Latino Poetry Analysis

Literary magazines and anthologies

(Critical Explorations in Poetry)

The literary magazines and small press publications of the burgeoning Chicano, Nuyorican, and Cuban American literary culture are an essential source of information on the initial development of Latino poetry. Among the magazines of varying regional or national renown, significance, and circulation were the Chicano periodicals De Colores (Albuquerque, New Mexico), El Grito and Grito del Sol (Berkeley, California), and Tejidos (Austin, Texas); the Puerto Rican diaspora magazine The Rican (Chicago); and the Cuban American review Areíto (New York). Some of these small journals were edited by leading poets, such as Maize (San Diego), by Alurista, and Mango (San Jose), by Lorna Dee Cervantes. These and numerous other journals, whether interdisciplinary or purely literary in focus (and many of them highly ephemeral), provided a necessary publishing outlet for the alternative voices erupting throughout the United States during the 1960’s and 1970’s. These publications grew to afford a rich historical record of a momentous turning point in American literature.

No serious study of the origins and development of Latino literature of any genre can be undertaken without considering Revista Chicano-Riqueña (1973-1985) and its continuation, Americas Review (1986-1999). A long-running literary magazine founded by the scholar Nicolás Kanellos, the journal focused on creative writing, with interviews, literary essays, scholarly articles, book reviews, and visual art complementing each issue. Beginning with the premier issue, the work of most of the major Chicano, Nuyorican, and, as coverage quickly expanded, other Latino poets appeared in the pages of these magazines, in many cases marking the first appearance of a writer on the literary radar. Tino Villanueva, Alurista, Cervantes, Victor Hernández Cruz, Gary Soto, Ricardo Sánchez, Tato Laviera, Sandra María Esteves, Jimmy Santiago Baca, and Pat Mora—to indicate only a few—figure among the Chicano and Nuyorican poets featured. In addition, the magazines published the poetry of writers better known for different genres, such as Rolando Hinojosa, Carlos Morton, Miguel Piñero, and Tomás Rivera. Many of these poets and other writers helped shape and influence the journal by doubling as contributing editors or editorial board members. Special or monographic issues focused on particular topics within U.S. Hispanic literature. The celebrated Woman of Her Word: Hispanic Women Write, edited by Chicana poet Evangelina Vigil (volume 11, nos. 3/4, 1983) anthologizes the finest Latina writing of that time. Several issues emphasize the Latino writers active in various regions of the United States, including Chicago (volume 5, no. 1, 1977), Wisconsin (volume 13, no. 2, 1985), Houston (volume 16, no. 1, 1988), and the Pacific Northwest (volume 23, nos. 3/4, 1995). The tenth and twentieth anniversary anthologies (1982 and 1992) provide a selection of the major poetical works published in the...

(The entire section is 1240 words.)

Early Chicano poetry

(Critical Explorations in Poetry)

Many of the poets featured in the early Chicano anthologies or in other publications continued to publish or to appear in later anthologies, suggesting their ongoing significance in Chicano literary history even as others emerged. These include Alurista, Angela de Hoyos, José Montoya, Luis Omar Salinas, Raúl Salinas, and Tino Villanueva.

Rodolfo Gonzales

Rodolfo Gonzales’s I Am Joaquín/Yo soy Joaquín (1967) and the poetry of Sánchez are especially representative of this early period. The bilingual I Am Joaquín/Yo soy Joaquín, by Denver-based activist and writer Gonzales, may be the single best-known Chicano poem of any period. It has been widely read, reproduced, and distributed by newspapers and magazines, students and teachers, performers, labor organizers, and Chicano organizations and organizers in every possible educational, cultural, political, and social milieu. I Am Joaquín is as much a historical commentary as a modern epic poem, and intentionally so. An early popular edition (Bantam Pathfinder, 1972) even supplemented the poem with paintings depicting historical events and a chronology of Mexican and Mexican American history. Also, as Gonzales himself states in the informative fact list that prefaces the poem, “I Am Joaquín was the first work of poetry to be published by Chicanos for Chicanos and is the forerunner of the Chicano cultural renaissance.” Gonzales combines the poetic sensibilities of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and Allen Ginsberg’s...

(The entire section is 635 words.)

Nuyorican poetry: 1970’s

(Critical Explorations in Poetry)

The beginnings of Nuyorican poetry were equally strident. The 1975 anthology edited by Algarín and Piñero, Nuyorican Poetry, introduced a wide audience to the poetry that was coming out of the experience of being Puerto Rican in New York City. Even the subtitle of the anthology—An Anthology of Puerto Rican Words and Feelings—captures the emotive lyricism that underlies the use of an ethnic-specific lexicon (“Puerto Rican words”) to document a group experience (“Puerto Rican feelings”) in poetry inspired by a place. Several of the featured writers went on to distinguish themselves in poetry beyond the anthology, including Sandra María Esteves, José Angel Figueroa, Pedro Pietri, and the compilers themselves. (Two poets active in the early 1970’s, Cruz and Laviera, are not in the Nuyorican anthology.)

