April 15, 2012

Review by Eric HowardXicano Duende by Alurista

XICANO DUENDE: A SELECT ANTHOLOGY
by Alurista

Bilingual Review Press
PO Box 875303
Tempe AZ 85287-5303
ISBN-13 978-1-931010-72-6
2011, 145 pp., $16.00
www.amazon.com

Xicano Duende offers a summary of the poetic career of bilingual Chicano poet Alurista, with selections starting with Nationchild plumaroja (1972) and continuing to his tenth book of poetry, Tunaluna (2010). Published on the fortieth anniversary of the publication of his first book, Floricanto en Aztlán, this collection is an inspirational exploration of the cultural and political issues that are essential to his personal language, which is also a people’s language.

Some of Alurista’s fluid, sinuous poems are in English, some are in Spanish, and some are a mix. In the 1970s in San Diego when Alurista was writing and teaching there, I eagerly read Floricanto en Aztlán, which has since its publication been assigned the label “experimental.” I place the word in quotation marks because in the Southwestern United States, it is natural for many to mix English and Spanish in a conversation or a sentence. The introduction by Rigoberto Gonzalez explores how Alurista’s poetry embodies the language of Aztlán and celebrates “the Chicano in all of us.” Alurista sometimes directs his polemic at highly specific targets, such as former governer of California Pete Wilson:

                           wilsonitis is an ingrown
                                    epidemic

Other poems are all about the lyricism:

                      abotona tu vientre, maja
easels b ready
                    to capture flight

cherish thigh
        hug torso
                        b one
        with duende within
discover
                    sun risa raza roja

Alurista also connects the personal and the political. One person’s demons are a reflection of an entire people’s struggles:

                  suicide is no longer a personal
                        choice

and in a poem about heroin addiction, he recalls:

                                                                i cook it ‘n’ i wash
            my dish. i cook not for myself. i cook for us cora, zón
            zón. zón. cora. zón. sleep at the wheel burping and
            bumping into police cars frozen in their black and white.

            …

                                                                                 revolution
            is somewhere awaiting to be awakened lovingly and
            mercilessly

In “ya estufas” Alurista calls for revolution:

                                         el cielo colorado
            witnessed a dusk
                                  of murals
                                      painted
            in the spirit
                           of the fallen
            brown dry leaves
                           of autumn
            las cananas en
                           la tarde
            aparecieron and
                           thousands
            of bullets
                           turned
                       to flowers

One of Alurista’s great strengths is his lyrical playfulness, which he enhances by switching languages as needed for sound and sense. For example in “ex-ostion” he begins by exploiting the sonorousness of Spanish:

            ex-ostión, no se diga tiburón,
                         and the shallow waters
            of shellfish para qué preguntar
            si la mariposa nació con alas

then switches to English for the high rhetoric of the conclusion:

                                       desirelessness
            cannot be purchased, invoked
                         or dreamed, falcons do
            not worry about the plunge

This mix of playfulness and seriousness also serves, in Alurista’s many political poems, to humble enemies of la raza and its anarchic freedom. In “convencido,” he concludes: “la sal sudor de nuestro pueblo acribilla cualquier bob osada.” Alurista’s poetry is embodied in and embodies his Chicano language, and Gonzalez appropriately calls Alurista’s puns intralingual rather than interlingual. Alurista’s poetry continues to inspire, and this anthology, with seventeen illustrations and a representative sample from all of his books but one, belongs in the libraries of all poets of the real and imaginary Southwest.

____________

Eric Howard is a magazine editor and former bilingual press editor who has published poetry in Birmingham Poetry Review, Caveat Lector, Conduit, Gulf Stream Magazine, Plainsong, and The Sun. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a member of the Writers at Work poetry workshop.