Sunday, February 10, 2013

Review Round Up: February 10, 2013

Coal Hill Review reviews Carmen Calatayud’s In the Company of Spirits

I first came across Carmen Calatayud’s In the Company of Spirits (Press 53) back in December when I first read it for an interview featured in this blog.  Back then I said Carmen’s debut collection of poems struck me for its distinctive voice; a voice that weaves a poetry of testimonio which is—as one could expect—both personal and political but which also blurs the line between the world of the sacred and the spiritual. Here voices become a single spiritual guide that helps the reader navigate violent spaces (from Chiapas to Franco’s Spain) separated by time and space but interwoven together by this single voice.  The reviewers for Coal Hill Review write of Carmen’s work:

“So when faced with these sorts of calamities, where does one turn? In “Flames and Angels,” Calatayud turns her attentions to DC: “There is misery by the busload. Mothers scrounge/for bits of bread.” (lines 1-2). She continues, “We can’t make sense of paper, rock or scissors/or velvet political games. We lose a day each night,/tending to the problems of the world in our dreams.” (lines 3-5). This is Calatayud’s survivor’s guilt, as the child of immigrants (at one point, a relative praises Calatayud’s luck at being “white.”). Throughout this collection, she deals with questions of her liminality. She is trapped between the world of her parents and the past and her current life, where she is outside these experiences and looking back, free of them but still tethered to them. In the same way, America is in a liminal stage as the more diverse populations gain more political presence. But, even though many of the more privileged holdouts fear this change, and this fear produces dangers for some others, Calatayud is hopeful. In her title poem, she reminds: “This is the land you came from. There is no worry in this dirt./You are the harvest of our desert dance.” (lines 25-27).”

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Pluma Fronteriza reviews Luis Omar Salina’s Crazy Gypsy

Luis Omar Salinas is by now regarded as one of the founders of the Chicano renaissance of the 1970s and his Crazy Gypsy (1970) likewise not only established him as one of the ushers of this movement but also earned him a reputation as one of the leading figures of the “Fresno School” of poets. More than a review of Crazy Gypsy, this article over at Pluma Fronteriza takes a thoughtful look back the seminal text by Salinas and the historical context which shaped the text and the author who wrote it: the Vietnam war, the Chicano movement, the death of Ernesto “Che” Guevara and the burgeoning infrastructure of presses and university series which first gave ink to texts like Crazy Gypsy:

Though most readers and scholars have concentrated on Salinas' English-language poems, Salinas shows excellence in both languages in Crazy Gypsy.

Like some reviewers have mentioned, there are some typos in the manuscript -- at least in the first edition. The book was published by Origenes Publication, which seems to have been associated with La Raza Studies at Frenso State. I am not one to concentrate on typos, especially in early Chicano Renaissance books that were mostly self-published, or published with recently-born Chicano presses and/or university series. 

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Tales of West Texas reviews Matt Méndez’s Twitching Heart

Twitching Heart (Floricanto Press) is Matt Méndez’s debut collection of beautifully crafted interconnected short stories that are set in El Paso, Texas and which create characters and worlds that are rich and powerful. His stories have appeared in  Alligator Juniper, Cutthroat, Hizache, PALABRA, PANK, The Literary Review and other journals and is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee.

Here is what the reviewers at Tales of West Texas have to say:

“Throughout the collection, Méndez masterfully makes El Paso and its sister city, Juárez, come alive through the eyes of his characters. El Paso, or Chuco, as it's affectionately known, appears both beautiful and terrifying, often reflecting the mindset of the characters experiencing it at the time. Either way, the city is given those specific details that make it stand out in its particularity. As when we learn that "Chuy realized how much he loved Chuco, especially in the early morning when nobody was around to see the night thin and the sunrise over the mountains. The spiky bushes and cactuses with flowers blooming on them, sucking up the orange light." Or in a later story, when Flores, a run-down old man who chased his dead love to Juárez years earlier, prepares to die at the hands of the angel Uriel: "Set to die Flores walks the Avenida Juárez for the final time, camera hanging around his neck. The red and blue lights on police trucks flash; street vendors push their carretas across clogged streets, making their way toward the bridge to sell homemade jewelry and candy and bootleg movies to Americans happy to be heading back across." The cities in Twitching Heart refuse to be archetypes and are allowed to display both beauty and squalor, as all cities do. Thus, Méndez performs the neat trick of making El Paso seem both special and common, a city the reader can relate to while still being surprised.”

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