Sandra Cisneros

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Sandra Cisneros Poetry: American Poets Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 892

Although Sandra Cisneros has described her poetry as more autobiographical than her fiction, many of her poems reflect the same communal voice found in her fiction. In addition, her poetry retains a strong sense of narrative despite its lyricism. Cisneros often uses Spanish words and phrases and has commented that she does this when unable to find an acceptable translation. This infusion of Spanish complements the first-person narratives relating the Mexican American experience for which Cisneros is known. Also common to her poetry is the use of repetition and sound effects such as rhyme and assonance.

My Wicked, Wicked Ways

The title poem of My Wicked, Wicked Ways, an observation of an old family photograph, sets the tone for Cisneros’s first full-length collection of poetry. The photograph is of the speaker’s parents, during a happier time: “Here is my mother./ She is not crying.” The speaker’s father is apparently attractive, and the only conflict between her parents at this time is her father’s choice of shoes. The poet moves to the future, referencing another woman who will create a disruption in the marriage, then back to the photo, which also includes a baby, then again to the future: “This is me she is carrying./ I am a baby./ She does not know/ I will turn out bad.”

“Six Brothers” continues the theme of disappointing one’s parents. The poem, a retelling of a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, contrasts the worthiness of the speaker of the poem with her brothers: “Brothers, it is so hard to keep up with you./ I’ve got the bad blood in me I think,/ the mad uncle, the bit of the bullet.” This theme is emphasized in the poem’s conclusion: “My six brothers, graceful, strong./ Except for you, little one-winged, finding it as difficult as me/ to keep the good name clean.”

This collection began as Cisneros’s master thesis. Its first section of poems, which includes all but one of the poems printed in the chapbook Bad Boys, works in much the same manner as the vignettes in The House on Mango Street in that it presents a portrait of a poor Catholic Mexican American neighborhood. The neighborhood is a mix of violence, illness, and laughter. “South Sangamon” begins, “We wake up/ and it’s him/ banging and banging// His drunk cussing,/ her name all over the hallway.” The poem provides the man’s previous behavior: “That day he punched her belly/ the whole neighborhood watching,” and then ends, on a presumably quiet note: “she laughing,/ her cigarette lit,/ just then/ the big rock comes in.” “Abuelito Who” tells the story of a sick child, Abuelito, who “can’t come out to play/ sleeps in his little room all night and day/ who used to laugh like the letter k/ is sick.” “Good Hotdogs” is one of Cisneros’s more joyful poems: “Dash those hotdogs/ Into buns and splash on/ All that good stuff.” This poem is purely a happy memory. It ends: “We’d eat/ you humming/ And me swinging my legs.”

Loose Woman

The childlike personas of The House on Mango Street and My Wicked, Wicked Ways are absent from Loose Woman, Cisneros’s second full-length volume of poetry, even though fairy tale and nursery rhyme references abound. This volume projects a voice that has chosen isolation, despite its occasional loneliness, for the sake of art. The title poem references a Grimm’s fairy tale: “Diamonds and pearls/ tumble from my tongue./ Or toads and serpents./ Depending on the mood I’m in.” Although placed at the end of the book, this poem sets the tone for the entire work: “By all accounts I am/ a danger to society./ I’m Pancha Villa./ I break laws,/ upset the natural order,/ anguish the Pope and make fathers cry.” In this volume, the violence has turned inward. “The Pumpkin Eater” turns on irony, with the speaker saying: “I’m not/ the she who slings words bigger than rocks,/ sharper than Houdini knives,” and continuing, “I keep inside a pumpkin shell/ There I do very well.” In the poem, “After Everything,” the speaker is more direct, noting, “. . . when I’m through/ hurling words as big as stones,/ slashing the air with my tongue,” she is alone, having reached the point “After everything/ that’s breakable is broken.”

Despite, or because of, the inner violence projected by these poems, solitude and poetry provide solace. In “I Let Him Take Me,” the poet imagines a poem as a lover, and finds that unlike a human lover, the poem “. . . never disappointed,/ hurt, abandoned.” This volume is filled with love poems; however, the speaker of these poems is, most often, happy when the lover has gone. “A Man in My Bed Like Cracker Crumbs” refers to the moment after the lover has left: “. . . now I can sit down/ to my typewriter and cup// Coffee’s good// House clean/ I’m alone again./ Amen.” Despite the poet’s happiness at remaining single, relatives express concern. “Old Maids” presents criticism directed at Cisneros about her unmarried state: “What happened in your childhood?/ What left you all mean teens?/ Who hurt you, honey?” However, she responds, for herself and her unmarried cousins, “. . . we’ve studied/ marriages too long—,” noting that these were “lessons that served us well.”

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