Other Latinas whose books have been reviewed here-Nicholasa Mohr, Estela Portillo, Lorna Dee Cervantes
, and Cherrié Moraga-beat Cisneros to those accomplishments.
by Lorna Dee Cervantes
Lorna Dee Cervantes
(b. 1954) is a California native of Mexican-American and Native-American heritage.
impact on Chicana poetry prior to and since the publication of her
iconic, American Book Award-winning collection of poems, Emplumada (1981), has been tremendous.
fellow Latino poet, Alurista
, once referred to her
as "probably the best Chicana poet active today," and others consider her
to be one of the pre-eminent Chicana poets of the past four decades.
During the Clinton presidency, Cervantes
was invited to a special White House event honoring the top 100 poets in the United States at that time.
path to fame began with the Chicano activism and literary movement of the 1970's.
In 1974, she
began reading her
poetry publicly and now counts over 500 readings, poetic performances, and lectures in venues including the top universities in America: Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Brown, Vassar, and Cornell
Besides the American Book Award in 1982, Cervantes
has won over 20 notable prizes, fellowships, and other honors, such as the Latino Book Award
, Latin American Book Award, Patterson Prize for Poetry, and two Pushcart Prizes.
Cervantes is a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley.
As an academic for most of her
continues to exert a major influence on American Latina poetry, despite authoring only three poetry collections besides Emplumada.
These are: From the Cables of Genocide: Poems on Love and Hunger (1991); DRIVE: The First Quartet (2006); and Ciento: 100 100-Word Love Poems (2011).
She founded the literary review Mango in the 1970's and was co-editor of the multicultural poetry journal Red Dirt.
poems have been anthologized since the 1990's and have attracted wide critical study since the 1980's.
Emplumada -which means "feathered" as well as "pen flourish"-treats the social issues of Cervantes' day that still rattle our sensibilities: poverty, domestic and drug abuse, sexism, racism, classism.
We relive these through the eyes and heart of a 27-year-old Latina clarifying her
place in life.
occasionally spices her
39 poems with Spanish words and phrases that resonate with her
Hispanic readers yet do not detract from the universality of her
poetry makes us weep in recognition.
Or weep for the deep slashes to humanity that she
lays bare in her
unvarnished way, capturing the pain we often inflict on one another in unconscious or purposeful ways.
book begins with one of the more powerful poems, "Uncle's First Rabbit," a compressed retelling of 50 years of misery.
At the age of 10, Uncle is forced by his
drunken, violent father to shoot, then bash to death, an innocent rabbit.
The rabbit's dying cries remind the child of the night his
father kicked his
pregnant mother till her
aborted baby died, his
tiny sister's cries like the rabbit's.
military years and his
own marriage, the Uncle is haunted by his
father's abuse, and he
can't escape the "bastard's...bloodline" within himself, a man tormented by demons who one night "awaken[s] to find himself slugging the bloodied face of his
The Uncle's humanity gasps its last breath as he
dying wife in bed and thinks: "Die, you bitch.
I'll live to watch you die."
Lorna Dee Cervantes
The theme of abuse runs like an unavoidable snake through several of Cervantes' poems.
In "Meeting Mescalito at Oak Hill Cemetery," a 16-year-old girl "crooked with drug" momentarily escapes her
family life by drinking alone in a cemetery but then, at home
, "lock[s] my bedroom door against the stepfather.
also celebrates love, often by weaving this with nature, with the natural rhythms of existence that are often overlooked in harried lives.
, nature is a balm that opens eyes and rekindles the spirit.
In "Beneath the Shadow of the Freeway," the speaker describes her
partner thus: "Every night I sleep with a gentle man to the hymn of mockingbirds, and in time, I plant geraniums.
is, in the end, a poet who prefers to see the proverbial glass half-full but whose life experience has shown her
the half-empty part in sharp focus.
In perhaps the most autobiographical piece in the book-"Poem for the Young White Man Who Asked Me How I, an Intelligent, Well-Read Person, Could Believe in the War Between Races"-she explains clearly how conflict indeed exists: "I'm marked by the color of my skin.