Latino Poetry: An Introduction
Understanding and enjoying Latino poetry is no more difficult than understanding the nature of emotion. Emotion creates great music, paintings, literature, movies and other manifestations of the arts. George Lucas wanted Luke in Star Wars to trust his feelings because he knew emotion creates great things. The Last Supper, one of the most famous paintings of all time, creates emotion in its viewers. When people sing a song, they are singing poetry. Poetry is just a different format, but one refreshing in that it gives voice to many different emotions from funny to sad to spiritual.
Tradition, for example, is simply the way people are brought up. They carry their values into adulthood and around the world for their jobs or home life, if necessary. This concept is easily understood, as seen in a poem by Cynthia Y. Hernandez, in which her father brings his manly habits - cook my dinner, wife, wash my shirts and raise the babies - from his homeland to carry on in another land. Universal, indeed, since that's the way most men learn traditions, from watching their mothers care for their families.
Family is the first relationship humans know. Mothers, in particular, represent a security we will never lose. As Christian Jiminez wrote, "Only one person can offer it all. And that person is, she, who gave you birth". Much poetry is dedicated to the deep, ineradicable love each person feels for his mother, for that's a love there is no way to define nor describe accurately, so it can only be colored with emotion.
Fears for our children motivate many parents to watch over them carefully, but in the end, every parent knows that the child must make his own way. Every person has a karma that they must endure and make no worse so they do no harm. Some will find their way in another land, forced to live with or overcome the strangeness added to the natives' wariness of strangers. Jimmy Santiago Baca wrote powerful words to describe the freshness of the immigrant's dreams of a new life in a new place, the confusion when faced with native unease with those different than they, the slow death of dreams for a bright future, the worthless feeling when they return home not the child sent off so long before. Latino poetry is written in words of power any parent can understand.
Jimmy Buffet sang about laughing and going insane. How right that is. Even Latino poetry can laugh at life, love, outrageous fortune and even themselves. Victor de la Cruz says it quite well in The Word I Forgot, in which the writer laughs at himself because the word he wants to say to her upon arising in the beauty of dawn resonates in his heart, but his tongue can't manage the word just yet. So he falls back upon the old I forgot routine. To how many guys would that sound familiar?
The Spanish forebears of all Latino life bequeathed some of the most beautiful words ever put to paper in Spanish poetry. Distance on a map may separate people, but not in their poetry. Love makes the world go around, they say. The writing of a sweet loveletter is basically the same throughout the world. They say it beautifully in Flame of Living Love - lamps of fire ... caverns where the senses live ... glories bright ... to His beloved give! Powerful words can represent delicacy in describing love, can't they?
No one talks about it, but death is part of life. Religion tries to make sense of it and tries to comfort the bereaved. Family and friends do what they can to reach out to the grieving, but some poetry can say it all, as seen in Visiting the Dead by Lidia Torres. She writes of her father and brothers who have passed on. She watched as her father rose from his grave to lovingly pat the soil over her brothers' graves. She is amused and touched that her father strolls through the garden he cared for in life to care for his sons in death. Even in death, people try to comfort those they love. Now, that's emotion. Latino poetry is a lovely, sometimes powerful, format in which to study ourselves.