Sabine Ulibarrí Criticism - Essay

Olga Prjevalinsky Ferrer (review date Spring-Summer 1962)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Below, Ferrer reviews Ulibarrí's Al cielo se sube a pie, focusing on his use of imagery and the emergence of a personal poetic voice in the collection.]

Fifty poems in search of heaven make up this book [Al cielo se sube a pie] of heterogeneous style and tone. Unity is achieved through the recurrence of themes.

Static poetry—this might be the definition of Sabine Ulibarrí's production. Quietude intensifies the relevance of a moment. For Ulibarrí it is the transference of a mood through lyric adjectivation. And this is so necessary to his poetry that even in the use of nouns, we feel that they have become void of essence and that it is only quality that exists and subsists. Thus, in the first poem, concerned with the snowclad night, by means of the combination "soft-marble" the noun has come to lose its density and consequently, one of its basic qualities and is left only with its unuttered whiteness, which is in keeping with the reiterative sequence of the concept of white in each line. Thus, the noun has been deprived of its substantivity, remaining with a merely adjectival purport.

Another circumstance of Sabine Ulibarrí's still, at times, motionless poetry dwells in the lack of verbal forms. Absence of action contributes effectively to concentration on a state of feeling, and this is what matters. The adjective carries out the greatest poetical function in Ulibarrí's poetry.

Sabine Ulibarrí is skillful in tracing a decorative representation of the outer world, which is genuine. He may use words borrowed from woman's environment of arts and toils and blends them beautifully with his description. Coloration is also true and personal. Were he to stop there, the poem would be perfectly achieved ("Crepúsculo," for example). However, a...

(The entire section is 755 words.)

Thelma Campbell Nason (essay date 1971)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In the following excerpt from her introduction to Tierra Amarilla, Nason briefly describes the historical and social context of the work.]

Tierra Amarilla. Yellow Land. The adjective evokes an erroneous concept of the small Spanish-American village whose name provides the title for [Ulibarrí's] book. Green, not yellow, is the predominant color, for the town lies in a valley cradled in the pine-haired arms of New Mexico's high northern mountains. Equally deceptive is its appearance. Somnolent, unchanging, grown shabby with the years, it impresses the casual visitor as a relic from the past, a sanctuary from modern turbulence. Yet Tierra Amarilla recently exploded into national headlines with an armed raid on the county courthouse. There are indications, too, that this glare of publicity was not merely a transient flash, that the spotlight will focus again and again on this adobe village in its stream-stitched valley.

Tierra Amarilla has never been a peaceful place. The county seat of Río Arriba County whose crowding mountains and high plateaus are snow blocked in winter and isolated in summer, it developed stalwart individualists, proud men of action who lived by struggle. Its history is interwoven with the murky complex of legal and local battles over Spanish and Mexican land grants which, since 1854, have engendered in its people a sense of injustice, envy, and sometimes hatred.

The descendants of the first colonists, who still inhabit the area, are more Spanish than American. Part of the paradox of New Mexico is the fact that the Hispanic heritage becomes more ingrown and more intense the farther it is removed from its colonial source, the "New Spain" or Mexico of three centuries ago. Spanish is the universal...

(The entire section is 734 words.)

Theodore A. Sackett (review date December 1972)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In the following excerpt, Sackett commends the historical interest and poetic sensibility evident in Tierra Amarilla.]

The new bi-lingual edition of the prose of Dr. Sabine Reyes Ulibarrí, Professor of Spanish Literature at the University of New Mexico and one of the best known American writers in the Spanish language, is a truly important book. [Tierra Amarilla] will be treasured by all who can appreciate the beauties of an artistic re-creation of values and a way of life which today are in a process of rapid transformation and perhaps annihilation. Those familiar with Hispanic civilization will be enchanted by ulibarrí's work. In it they will see remembrances of life in a small...

(The entire section is 456 words.)

Rudolfo A. Anaya (essay date 1977)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Anaya is a novelist, short story writer, and playwright who is considered one of the most influential authors of Chicano literature. In the following introduction to Ulibarrí's My Grandma Smoked Cigars, he commends the characterizations and imagery found in the stories and places them in an oral literary tradition.]

Those of us who enjoyed the stories in Tierra Amarilla have eagerly awaited this new collection by Sabine Ulibarrí. And the wait was worthwhile, for in many ways Mi Abuela Fumaba Puros is a continuation of the former. In this bilingual edition, Ulibarrí once again combines the artistry of our oral tradition (which he knows so well) with his personal...

(The entire section is 556 words.)

