Quintana, Leroy V.
Leroy V. Quintana 1944-
American poet and editor.
Quintana has fashioned a body of poetry drawing on his experience with the Chicano culture of the North American Southwest, and on his experiences as a Chicano outsider in American society, subject to ethnic disdain and socioeconomic discrimination. His poetry also reflects his time served as a soldier in Vietnam, and his work as a mental health counselor. Quintana's poems are essentially vignettes continuing the oral tradition of Chicano culture, depicting scenes from personal, family, and community experience. The simplicity of their structure shows his concern for literary accessibility and concrete representation over formal complexity, linguistic brilliance, or abstract theory.
Born in New Mexico, of Mexican descent, Quintana never knew his father, who abandoned his mother before Quintana's birth. He was raised both by his maternal grandparents and his mother and step-father. After frequent moves around the region, his family settled in Albuquerque when Quintana was in the fifth grade. After graduation from high school he worked with his stepfather as a roofer. In 1964, he entered the University of New Mexico as an anthropology major, but his course of study was interrupted when he was drafted in 1967. After returning from Vietnam, he began to work on short poems recalling his war experiences, and on pieces reflecting the culture of his childhood. He returned to the University of New Mexico in 1969 as an English major, became the editor of the university literary magazine, and was published in Puerto del Sol. In 1970, he married Yolanda Holguin, a registered nurse, and had three children, whom he has celebrated in his poetry. He earned his bachelor's degree in English in 1971, and began working as an alcoholism counselor at St. Joseph's Hospital in Albuquerque. In 1972, he won an assistantship at New Mexico State University and, with the encouragement of Native American author N. Scott Momaday and the poet Keith Wilson, began writing in earnest, eventually becoming the editor of Puerto del Sol. He began teaching English at El Paso Community College in 1975, and had his first book of poetry, Hijo del Pueblo: New Mexico Poems, published in 1976. In 1980, Quintana and his family moved back to Albuquerque, and he began working for the Albuquerque Tribune as a sports and features writer. In 1981, his second book of poetry Sangre was published. In 1982 it won the American Book Award for Poetry from the Before Columbus Foundation, and the El Paso Border Regional Library Association Award. In that same year, Quintana enrolled at Western New Mexico University, studied psychiatry, and in 1984 was awarded an M.A. in counseling. He then moved to San Diego, California, and worked as a counselor at the National Family Clinic until 1987. In 1988, he began teaching at Mesa College in San Diego, where he is a professor of English. In 1993 Quintana again won the American Book Award for Poetry from the Before Columbus Foundation, for his The History of Home.
Quintana's first books of poetry, Hijo del Pueblo and Sangre, written in blended English and Spanish, established his poetic persona—a narrator of tales reflecting the communal world of his Chicano childhood, and the Chicano tradition of storytelling. Interrogations (1992), his third book, began as a notebook he kept as a soldier in Vietnam, in which he recorded his impressions of the events and people of the war. His subsequent volumes retain his style of anecdotal accessibility, combining his fascination with and memories of his childhood culture with his growing awareness of the way people suffer and cope, gathered from his personal experience as a soldier, a father, a teacher, and a mental health counselor.
The qualities which make some critics, like Douglas Benson, value Quintana's work—his narrative accessibility, structural simplicity, and awareness of social and economic injustice—cause others, like Philip Foss, Jr., to complain that Quintana's poems are more authentically prose, and their content better suited to stories (Contact/II, Winter/Spring 1984-1985). Critical response to Quintana's depiction of characters also varies. Whereas James Hatch objects that “Quintana is content not to trouble the surface people present to others,” Jon Forrest Glade commends him for having “given the characters in Interrogations genuine depth.”
Hijo del Pueblo: New Mexico Poems [Son of the People: New Mexico Poems] 1976
Sangre [Blood] 1981
Now and Then, Often, Today 1992
The History of Home 1993
My Hair Turning Gray Among Strangers 1996
The Great Whirl of Exile 1999
Paper Dance: Fifty-five Latino Poets [editor, with Virgil Suarez] (anthology) 1995
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SOURCE: A review of Hijo del Pueblo, American Book Review, Vol. 1, No. 1, December, 1977, pp. 19-20.
[In the following review, Kopp praises the manner in which Quintana collects and expresses communal experiences in his poetry.]
Leroy Quintana's Hijo del Pueblo is a strong book, handsomely printed, intelligently arranged and illustrated. The poems evolve from a child's partial view of the doings and stories of “the old ones” of his village, through the poet's experience as a young adult, and on to a complete awareness of one's world, or “pueblo.”
