Poetry Zone 2: Lorna Dee Cervantes

Lorna Dee Cervantes por Juan Manuel Landeros. Desactivaré los comentarios el miércoles 27 de febrero a las 10 am.


10 Respuestas a “Poetry Zone 2: Lorna Dee Cervantes

  1. Montserrat Ochoa

    The poem “Visions of Mexico While at a Writing Symposium in Port Townsend, Washington” made me think of how Chicano people struggle with several barriers, such as culture, traditions and language. I like the way she explains how her language flows when she is “that far at south” and even her name fits in all these meadows with “strange” names. This poem, as all the texts we have read until now, has emphasized the importance of language as means not only of communication, but more importantly, of understanding. And in the last stanza of the poem she also emphasizes the importance of writing in this process of understanding these two lands completely different in which she is immersed.

  2. I think that in the poem “The Body as Braille” Lorna Dee Cervantes incorporates in a very subtle and interesting way the Chicano thematic. The poetic voice evokes women’s traditional knowledge by saying “‘A witch’s moon.’ / dijo mi abuela.” These three previous words which are in Spanish introduce us the voice of a most likely Mexican grandmother who has an authority given by the years and therefore experience. This knowledge, which is quite akin to superstition, infuses the poem with a feeling of magic that is later emphasized with a beautiful metaphor of love as a cosmic event: “It’s a storm brewing in the cauldron / of the sky.”

  3. Etzel Hinojosa

    Lorena Dee Cervantes tries to acknowledge the importance of language to define herself as an individual in an in-between frontier of two different cultures. However, one must take into account that it is actually English the language that she uses. The poem “Visions of Mexico While at a Writing Symposium in Port Townsend, Washington” presents the reader with a bridge that allows a connection between the two cultures as it presents the poetic voice in a process of adaptation from one culture to the other. As Juan Manuel very well suggested on his paper, both parts (Mexico and Washington) present similar images, such as the bird or the feathers, which may reinforce the relationship that can be created between two different cultures. One of the most outstanding images that are used is language itself. In the very first stanza, ‘words’ are personified: “My own words somersault naturally as my name” The mobility of ‘words’ may suggest a physical condition. This is consonant with the following verses that are full of visual images. In the following stanza, however, there is a detachment between words and the meaning they are capable of conveying: “I come from a long line of eloquent illiterates/ whose history reveals what words don’t say.” Some lines afterwards, the theme of oral tradition is also introduced: “My sense of this land can only ripple through my veins/ like the chant of an epic corrido.” Both types of languages seem to be separated, the written words tell a different story of what visual images and even songs convey.
    The following stanza, however, will try to reunite them, for the poetic voice expresses:
    There are songs in my head I could sing you
    songs that could drone away
    all the Mariachi bands you thought you ever heard
    songs that could tell you what I know
    or have learned from my people
    but for that I need words
    simple black nymphs between white sheets of paper
    Thus, the characteristic oral tradition of the Mexican culture manages to turn into poetry through the words of the poet; so, the poetic I remembers the reader the physical appearance of the words he/she is reading (“simple black nymphs”)
    This transition between one to the other is highlighted also by the circularity of the poem, for it begins: “When I’m that far south, the old words/ molt off my skin.” And then, it ends in a very similar way: “I come north to gather my feathers for quills” The process is fulfilled in a way that not only validates the hybrid nature of the poem, but also the very work of the poet herself.

  4. Alethia Erandi Ochoa Manrique

    Throughout the poem “Visions of Mexico While at a Writing Symposium in Port Townsend, Washington” Lorna Dee Cervantes manifests the importance of the use of words in order to communicate thoughts and feelings, and the most important, to be understood. In the poem the presentation of English and Spanish words might suggest the alienation of both languages and cultures. Although, at first, it seems to be more empathy and natural association with Mexican words, along the poem the manifestation of accepting a language, or both, is transformed. This is to say, in the first stanza of the section México the poetic voice evokes pleasantly the origins of her words -“When I’m that far south, the old words/molt off my skin”- and accepts them as her “own words” -“My own words somersault naturally as my name”- with which the poetic voice watches and understands her reality. As Juan Manuel comments “she feels comfortable with its language and that it is this same language what defines her (as a name does).”
    Nevertheless, in the final lines of the second section Washington the poetic voice portrays the transformation of words through the impossibility of using words, her own words. In this manner, there seems to be an unconventional way of displaying words when the poetic voice mentions phrases instead of sentences with proper punctuation marks:
    There are songs in my head I could sing you
    songs that could drone away
    all the Mariachi bands you thought you ever heard
    songs that could tell you what I know
    or have learned from my people
    but for that I need words
    simple black nymphs between white sheets of paper
    obedient words obligatory words words I steal
    in the dark when no one can hear me (55-63)
    However, in this former stanza the poetic voice does not use an unconventional way of displaying words, but presents her own belief in words when she manifests her neccesity of stealing “obedient” and “obligatory” words. In this manner, it is important to bear in mind Antonio Porchia’s epigraph: “This world understands nothing but words/And you have come into it with almost none.” Thus, through the manifestation of the necessity of words, in this final lines, the poetic voice might establish that she does not belong to Mexican or American languages, but she belongs to the territory of words for the sake of communication and of being understood. Dee Cervantes intertwines both English and Spanish words as a way of inclusion and creation of a hybrid language and culture as the Chicano Movement.

