Another guide through the wild places of the world is Emmy Pérez, whose collection “With the River on Our Face” is coming Oct. 4 from The University oAnother guide through the wild places of the world is Emmy Pérez, whose collection “With the River on Our Face” is coming Oct. 4 from The University of Arizona Press. The transplanted California Latina—poet and academic—brings her considerable wisdom and skill to bear on themes and issues along the Rio Grande/Bravo. The book is divided into five parts: Downriver, Midriver, Rio Grande-Bravo, Cara and Boca. But the poems themselves seek to heal fractures in identity, culture and place, re-weaving the disparate detritus of this nepantla—this middle ground with all its painful memories and broken present—into a stunning, powerful synthesis.
Like the goddess Coyolxauhqui, taking up her severed limbs and making herself whole again, this collection stands bold in idiom and resistance, struggling against “the clarity ~ ambiguity of deportation,” against that “fence with many-colored erected crosses a los migrantes desconocidos y conocidos,” against erasure and the insidious “Valley Myth” that obscures raices y valores.
Along the way, Pérez celebrates identity — communal and individual — in luminous language that flows dancing like the Río itself. Stand-outs for me were the heart-wrenching epic “Río Grande-Bravo,” the sudden freedom of “A woman like a city,” and the beautifully evocative title poem.
“With the River on Our Face” is a major contribution to regional letters, a tumultuous outpouring that will water the roots of your soul and flood your mind....more
Apropos of this last week of vacation comes the latest from one of our state’s finest bards, Bryce Milligan. In “Take to the Highway: Arabesques for TApropos of this last week of vacation comes the latest from one of our state’s finest bards, Bryce Milligan. In “Take to the Highway: Arabesques for Travelers” (West End Press), Milligan crafts sturdy, beautiful verse and prose poems so smoothly lathed and joined that they seem to tumble organic and self-made into our minds. He acknowledges the cost of such skill in “Necessary Work,” as every creative endeavor that “needed / doing” has taken “a bit of the music / out of his hands.” But from the playful warnings of the first section (“Elevation is the New Salvation”) to the breathless intimacy of the second (“Take to the Highway”) and the aching melancholy of the third (“All That Would Be”), Milligan proves his gouged fingers capable of mighty music indeed.
As the title suggests, travel connects these poems, both the physical crisscrossing of our world and that ever-spiraling movement into the future. Along the way, Milligan points out sights that wonder, delight and terrify: the well-worn path that leads to an unmarked clearing; houses on stilts above the chaparral as the sea begins to rise; a sleeping volcano stripped of trees by men; a bereft widower waiting to join his beloved atop Mt. Locke.
In both his short, economical poems and longer, more fluid prose pieces, Milligan is an absolute master of metaphor and simile. In “Earth-bound,” a torn up railroad reflects the dawn “as if Jacob’s ladder had come / asunder with some wild desire / and fallen blessed with angel’s fire.” In “The Green Man Returns to Greenland,” “[n]ewly calved, the shards of ancient glaciers / ride toward deeper waters.” In “Mere Physics,” aging is delightfully transformed as “October / ripens blotched with orange.” Every page delights with some startling image that will stay with you for hours or days.
It’s worth it to ride shotgun with Bryce Milligan. He knows all the shortcuts past the brambles of life to those evanescent glimmers of bittersweet illumination. Let him take you on a trip....more
A TOP SHELF review, originally published in the August 19, 2016 edition of The Monitor
Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, we get two versions of locaA TOP SHELF review, originally published in the August 19, 2016 edition of The Monitor
Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, we get two versions of local history. In school, teachers hand down a sanitized, state-approved vision of American exceptionalism and the moral superiority of the men who turned Texas into first a Republic and then a southern state.
At home, however, we hear something quite different, stories passed down from bisabuelos to tías and primos. It’s a harrowing, heart-breaking narrative of usurpation, marginalization and lynching, of the slow and insidious othering of our Mexicano ancestors as the border crossed them and the U.S. ground them into the arid earth.
In these oral histories we learn that the Texas Rangers were not the benevolent agents of lawfulness textbooks would have us believe. In fact, from about 1914 to 1917, the rinches (their name slurred by indigenous tongues, broken jaws, noosed necks) waged a war of terror against Mexicanos / Tejanos along the border under the pretense of stopping a possible revolution on this side of the river.
Guadalupe García McCall, diving deep into this hidden history to get at the tragic truth, has crafted a young-adult novel that explores the complex situation along the border in the summer of 1915, when violence exploded and families were torn apart. But make no mistake — Shame the Stars (out next month from Tu Books) is not just a fascinating bit of historical fiction for teens. It is one of the most important works of 21st-century South Texas literature, a book that I urge Valleyites in particular to read.
The broad-strokes plot will be familiar to most: Joaquín del Toro — heir to the Las Moras Ranch — is in love with Dulceña Villa, whose father owns El Sureño, the main Spanish-language newspaper in the fictional town of Montesco. Though their parents have been close since before their births, the rising racial and political tensions in the Rio Grande Valley push the families apart, and the lovers are forbidden from seeing each other.
They do so anyway, of course.
What differentiates Joaquín and Dulceña from Romeo and Juliet, however, is their intense love for their gente, their dedication to a community that finds itself increasingly oppressed by Captain Elliot Munro and his band of Texas Rangers. These supposed lawmen have begun circumventing the law to carry out summary judgments and executions of any Mexicano or Tejano (what we’d call Mexican-American) they suspect of collusion with rebels.
Joaquín’s father first sides with the Rangers while Dulceña’s father publishes poems and articles by mysterious activists using pseudonyms. And in the shadows, people whisper the name of La Estrella, a revered woman who aids the oppressed people of Morado County, including insurgents actively fighting the Rangers.
As the teens defy their families and bring themselves into greater and greater conflict with Munro and his butchers, they discover that not everyone is who they appear to be, and startling revelations about their families set the lovers at the very heart of the struggle for peace and respect along the border.
Beautifully written in García McCall’s inimitable, lyric style, the chapters — narrated by Joaquín — are separated by a wide variety of historical and fictional documents: Joaquín’s poems, letters exchanged by the teens, newspaper clippings, excerpts from books of the time, etc. With its list of recommended readings and a powerful essay by the author about the genesis of the novel, Shame the Stars lends itself to incorporation into English and history classes throughout South Texas and beyond.
This novel was my most highly anticipated read of 2016. It delivered. Read it....more