But the simple (deceptively simple) viewpoint of the child—though growing in a sense of humor, irony, and sadness—never leaves these poems. Two drawings by Trini Lopez anchor this—the first of a boy, his body still rounded from babyhood, looking objectively with full black eyes at the world beyond his door; and then, the last illustration in the book, an older boy stands at the extreme right of the page—hurt-looking and grieved—against a vast background of black.
The key to the force of these mostly short, laconic poems is this long line, I think, from the poem “Don Santos”: “secrets I as a young boy was to learn from the silence of old men.” Understatement, humility, gentle irony, a sense of mystery, love. These qualities are the bases of Leroy Quintana's power and strength. He speaks...
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SOURCE: “Intuitions of a World in Transition: The New Mexican Poetry of Leroy V. Quintana,” in Bilingual Review/La Revista Bilingue, Vol. 12, Nos. 1 & 2, January, 1985, pp. 62-80.
[In the following essay, Benson discusses the role of tradition and intuition as sources of knowledge in Quintana's poetry.]
The poetry of Leroy V. Quintana evokes a dense, contradictory world, full of mystery and barely perceived truths—truths not even fully understood by the speakers who translate them for us. In his first two books, Hijo del pueblo (1976) and the Before Columbus Foundation's American Book Award winner Sangre (1981), Quintana has condensed into brief and seemingly simple poems moments from his lost youth, memories of his ancestors, reactions to the wars in Korea and Vietnam, and signs of the inevitable changes that time imposes on him and on his people.
However, his focus on these things in not merely nostalgic; it is clear that he has undertaken a critical evaluation of them to determine what is of lasting value and what is artificial and transitory. His speakers show in their actions and stories that both the old and modern worlds contain authentic and false experiences, all of which are worthy of being retained. Above all, Quintana's work attempts to recapture the human qualities contained in the advice, the attitudes, and the deeds of his people, created anew in...
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SOURCE: “A Conversation with Leroy V. Quintana,” in Bilingual Review/La Revista Bilingue, Vol. 12, No. 3, September, 1985, pp. 218-229.
[In the following interview, Benson talks with Quintana about how his home village and his experiences during the Vietnam War shaped his poetry.]
Leroy V. Quintana was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico on June 10, 1944. He never knew his father; during his early years he lived with his grandparents in Ratón, in the northern part of the state. Their tales of family members, village people, witches, buried tesoro, and la Llorona directly inform the poems in his first two books: Hijo del Pueblo (1976) and Sangre (1981). The structures and style of this tradition, with its emphasis on human reactions to everyday and supernatural events, provide the basis for the narrative form of these books as well. In the third grade he went to live with his mother and stepfather, spending summers with his grandparents. From the fifth grade on he lived in Albuquerque, where he graduated from high school and then worked for a time with his stepfather as a roofer.
In 1964 he entered the University of New Mexico. His college career was interrupted from 1967 to 1969 by a tour of duty in the army. He spent one year in Vietnam; later, these experiences would provide the raw material for a cycle of poems in Santiago Daydí-Tolson's anthology Five Poets of...
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SOURCE: “Inner and Outer Realities of Chicano Life: The New Mexican Perspective of Leroy V. Quintana,” in Perspective on Contemporary Literature, Vol. 12, No. 12, 1986, pp. 20-28.
[In the following essay, Benson explores the significance of multicultural and family influences on Quintana's poetry.]
The poetry of Leroy V. Quintana opens up for us a world and a vision which until now has remained inaccessible to the majority of American readers. Many of Quintana's fellow Chicanos from outside New Mexico consider it remote as well, for the particular kind of mystical fatalism that gives its stamp to his people is essentially unknown and widely misunderstood (Gerdes 249). It is the product of centuries of cultural fusion, and is only marginally related to the political activism which produced a new flowering of Chicano arts in California, Colorado, and Texas over a decade ago. Thus, it has remained somewhat hidden from view.
The original inhabitants of New Mexico, the Native Americans of the stable, agriculturally based pueblos along the Río Grande and in the many mountain ranges, had over thousands of years developed a working vision of ecological and social equilibrium that placed man squarely at the center of responsibility for the well-being of the universe. In contrast to the European Christian ethic, which teaches that man was placed on the earth to have dominion over it,...
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SOURCE: “War and Injustice,” in American Book Review, Vol. 16, No. 1, April/May, 1994, p. 21.
[In the following excerpted review, Glade surveys Quintana's Vietnam war poems.]
