South Texas, narratives which are clearly anchored in the city of Washington, in the places where a “a poet like Sterling Brown walked [adding] a luster to what I once thought an unremarkable part of the city.”