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Alurista

Alurista Essay - Critical Essays

Alurista

Introduction

Alurista 1947-

(Full name Alberto Baltazar Urista Heredia) American poet and educator.

A seminal poet, theorist, and teacher of Chicano cultural nationalism, Alurista is important for his contribution to the development of an “interlingual” poetry fashioned from a blend of Spanish, English, and pre-Columbian languages, and for his incorporation of pre-Columbian religion and mythology into his poetry. He has also played a vital role in introducing Chicano studies into universities in the United States. Over the course of his career he has evolved from a politically militant opponent of Anglo domination of Mexican and Chicano people to a proponent of spiritual transformation of vision and consciousness as essential to effecting social change for all people. Throughout his poetry he reiterates that corporate commercial values and practices lie at the root of political, social, and economic exploitation and have imposed denatured lives on people. To this alienated condition he opposes the myth of a lost paradise called Aztlán, and of a pre-Columbian golden age, when cosmic forces and daily routines were in tune. Through the force of his poetry, founded on his faith that language creates reality, Alurista attempts to stimulate a return to a spiritual connection he believes people must have with each other and with cosmic processes in order for there to be just and harmonious societies.

Biographical Information

The eldest of six children, Aurista was born in Mexico City and lived in the Mexican states of Morelos and Guerrero until he was thirteen, when the family moved to San Diego, California. His parents spoke English as well as Spanish, although they thought English a cold language, useful only for business transactions. Alurista grew up fluent in both, as well as in various dialects of each language; his poetry reflects his polyglot origins. His poetry also reflects his spirituality, and his attachment to ritual. Raised Roman Catholic, in his youth he considered being a priest, but a crisis of faith, engendered by his view that “the Church was big business,” set him to investigate other varieties of Christian religion, secular philosophy, non-Christian faiths, and, especially, pre-Columbian history and religion. His college career, too, was made up of a series of explorations; he changed his course of study from business administration to the study of religion, then to sociology, then to social welfare. From 1965 to 1968 he worked as a counselor and psychiatric child-care worker, and in 1970 he graduated from San Diego State College with a B.A. in psychology. In 1978 he earned an M.A. and in 1983 a Ph.D. in Chicano literature. Perhaps more formative for Alurista than his schooling was the Chicano movement of the 1960s, especially the farm workers movement led by César Chávez, whose combination of spirituality, cultural nationalism, and non-violent political engagement were formative influences on Alurista. In 1968 and 1969 Alurista participated in founding the Chicano Studies Department and the Chicano Studies Center at San Diego State College, where he lectured from 1968 through 1974, and again from 1976 until 1979. In the 1970s he also founded Maize, a Chicano journal of literature and criticism, and he organized the annual Festival Floricanto, which draws Chicano poets and critics together for several days of performance and discussion. He was also a cofounder of MECHA, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (Chicano Student Movement of Aztlán).

Major Works

Alurista is best known for Floricanto en Aztlán (1971), his first book of poetry, in which he introduced the blended use of English, Spanish, and pre-Columbian languages. The volume incorporates images drawn from pre-Columbian culture as well as scenes of the barrio and treats the themes of alienation, exploitation, and the challenge of regaining the lost paradise of the indigenous people of the American Southwest and Mexico. His second book, Nationchild Plumaroja, 1969-1972 (1972) continues his exhortation to his people to embrace their Chicano cultural identity as a strategy of opposition to Anglo corporate oppression, characterized as “mr. jones” or “the man.” His subsequent poetry shows more sharply Alurista's involvement with pure language, especially evident in Spik in Glyph?(1981), a book full of broken syllables and complex puns which cross linguistic barriers. In Dawn's Eye: 1979-1981 (1982) and As the Barrio Turns Who the Yoke B On (2000) Alurista returns to a more accessible style, and to poems of personal experience.

Critical Reception

Alurista's early volumes, Floricanto en Aztlán and Nationchild Plumaroja, are regarded highly for their accessibility, for their blending of languages and dialects, for their concern with immediate experience, and for taking a cultural/political stand. His subsequent volumes, A'nque/Alurista: Acuarelas hechas por Delilah Merriman-Montoya (1979) and Spik in Glyph?, have met with much less critical acclaim, however, and are generally seen as a weakening of Alurista's poetic powers. Experiments with form and linguistic dexterity, the poems in these volumes are considered less accessible and less immediately concerned with experience than his early poems. Cordelia Candelaria expresses the general critical relation to these two periods in Chicano Poetry: A Critical Introduction, when she writes that “[t]he fact that the poet has remained a respected figure among Chicano writers despite the dropping off in quality of … [his] later volumes reconfirms the greatness of his earlier work.” Alurista seems to have returned in his poetry to a sensibility more to critics' liking. Judith Ginsberg argues that although “verbal pyrotechnics … threatened to diminish the power of his expression,” she finds that the new poems in Return: Poems Collected and New, (1982) “suggest a reengagement with more accessible language and human themes and a movement away from the often brittle and obscure wordplay of A'nque/Alurista and Spik in Glyph?.” Gary Keller focuses on another aspect of Alurista's poetry which has generated critical concern when he writes that Alurista represents the past with a carelessly uncritical eye, and thus romanticizes and falsifies it. These various objections, however, do not detract from Alurista's importance as a poet. Not only is he, as Luis Leal and Pepe Baron argue, “the best known and most prolific Chicano poet,” he has been a significant model for many emerging Chicano poets and has played a leading role in shaping a literary context for their writings.