As I write this review during the early hours of Memorial Day, Channel 23 telecasts a marathon of war movies almost entirely about World War II. The sound is turned off, but, as I get up from the typewriter for a fresh cup of coffee or to check my notes against one of the poems from Leroy V. Quintana's Interrogations, I glimpse black-and-white images of war. The actors change from movie to movie, but each film—be it about an infantry platoon, a bomber crew, or a small squad on a suicide mission—seems to feature the same cast of stock characters: The Hillbilly, The Daredevil Patriot, The Experienced Non-Com, The Wiseacre, The Cowboy, The Indian, The Comical Ethnic Figure With The Thick Accent, The Arrogant Junior Officer Who Will Later Panic Under Fire, The Intellectual, and The Guy From Brooklyn Named Joe. The contrast between Quintana's collection and the movies is great; film is not print and World War II was not the American War in Vietnam, but war stories are war stories, and Quintana's superior book of war poems succeeds where miles of celluloid have failed. The characters in Interrogations have been given genuine depth, and in a few succinct lines they emerge as sharply defined human beings, not as...
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SOURCE: “The Other Side of the Tracks,” in The Progressive, Vol. 60, No. 9, September, 1996, p. 43.
[In the following review, Martinez praises Quintana's poetry for its accessibility, and for the sense of the importance of community she finds in it.]
Poetry is not for those who write it; it is for those who need it. This conviction—uttered by a postman who embellishes his love letters with Pablo Neruda's poems in the movie The Postman—goes to the heart of a crisis of meaning haunting United States poetry.
Too many poets, ensconced in academic towers of Babel, write for learned elites. With slow book sales and poor attendance at readings, they blame poetry's difficulties on the sorry state of American culture. What is to be done, asks literary critic Dana Gioia in a book titled, Can Poetry Matter? Essays on Poetry and American Culture.
The answer depends on which side of the tracks you frequent. Poets such as Leroy Quintana and Martin Espada are among those whose words are taking wing at community and literacy centers, rallies, prisons, shelters, bookstores in the barrio, and high schools in the 'hood.
Poetry matters here, and Quintana and Espada deliver. They respect their readers, adhering to an aesthetic of clarity. Yet their visions are complex and iconoclastic.
Quintana, a Vietnam veteran, has perfected a...
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SOURCE: “The Surreal and the Real,” in American Book Review, Vol. 18, No. 5, July/August, 1997, pp. 23-24.
[In the following essay, Hatch regrets that Quintana's poetry seldom delves beneath the surface of his characters' attitudes and responses.]
If a reader comes to these two books of poetry hoping to be informed about the contemporary Chicano experience, he or she will be left asking, “Which particular one?” Juan Felipe Herrera's Love after the Riots is in essence and in detail an urban poem, self-conscious and nervy, while Leroy V. Quintana's simple poems in My Hair Turning Gray among Strangers (introduction by Robert Creeley) concentrate their attention on ordinary people who live, if not in the country, then at least in a backwater. Two more different approaches to writing could not be found. Herrera's style strives for the liberation of surrealism, an idealistic form of writing that was implicitly political from its start at the beginning of the century and has formed an important element in Latin American literature ever since. Quintana writes in an objective, descriptive style and restricts himself to the literal and personal, content not to comment critically on the experiences he presents to the reader.
Love after the Riots unhappily tries to blend narrative with its surrealistic openness. The two forces block and thwart each other. The poem is...
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SOURCE: “Memories, Boiled and Strained,” in The Progressive, Vol. 63, No. 11, November, 1999, pp. 43-44.
[In the following review, Jones praises Quintana's poetry for its social consciousness.]
Leroy V. Quintana is one of the most under-read, “successful” writers pubishing today. His volume of poetry Sangre (1981) won both the El Paso Border Regional Library Association Award and the American Book Award for poetry. Yet Quintana's writing suffers from invisibility today, as does the work of many Latino writers. In spite of this, he continues to produce riveting poems.
His latest book, The Great Whirl of Exile, is no exception. He takes his title from Pablo Neruda's poem “Fully Empowered,” which begins, “It's well known that he who returns never left.” Quintana makes it clear that he has never left his home, Albuquerque, New Mexico, the setting for many of the poems in this volume.
The Great Whirl of Exile is divided into three sections: “Legends of Home,” “Dedications,” and “Omen.” However, the pieces defy easy classification and categorization.
The African American poet Gwendolyn Brooks once wrote that “poetry is life distilled.” Quintana has boiled and strained his memories into poems, most a few stanzas long, which speak of an experience on a particular day in the life of a particular man. Yet the...
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González, Ray. “A Chicano Verano.” The Nation 256, No. 22 (June 7, 1993): 72-73.
Favorably reviews A History of Home,including it on a reading list of important new Chicano writing.
Additional coverage of Quintana's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vol. 131; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 65; DISCovering Authors: Multicultural Authors Module; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 82; Hispanic Literature Criticism, Vol. 2; and Hispanic Writers, Vols. 1 and 2.
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