I am glad that Javier invited Barb and me to come out and hear him read with Jasper Bernes and Jessica Fisher at the Triple J reading.
Javier’s first book, Some Clarifications y Otros Poemas, is a great read. He showcases his mastery in English, Spanish and Spanglish poetics in a collection that invited the reader along without handholding through the linguistics leaps. While many other poets feel the need to contextual and/or defend their mixed language at every turn, Huerta offers only an introductory poem to set the tempo for the collection.
“the author never intended for half of the poems to be in English and the other half to be in Spanish”
This simple statement rings so true in the daily language of immigrants and their descendants; our bilinigualism doesn’t come with an on-off switch, it adapts to the situation at hand.
Huerta started the reading with “Advertisment” which not only alerts the reader to his code-switching but also provides other acceptable mispronunciations of the author’s name (this theme reminds me of Pedro Pietri’s Traffic Violations and how Pietri continually chides Anglos for not getting it “right” with 70s Nuyoricans).
From there we went to “Días neolaredenses.” A beautiful lyric poem whose meter and refrain can be appreciated in any language, Días just happens to do it in Spanish.
“Mythic Lovers” builds on a new meter and refrain but this time in English. Breathing new life into the trope of long distance romance with tight lines and rhythm.
I was very happy to hear Javier read “Blasphemous Elegy for May 14, 2003.” This poem breathes life back into the names, dates, and places of those who died trying to cross the border that day. So many poems try to dance around such issues, add metaphor and draw analogies to try to add some literary shine to daily events. Here we have no such gloss, Huerta’s staccato litany evokes the desperation of suffocation and then takes us to an imagined final thought of those lost “ella me espera en Houston.” This “she” who men are willing to risk their lives on, this “she” who will not be there for these men. These men who Huerta names by name, unafraid to bring the reader face-to-face with the dead, the all too often-nameless dead lumped into the category of “illegal immigrants.”
Huerta ends the reading with selections from “American Copia.” (Bits are also collected in the latest Achiote Seeds and on Javier’s blog.) What I’m diggin most in this poem is how Huerta mingles his poetic process with everyday occurrences, in this case “going to the grocery store.” So even in the day to day, Huerta encounters other poets from various worlds – the American and Chicano canon and his colleagues from Cal – all who aid in his journey toward poetic greatness (citing how “his biographers” might interpret these events). Adding other figures from his life in this everyday poetics, Huerta dismisses the stereotype that poetry only happens in certain hallowed halls and insists that poetics happen in every hall– Fife Hall, Albertson’s, the express checkout line, MFA parties, etc.
Huerta delivers all these poems with a humor and wit that doesn’t mask the seriousness of the content or the high level of craft in the work.