Principal Works

Floricanto en Aztlán 1971

Nationchild Plumaroja, 1969-1972 1972

Collecion Tula y Tonan: Textos generativos (poems for children) 1973

Timespace Huracán: Poems 1972-1975 1976

A'nque/Alurista: Acuarelas hechas por Delilah Merriman-Montoya 1979

Spik in Glyph? 1981

*Return: Poems Collected and New 1982

Tremble Purple: Seven Poems 1986

Z Eros 1995

Et Tú.. Raza? 1996

As the Barrio Turns Who the Yoke B On 2000

*This volume includes Dawn's Eye: 1979-1981 together with a new edition of Nationchild Plumaroja, 1969-1972.

Criticism

Juan Gómez-Quiñones (essay date 1971)

SOURCE: A Preface to Floricanto en Aztlán, The Chicano Studies Center: University of California, Los Angeles, 1971.

[In the following foreword to Alurista's first collection of poems, Gómez-Quiñones introduces Alurista to the reader, speaks of the importance of poetry to Chicano culture, and of Alurista's importance to Chicano poetry.]

Alurista has had a major impact on the Movement in poetry, symbols, views. His influence demands attention, hence the following presentation of one hundred of the poet's earliest work written during times seminal to the current renaissance, 1968-1969. Clearly the writings parallel the altering dynamic within the Movement. The...

(The entire section is 478 words.)

Joel Hancock (essay date 1972)

SOURCE: A review of Floricanto in Aztlán, in Modern Language Journal, Vol. 56, No. 3, March 1972, pp. 181-2.

[In the following review, Hancock enumerates some charcteristic strengths of Alurista's poetry.]

Emerging from the Chicano movement is a distinctive literature which depicts the conditions of the Chicano and expresses his anxieties and expectations. In poetry, the best-known voice is Alurista (Alberto Baltazar Urista Heredia), and his Floricanto en Aztlán evinces the unique ness of Chicano writing with its rich cultural and linguistic legacies. The one hundred poems comprised in this collection represent the early period of the young...

(The entire section is 684 words.)

Juan Bruce-Novoa (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: “The Teachings of Alurista: A Chicano Way of Knowledge,” in Chicano Poetry: A Response to Chaos, University of Texas Press, pp. 69-93, 1982.

[In the following essay, Bruce-Novoa offers a thematic reading of the first ten poems of Floricanto en Aztlán.]

Quetzalcóatl-Nanauatzin is the sun-god of the priests [Tlamatinime], who consider voluntary self-sacrifice the highest expression of their doctrine of the world and of life.

—Jacques Soustelle, La Pensée Cosmologique des Anciens Mexicains1

Alberto Urista, known as Alurista, has published three collections of poetry,...

(The entire section is 10769 words.)

Gary D. Keller (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: “Alurista, Poeta-Antropologo, and the Recuperation of the Chicano Identity,” in Return: Poems Collected and New, Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, pp. xi-xlix, 1982.

[In the following essay, Keller asserts that Alurista's use of pre-Columbian elements in his poetry is intended to invigorate and validate Chicano cultural identity.]

This volume brings together one of Alurista's earliest and most celebrated works, Nationchild plumaroja (1972), and his latest book of poems, Dawn's Eye. Some of those who have studied Alurista's literary production over the last ten years or so—¡han pasado los años!—have noted the development and change of...

(The entire section is 12858 words.)

Cordelia Candelaria (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: “Toward a Chicano Poetics: Alurista,” in Chicano Poetry: A Critical Introduction, Greenwood Press, 1986, pp.78-108.

[In the following essay, Candelaria explicates a number of Alurista's poems in order to demonstrate the nature of his cultural, spiritrual, and political concerns, and explore how his poetics has developed.]

ALURISTA

More and more one finds references calling Alurista “the poet laureate” of la raza,1 a tribute meant to honor him by bestowal of the highest accolade available to him: the title of the preeminent poet of his entire people. Although this praise and the motivations behind it are...

(The entire section is 11737 words.)

Yves-Charles Grandjeat (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: “Alurista's Flight to Aztlán: A Study in Poetic Effectiveness,” in Missions in Conflict: Essays on U.S.-Mexican Relations and Chicano Culture, Gunter Narr Verlag, 1986, pp. 123-31.

[In the following essay, Grandjeat argues that Alurista's poetry is more strongly spiritual than political.]

Alurista's work has been acknowledged both by critics and readers of Chicano poetry as an outstanding landmark. “A seminal figure,” according to Tomás Ybarra,1 he is considered by many as “the poet laureate of Aztlán.”2 But fame never comes alone: he has also been one of the most controversial Chicano writers. Indeed, while everybody has...

(The entire section is 3662 words.)