  5. Lucía Rodríguez Ortiz

    In the poem “Visions of Mexico While at a Writing Symposium in Port Townsend, Washington,” there is a great concern with poetic inspiration and expression. There is a difference between the need of uttering experience and the manner of expression; as the poetic voice recognizes in the third stanza:
    I come from a long line of eloquent illiterates
    whose history reveals what words don’t say.
    Our anger is our way of speaking ,
    the gesture is an utterance more pure than a word. (24-7)
    In these lines, we may see that the poetic voice is locating itself inside a context, a community that has one characteristic in common, the expression of the deepest emotions through alternative means, that is not through words. This collectivity of voices is “eloquent” and articulates feeling with “anger” and “gesture,” which is described as a more pure manner of expression, when words are not enough to communicate.
    However, the poetic voice seems to be exploring the manners in which experience, “what I know/or have learned from my people” (58-9), may find expression through words: “ but for that I need words” (60). It is important to notice that in these last two stanzas the poem starts to disintegrate, to crumble, to fade, as we may see with the silences, ellipsis, that puncture this stanza and that, in the last one, results in a reduction of words: from eight, to three, to two. This is important for these two stanzas because it is at this moment when the poetic voice expresses the need for words, words that have been commented as insufficient, and this is visually depicted in these final stanzas.

  6. When I was reading ‘Visions of Mexico While at a Writing Symposium in Port Townsend, Washington’ the first word that came to my mind was Grenzgebiet, which basically names aborder area which could not be considered as belonging to one side or the other if we think of a clearcut line dividing two different territories. “When I’m that far south, the old words…” (1), “I don’t belong this far north” (35) are both examples of how she chooses a standpoint which is trapped in the middle. Eventhough this is true, the act that she mentions Donne, Byron, and the Brownings in her poem ‘For Virginia Chavez”, and the fact that, in comparison to Sandra Cisneros, her use of Spanish lexicon is perhaps more moderate, might lead readers to place her ‘on the other side’ regarding language and a literary context where there is a very strong presence of an English canon. In the case of ‘Visions of Mexico While at a Writing Symposium in Port Townsend, Washington’, she states that the words that start flowing in her speech when visiting Mexico are old, which also creates a greater distance between her and Mexico, but at the same time this creates a notion of a constant presence underlying in her, a sense of belonging to a tradition to which she is unavoidably rooted, but never anchored.
    Regarding the feathers being quills, two images from other readings came to my mind: the hurt foot of Douglass, where the wound was so deep that he could introduce the tip of the pen and it would stand on its own; the second image (second in listing but first in my mind) was Seamus Heaney’s squat pen in his poem ‘Digging’.
    Recently I had been thinking of balance regarding our perspective on foreigners due to a bar fight I unfortunately had last friday; I had to bear with the burden of fighting a drunk man from the USA who told me many terrible things about Mexican people and then decided to tell me he was going to make me bleed so bad (those were the exact words). It is never wise to generalize, and this balance is remarkable in Cervantes’ poetry, she knows the many sides to both cultures.

  7. Erratum:

  8. Erratum:
    “which basically names aborder…” should have been “which basically names a border…”

  9. Valeria Becerril

    In the two poems used in the presentation one can see that Lorna Dee Cervantes concentrates on the intersection of two cultures. In “Visions of Mexico While at a Writing Symposium in Port Townsend, Washington” the poetic voice is talking about a middle ground, literal and figurative. I agree with Juan when he says that “the poetic voice assumes a middle position between both the Mexican and the North American cultures,” a middle position that is actually not only cultural but also geographical. The speaker expresses how Mexico is too far south and Washington is too far north so much like Goldilocks she is looking for a place that is just right, I believe that place is California due to its geographical position and Cervantes´ biographical history. I think this is important because I do not think that the author “feels alien to the United States culture” California is part in its own right of the United States culture, I think the poem talks about the different cultures that coexist, sometimes violently, in the United States and how she belongs to the particular brand that is entangled with the Mexican culture. We can also see the cohabitation of these two cultures in “The Body as Braille” where the different points of view about the same image do not contradict each other but create a more complete view.

  10. Eréndira María Díaz Valencia

    When I read “Visions of Mexico While at a Writing Symposium in Port Townsend, Washington” it made me think on translation thinking about translation as a daily event; “translation” here understood as a practice of transformation and crossing, of composition and recomposition which happens not only among texts but between cultures, as well. In the poem, we see the poetic voice inhabiting some place which is “far at south” and then another which is “this far north.” This spatiality mixes with the way Cervantes structured her poem and creates an intertwining between linguistic and cultural borderlands. And it was this mixture which made me think of the relation between national, cultural borders and “human borders.” By the latter I am referring to the idea that each of us is delimited first, by our physical body and then by that which constitutes our individuality. And as I pointed out before, translation could be understood as a practice of crossing and transformation of those boundaries, which might lead us to think that deep inside this practice lie the logics and “success” of every encounter. Every time we are to interact with other people, we are to cross a physical boundary (a handshake, for instance) and a cultural one (having a conversation with another person) and ultimately, we discover whether our meeting with someone was likeable or not. And maybe the outcome was determined by the translation of our own self and our understanding of the other’s translation of themselves, “I don’t belong this far north./ The uncomfortable birds gawk at me./ They hem and haw from their borders in the sky.”
    I believe that the idea of the “this far north” border represents a place of transition and change, whereas “far at south” somewhere where a transformation is achieved by a critical introspection. In “Visions of Mexico While at a Writing Symposium in Port Townsend, Washington” we see a tongue, a body, a culture opening, entering a contact-zone. We see a transitional space created and recreated by words between cultures, between social and individual histories where words and worlds interact and the poetic’s voice sense of identity is moved elsewhere and back; it is translated.