And here's a wonderful example: Entre la Claridad by Elisa A. Garza. Here's my review:
Soy Chicana, Y Que?
A review of Entre la claridad by Elisa A. Garza
Mouthfeel Press, 2011 (37 pages)
In her second poetry chapbook, Elisa A. Garza explores timeless questions of identity: Who am I? Where do I come from? And where am I going? Through the lenses of gender, culture, language and landscape, Garza paints a portrait of what it means to be a woman, a Chicana, in this contested space. She does so with both candor and lyricism – and as a reader, I couldn’t help but be drawn into this world, both the familiar and the foreign.
“When you live in South Texas…” could possibly be a litany for this entire chapbook. The first section opens up with a delightful poem titled “Border Sonnet”, which introduces readers to the world of the borderlands, the speaker’s roots, where language is something “fluido, smooth as wax paper,” (11). The following poems dig deeper into the cultural landscape of the region, showing both the loveliness and the painful truths that exist beneath the surface. South Texas is a land of “shady mesquite groves” and the ever present river, that “shallow ribbon of water,” where the speaker learns about gender roles from her mother (15). “All Senoritas Get Married” illustrates this beautifully – this knowledge of gender roles is carried “deep in her gut…hidden and small,” (12). At the section’s end, however, we see the effect, a chilling villanelle that reflects on the marriage of the speaker's parents being “Only a role…not a union of souls,” (16). These thoughtful and honest poems examine the traditions in a refreshingly real way – one that makes this reader both appreciate roots, and learn from past mistakes.
The second section reflects on the speaker’s identity as a Chicana, a twenty-first century feminist that hasn’t forgotten about her familial past.” Answering Los Machos” is perhaps my favorite poem in this entire chapbook. It illustrates the tension of being a woman in this space, the toughness and resilience necessary to thrive. This new age feminist responds to the ageless cat calls of men:
Mami! Looking good!
Si, y que pendejo?
Soy una mujer bella y inteligente (24).
This section illuminates what seemingly might be a contradiction, a “feminine powerful/romantic baby-ready/arms and kickboxer legs” (27). Garza shows us that we, as women, can have it all – to stay true to our roots, yet move forward and be strong, powerful, and beautiful. How refreshing!
The final section of the chapbook is heightened in both spirituality and lyricism. In “Pajaros,” we are asked to slow down and savor the sunset, where birds are “staggered checkmarks/of grackles and blackbirds” and the sky is a creamy something to marvel at. The poem ends with a reflection, honing in on the noises, asking us to listen closely: “Ca-caw, I’m here, hello,” as if declaring a new self-awareness (31). “Vesperal” functions to take us back to the past, and expresses the speaker’s nostalgia for home, that universal longing to return to “the lights of home/ like rows of sacred candles” (32). The collection finishes with a boom – the poem “Bat Bridge” which highlights an experience anyone who’s been to Austin at sunset probably has etched into their memory. However, this poem goes far beyond description, meditating on both the beauty and the significance of the journey, where we are “blessed and told/go in peace… their flights/our catharsis/at week’s end” (36).
Through the poems in this chapbook, the reader is invited into the fast changing world of the borderlands and beyond. Here, we examine both the tensions and the beauty of this landscape, and though it is rooted in the specifics of place y cultura, this sentiment of nostalgia and longing for change is universal. This book asks the big questions, and readers are made richer through this journey of words.