Charles M. Tatum (review date Summer 1978)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In the following review, Tatum praises My Grandma Smoked Cigars for its sensitive character portrayal and evocatively presented memories of childhood.]

To his published works of short stories about his native northern New Mexico, noted author and scholar Sabine Ulibarrí adds ten more sensitively rendered tales. In this attractive bilingual edition, [Mi abuela fumaba puros y otros cuentos de Tierra Amarilla/My Grandma Smoked Cigars and Other Stories from Tierra Amarilla], Ulibarrí presents a tapestry of childhood memories of life among the hardy and proud hispanos of Tierra Amarilla. His stories are a series of carefully drawn sketches of individuals—family, friends, acquaintances—who play an important role in a young boy's strides toward adulthood: the matriarchal grandmother, viewed with a combination of tenderness and fear; Uncle Cirilo, of whose size and mighty voice the child lives in awe; the legendary Negro Aguilar, whose feats as an indomitable vaquero and skilled horse-tamer are reputed in the farthest reaches of the county; the astute Elacio Sandoval, the biology teacher who talks himself out of marrying a woman he does not love; Roberto, who one day goes to town to buy nails and does not return for four years.

With obvious enthusiasm, Ulibarrí shares with us the wide range of the young boy's feelings and experiences: his terror upon finding himself face-to-face with la llorona herself; the profound sadness upon learning of his father's sudden death; the proud response to his much-admired childhood heroes when they deign to talk to him. The author draws on local legends and popular superstition and combines them with vivid details from his childhood to create a rich mixture of fact and fiction. His stories are tinged with hues of longing for a past that although he cannot relive, he has brought to life with deft and broad strokes of his pen. The book thus forms a composite of the memories of a writer sensitive to the child in him who looks back to a time of closeness and warmth among people who treated him with understanding and love.

Charles M. Tatum, in a review of "Mi abuela fumaba puros y otros cuentos de Tierra Amarilla/My Grandma Smoked Cigars and Other Stories from Tierra Amarilla," in World Literature Today, Vol. 52, No. 3, Summer, 1978, p. 440.

Francesca Miller (essay date Winter 1983)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In the following excerpt, Miller explores Ulibarrí's style and themes in First Encounters, commending especially his portrayal of relationships between different cultural groups.]

Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico, in which the nine short stories of Primeros Encuentros/First Encounters are set, is duly marked on any map of the USA, but it is a place which no longer exists, in the way that none of the places and times of our youth exist. Through the skill of the artist we can recover vanished places and peoples; such is the gift of Sabine Ulibarrí that we can know, and know intimately, a community which most of us have never visited or even imagined. The people of Tierra Amarilla are...

(The entire section is 1727 words.)

Charles Tatum (essay date 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Below, Tatum presents an overview of Ulibarrí's poetry and fiction, focusing on recurring themes and the author's portrayal of character.]

Poet, essayist, and prose writer, Sabine Ulibarrí holds an important place in contemporary Chicano literature. In addition to scholarly works, textbooks and thought-provoking essays, Sabine Ulibarrí has published two books of poetry, five collections of short stories, and he has edited another collection of his students' prose and poetry. All of his creative literature was originally written in Spanish although his short stories have also appeared in bilingual editions. When compared to other Chicano writers, his literary output is significant,...

(The entire section is 5111 words.)

Bruce-Novoa (review date January-February 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Bruce-Novoa is a distinguished Hispanic poet and critic. In the excerpt below, he offers a mixed review of El cóndor, and Other Stories, maintaining that Ulibarrí's blending of oral folktale elements with the techniques of magical realism is not entirely successful.]

Ulibarrí, a native New Mexican, is no novice. When Chicano political activism was surfacing in the mid 1960s, but before any major piece of literature associated with it had been published, two books of Ulibarrí's poetry appeared, Al cielo se sube a pie and Amor y Ecuador, in Madrid in 1966. Thus, some classify him as a precursor, one of a few established writers—including José Antonio Villarreal, John...

(The entire section is 1822 words.)

Allan Johnston (review date Summer 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Here, Johnston favorably reviews Ulibarrí's El cóndor, and Other Stories.]

Sabine Ulibarri has worked much in the realm of the folktale and the oral personal anecdote. While such works are effective, they sometimes feel unfinished; the very rough-and-hewn grace that pulls them together consigns them to a specific, limited genre. In [El Condor and Other Stories], however, Ulibarri manages, while preserving the freshness of the anecdotal, to take us to places entirely different from those explored in a book like My Grandmother Smoked Cigars. Working in the realm of cultural myth, Ulibarri introduces us to a world at once homely and exotic, familiar and fantastic.


(The entire section is 335 words.)