The late Piñero, known more for the play Short Eyes (pr. 1974) than for his poetry, made a significant contribution nonetheless. The selections in the anthology exemplify his savage irreverence. In “The Book of Genesis According to Saint Miguelito,” for instance, Piñero derides the God who created ghettos, slums, lead-based paint, hepatitis, capitalism, and overpopulation. A later work, the much-anthologized “A Lower East Side Poem” (La Bodega Sold Dreams, 1980), covers similar ground as the poet contemplates dying among the pimping, shooting, drug dealing, and other unsavory activities of the neighborhood. The perverse but catchy refrain “then scatter my ashes thru/ the Lower East Side” affirms both Piñero’s allegiance to his barrio roots and the musical rhythms that inspire many Nuyorican poets.


(The entire section is 688 words.)

Cuban American poetry: 1960’s-1970’s

(Critical Explorations in Poetry)

Spanish, not English, was the language of record for Cuban exile poets and Cuban American poets during the 1960’s and 1970’s, so language choice per se was not a conscious issue of either form or content, as it was for many Chicano and Nuyorican writers at that time. In fact, in contrast to the Nuyorican example, Cuban poetry in the United States of this early period often was seen as part of Cuban literature or Cuban exile literature elsewhere, not as a nascent branch of American ethnic literature. (Naomi Lindstrom analyzes this problem in the chapter on Cuban American and mainland Puerto Rican literature in Sourcebook of Hispanic Culture in the United States, 1982, edited by David William Foster.) Even so, a number of individual poems anthologized by Burunat and García in Veinte años de literatura cubanoamerica illustrate the tendency to explore issues of identity within the context of Cuban exile in the United States.

Uva Clavijo

Uva Clavijo often defines her exile, as she does here in “Declaración” (declaration), in highly specific spatiotemporal terms:

I, Uva A. Clavijo,. . . . . . .declare, today, the last Monday in September,that as soon as I can I will leave everythingand return to Cuba.


(The entire section is 541 words.)

The 1980’s and 1990’s

(Critical Explorations in Poetry)

By the 1980’s and 1990’s, the diverse body of Latino literature by Chicano, Puerto Rican, and Cuban writers in the United States was receiving considerable critical, popular, and pedagogical attention. As compilers were quick to point out, Latino poets—including those trained in graduate writing programs—were being recognized more widely through national fellowships, prizes, and other honors and awards. They, like other American writers, were publishing in mainstream literary magazines such as American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, Parnassus, and Poetry. Latino literature in English in the United States was being included in general anthologies of American literature and in American...

(The entire section is 1022 words.)

Beginning of the twenty-first century

(Critical Explorations in Poetry)

The changing demographic patterns of Spanish-speaking immigrants have combined with an ever-increasing interest in multicultural literature in both the marketplace and the classroom to bring broader recognition for Latino literature. Anthologies with a pan-Latino approach not only have brought together Chicano, Puerto Rican, and Cuban American writers but also have introduced new writers from other Latino backgrounds.

Julia Alvarez

Certainly Julia Alvarez, a Dominican born in New York City, is the most prominent of these writers (if for her fiction more than her poetry). As in her fiction, though, she has examined various problems of language and identity in her poetry: The Other Side/El otro lado (1995), Homecoming: New and Collected Poems (1996), and Seven Trees (1998). Of special interest in Alvarez’s poetry and poetics is the interplay of identity, form, and the poetic tradition as she proposes new ways to approach set forms (the sonnet, the villanelle, and the sestina) that reflect her identity as a woman poet, a bilingual poet, and a Latina poet.

A broader reach

(Critical Explorations in Poetry)

The example of Alvarez underscores some significant developments in the field of Latino poetry since the publication of foundational works such as I Am Joaquín and Puerto Rican Obituary. Latina poets, of course, have come to receive more attention than before. In addition, however, Latinas are included in the context of women poets in general. Similarly, anthologies and research have brought together Latinos and other poets on the basis of broad multicultural considerations. Some Latino poets also write for a young adult or children’s audience. Other configurations have incorporated Latino poetry into American diaspora literature, Jewish letters, border writing, or gay and lesbian literature. Perhaps the most...

(The entire section is 196 words.)


(Critical Explorations in Poetry)

Aragón, Francisco, ed. The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2007. A collection of poems by twenty-five Latino and Latina writers, none of whom had published more than one book when their work was selected for publication in the collection. The settings of these poems and their themes are as diverse as the forms in which they are cast, which range from traditional to avant-garde. The editor’s introduction is helpful in providing a context for the poems.

Cruz, Victor Hernández, Leroy V. Quintana, and Virgil Suarez, eds. Paper Dance: Fifty-five Latino Poets. New York: Persea, 1995. Notable for...

(The entire section is 688 words.)