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LITERATURE Letters from Latin America

Reviews of works by Latinx poets Natalie Diaz and Eduardo C Corral

POSTCOLONIAL LOVE POEM (Graywolf Press, £14) is Natalie Diaz’s second poetry collection after her prizewinning debut When My Brother Was an Aztec.

Her new book is a remarkable exploration of Mojave culture, with oppression, bodies of water, queer desire, ancestry and family history all featuring in a journey of thought-provoking discoveries.

In American Arithmetic, Diaz writes: “Native Americans make up less than/1 percent of the population of America./0.8 percent of 100 percent./ O, mine efficient country./I do not remember the days before America—/I do not remember the days when we were all here./Police kill Native Americans more/than any other race. Race is a funny word./Race implies someone will win,/implies, I have as good a chance of winning as — /Who wins the race that isn't a race?”.

Diaz is not only preoccupied with social injustices, political inequalities and state violence in her native US but also with her place as a writer and activist within that narrative: “At the National Museum of the American Indian,/68 percent of the collection is from the United States./I am doing my best to not become a museum/of myself. I am doing my best to breathe in and out.”

The range in these poems is not only stylistically but thematically extensive, from odes, vivid descriptions, prose and list poems to the formidable long poems The First Water Is the Body, Exhibits from The American Water Museum and Snake-Light.

In the latter, Diaz ponders the “light” emanating from her ancestry and her family ties growing up in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in California on the banks of the Colorado River:

 “My Tio Facundo was from Zacatecas,/and skinned a rattlesnake in our backyard./Fried it in el disco. He gave the rattle/tied on a cord I wore around my neck./Until my Mojave great grandmother saw it./said, Take it off. I asked, Why? She said,/Would you wear my foot around your neck?/I said, You don’t have feet. She said, Take it off./She said, We don’t eat snakes. They are our sisters./She said, I gave you my name — I called you./And I watched her tongue like a whip of ink/write my name in the air.”

This is a rich, lyrical collection of luminous poems that dazzle, and Diaz shows not only her encyclopaedic, masterful grasp of language but also her knowledge of translation and Native American myths and folklore.

From Biblical, Greek and Native American references to Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Borges, Darwish and Rihanna, Postcolonial Love Poem is full of precious gems.

It ‘s one of the fiercest books of poetry I have read this year and one that will stay with me for a long time.

Another recently published poetry book by a Latinx poet is Slow Lightning (Yale University Press, £14.99) by Chicano poet Eduardo C Corral.

It's his debut collection and in it he explores urgent issues such as the border politics between Mexico and US, gay desire and identity, Aids, the agonies of unrequited love and the complexities of growing up Chicano in conservative America.

And Corral explores notions of revolution, equality and class, especially in relation to migrants and “patrones” (bosses), with a number of poems tackling them through the experiences of the poet’s migrant father, as In Colorado My Father Scoured And Stacked Dishes and To A Jornalero [Labourer] Cleaning Out My Neighbour’s Garage.

As the poet and academic Carl Phillips suggests in the introduction to the book, in Corral’s poetry “there is a kind of sorrow, if dreams come down to a brand of liquor, if the pistola’s (gun’s) force is now the cell phone’s.

“And if it can be considered an achievement to have become a legal citizen, what to make of the fact that one’s fellow citizens can’t spell properly in their own language?”

Corral resists all forms of reductionism. His poetry challenges the reader to search for light as a source of subversion and ultimately as a window through which the world can be seen expanding, like “peering/through a crack in the wall/revealing/a landscape of snow.”

 

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