Funny. This is what a friend told me recently when I mentioned that, after months of focusing on other writings, marketing my two books, and taking care of other commitments and NOT writing this blog, I would be returning to it. “Welcome back!”
And I’m glad to be back. In the time I’ve been away, I’ve read a number of outstanding, inspiring, highly engaging books by Latinas and Latinos that I’ve got to tell you about. This literary treasure I’ve discovered, or rediscovered, includes writings in all genres: poetry, short stories, memoirs, and novels. The authors span the United States and write with humor, pathos, and insight. What a mother lode of excellence!
Meet Ricardo Acuña: Cosmopolitan Poet from L.A.
You can’t see Ricardo at a reading, or listen to Ricardo, or read Ricardo’s poetry without being deeply moved. He’s all body language, fire and thunder, and razor-sharp insight. He tells it like it is, like his hero, poet Charles Bukowski, did: unvarnished truth, dark secrets, deep despair, brilliant humanity, and an unflagging appreciation for each precious or precarious moment of life. Ricardo speaks of everything: the good, the bad, and the ugly; but his optimism wins out every time, or at least by the end of his books.
Highly educated, with two college degrees (Stanford University in California and Columbia University in New York), Ricardo is truly bi-coastal in formal training and cultural experience. He was, as he says in his bio, “born and raised dirt-poor in Nogales, Arizona.” But he rose above such hardscrabble beginnings, winning a scholarship to a prestigious prep school as a teenager, and later living and studying in Paris, France. His artistry extends to photography, and his books are enriched with his photos from all over the world. Ricardo is the most cosmopolitan poet I know.
Yet his life has been filled with challenges that are amply reflected in his poems. In his book, Greetings from Heaven & Hell (Pichin Publishing, 2009), he speaks of “day jobs to pay for that high-faluting education.” He recounts mundane jobs he’s held, including working for farm workers and teaching high school English. But he’s never lost sight of his mission in life: “[I] know for certain that the only thing I need to do in life is write (or if not, I will drop dead.)”
Ricardo’s poetry is passionate and fast-moving, as this stanza from “let’s not argue, love” shows:
Ricardo’s poetry speaks to today’s times, such as in “temp work”:
He paints literary portraits of people who appear to be loved ones, and of family events, oftentimes poignant and heart-breaking, as when he describes his father’s death, or broken love, or misguided youth. His poems are haunting in their starkness and reality, their sensitivity and pathos, whether they capture a moment in time, or describe a cycle of loss. Ricardo’s heart and soul are on vivid display in both of his books: Greetings from Heaven & Hell; as well as under the influence (Pichin Publishing, 2007).
Ricardo Lira Acuña’s books are available through his website, www.writeracuña.com
Meet Yago S. Cura: Soccer Fan & Poet Extraordinaire
Yago Cura describes himself as an “American-Argentine poet, librarian, and futbol cretin.” Indeed, his poetry chapbook, Bestias Inberbes (Hinchas de Poesía Press, 2009), in which Yago is co-author with Abel Folgar, is a series of “odes” to soccer stars, such as Pelé, Thierry Henry, and Daniel Passarella. These poems are bursting with colorful language as Yago addresses each athlete directly, citing his flaws and glories, in words that are alternately intellectual and slangy, burbling with machismo and good humor. To Thierry, for example, Yago says: “My, how this ode about a goofy French kid with/sniper-dreams makes for a troublesome entretemps?/....You flopped around like a/ gangly Wahoo slurping oxygen through a coffee stirrer.”
Yago’s poetry book, Rubberroom (Hinchas de Poesía, 2006) is quite distinct in tone and theme. In this autobiographical work, Yago recounts the trials and tribulations of teaching hard-headed, troublemaking teens in a New York City public school. The book is illustrated by Carlos Folgar with amazing hilarity and appropriateness, though the cartoon art is a foil for the seriousness of the protagonist teacher’s plight.
The title Rubberroom refers to a stigmatized holding room for teachers who are being investigated for disciplinary purposes, who are still on the school’s payroll, but who are not allowed back into the classroom until the individual investigations are completed and the teacher is cleared of charges. As Yago explains in “Act III: Prologue,” “...they call it the Rubberroom/ because you get to bounce/ off the walls/ like a regular retard.”
The book describes in gritty language the events leading up to the teacher’s banishment into the Rubberroom. The students, it turns out, were, from the get-go, the proverbial wild bunch: “malcontents, parolees/ ...medicated for bipolarity, pícaros, spazzes, rufianos,/ those with O.C.D./ wards of the state, stoners, the anti-social/ godfathers, and the clique-indigent.” In another poem, “Animalitos [Little Animals],” Yago further describes the students thus:
Things quickly decline for the beleaguered teacher, whom the kids deride as, “Teacher Lost His Shit!” He throws a desk at the board one day, and the desk nicks a nearby kid. Hence the teacher is relegated to the Rubberroom, where a motley crew of malcontent teachers, incompetents, and burnt out folks pass the time till their disciplinary cases are settled. In the poem “Taking Attendance,” Yago describes his compatriots in a litany of adjectives, powerful words that hammer home the dysfunction of disciplined teachers: “Martyrs nailed by their principals/...marijuaneros/ rageoids, deadbeats..../ loose-cannons; the grimy/ & remorselessly insubordinate/....dilettantes, debutantes,/ shovelers-of-shit....” It’s a sad scene indeed.
Without a spoiler alert, let me say that Rubberroom marches trenchantly to its conclusion, like a small play. Yago creates a very human, very frustrated, insightful Everyman in his teacher character. He sheds light on the plight of urban education in the big city, in areas of disadvantage and—most likely—inadequate parenting, inadequate resources. Yago also shows us how the grind of daily challenges eventually burns the spirit of young, eager teachers. We see the beginning, the middle, and the end of teaching careers through the various “detainees” in the infamous Rubberroom.
Yago’s books can be purchased through www.amazon.com . His website is www.ycura.magcloud.com .