Sandra Cisneros Cisneros, Sandra (Poetry Criticism) - Essay


(Poetry Criticism)

Sandra Cisneros 1954-

American poet, novelist, and short story writer

The following entry presents criticism from 1992 to 2002 on Cisneros's life and works. See also Sandra Cisneros Short Story Criticism, Woman Hollering Creek Criticism, Sandra Cisneros Literary Criticism (Volume 118) and Sandra Cisneros Literary Criticism (Volume 193).

Cisneros is one of the most popular and acclaimed Latina writers of fiction and poetry. The only daughter of a Mexican American father and a Latina mother, her work draws heavily from a childhood spent shuttling between working class neighborhoods of Chicago and extended stays with her father's family in Mexico. Her best known work is her first, The House on Mango Street (1983), a lyric novel of a young Latina from the barrio who preserves the stories of older women while creating an independent feminist identity. Cisneros has drawn attention for stretching the conventions of genre. Her prose is considered rhythmic, her poetry is dramatic. She has taught at several universities and was the recipient of a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation.

Biographical Information

Cisneros was born in Chicago on December 20, 1954. Cisneros's family often visited her father's parents in Mexico for long periods of time, and each return was prompted a move into a different flat in a different Chicago ghetto. When she was a teenager Cisneros's parents finally settled her and her six brothers into a modest house in a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood. Though an average student, Cisneros was a passionate reader and wrote continuously. As she settled into high school, her teachers encouraged her to write. She eventually attended Loyola University, graduating in 1976 with a B.A. in English. The following fall Cisneros began a two-year residency at the Iowa Writer's Workshop. She was often lonely at Iowa, but it was there that she had an epiphany. During a class discussion of the house as a metaphorical haven for reverie and creativity, she realized her classmates' notions of a middle class suburban house were worlds away from her childhood spent in cramped apartments in the Chicago ghettos. From this realization came a desire to express a uniquely Latina voice, and the metaphor of the house was the foundation for The House on Mango Street. After Iowa she returned to Chicago and taught community education and worked as a counselor at Loyola. She also continued to write and perform poetry, some of which poet Gary Soto helped her publish in the chapbook Bad Boys (1980). A National Endowment for the Arts grant enabled her to travel to Europe in 1982. In 1983, The House on Mango Street was published, igniting a succession of writing grants and teaching fellowships from several schools, including the Universities of California, Michigan, and New Mexico. In 1987, despite publishing the poetry collection My Wicked Wicked Ways, she began feeling suicidal over her desperate struggle to make a living and continue her writing. Her money struggles ended in 1991 when she became the first Chicana writer to sign a contract with a major publisher. Cisneros stopped teaching, bought a house in San Antonio, Texas, and devoted herself fully to writing. In 1995 she was awarded a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation. Cisneros writes for several popular magazines, gives frequent readings and lectures, and continues to publish poetry and fiction. Her work is critically acclaimed, commercially successful, and widely taught in high schools and colleges.

Major Works

Cisneros told Pilar Rodriguez-Aranda in The Americas Review that when people would characterize The House on Mango Street as fiction, she would say “I'm a poet, I just write this naively.” Cisneros's body of published poetry, however, is quite modest. In an interview with Martha Satz for Southwest Review, Cisneros described her poetry as “a little periscope that goes into my psyche” that has “nothing to do with publishing. The idea that poetry must be published reminds me of the fallacy that because women have a uterus they must have children.” Nevertheless, she has been praised for two collections of poetry. My Wicked Wicked Ways, published in 1987, was her masters thesis at Iowa, with an introductory poem added for publication. It describes the maturation of a Latina writer, resembling Cisneros, whose identity is formed by her neighborhood, her struggle to escape the suffocation of her family, her adventures beyond the boundaries of family and her culture, and her blossoming as a writer, a feminist, and a woman in control of her body and her life. In her next volume, Loose Women (1994), the poems are more openly erotic, and the voices are like that of Cisneros herself—exuberant, ribald, and imbued with earthy Spanish-inflected rhythms.

Critical Reception

A 1992 Publishers Weekly review of My Wicked Wicked Ways said Cisneros “attitudinizes too much” and allowed “a disconcerting degree of sentimentality” into her poems, and in 1994 the same publication praised the bold writing of Loose Women but concluded that her poems “lack the depth, the complexity and the lyrical magic of the author's fiction.” Critics who praise Cisneros tend also to question the poetry/prose dichotomy. In Parnassus, Carol Muske declared that “Cisneros speaks poetry naturally, but her prose sings,” and in the Los Angeles Times Book Review Barbara Kingsolver even wrote that the short stories in Woman Hollering Creek (1991) were really poems to which Cisneros had “added length and dialogue and a hint of a plot.” Susan Smith Nash described Cisneros's poetic language as “sometimes rather flat, unadorned diction,” but argued that in the erotic poems of Loose Women Cisneros “utilizes wry, pungent observations and extended metaphors in order to set up parallels between the phenomenal world and the mind.” Cisneros's friend Gary Soto said that My Wicked Wicked Ways “is an example of what poetry can do: excite us, make us laugh, make us see ourselves in ridiculous affairs, or bring back childhood. This is an ambitious book. Cisneros prods her subjects with a language that is imaginative and clearly intelligent.”

Principal Works

(Poetry Criticism)

Bad Boys 1980

The Rodrigo Poems 1985

My Wicked Wicked Ways 1987

Loose Women 1994

The House on Mango Street (novel) 1983

Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (short stories) 1991

Hairs: Pelitos (juvenile) 1994

Caramelo (novel) 2002

Sandra Cisneros with Feroza Jussawalla and Reed Way Dasenbrock (interview date 1992)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Cisneros, Sandra with Feroza Jussawalla and Reed Way Dasenbrock. “Sandra Cisneros.” In Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World, edited by Feroza Jussawalla and Reed Way Dasenbrock, pp. 286-306. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 1992.

[In the following interview, Cisneros discusses her cultural identity, her personal and family history, her literary influences, and feminism.]

Chicano literature, like many other new literatures in English, had a defining moment and generation in which several major talents suddenly emerged. The moment was the early 1970s, when in quick succession Tomás Rivera's y no se lo tragó la...

(The entire section is 8728 words.)

Susan Smith Nash (essay date winter 1995)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Smith Nash, Susan. “Sandra Cisneros: Loose Women.World Literature Today 69, no. 1 (winter 1995): 145-46.

[In the following essay, Nash lauds Cisneros's deceptively complex poetic explorations of eros and consciousness.]

What distinguishes Sandra Cisneros's poetry is also what makes categorizing it problematic. The sometimes rather flat, unadorned diction and the earthy explorations into the nature of desire seem, at first glance, to position the work squarely within the realm of American feminist poets and artists who privilege the role of experience in recentering and validating women's perspectives and ways of knowing. The first impression that...

(The entire section is 539 words.)

Carol Muske (essay date fall 1995)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Muske, Carol. “Breaking Out of the Genre Ghetto.” Parnassus: Poetry in Review 20, no. 1-2 (fall 1995): 409-11, 417-23.

[In the following essay, Muske celebrates Cisneros for resisting the constraints of genre by writing poems that speak naturally and prose that sings.]

Why do most American graduate writing programs ghettoize poetry and fiction? Why do poets and fiction writers support this isolationism? It's obvious that poetry and fiction are different genres, but why should this lead to specialized education and aesthetic suspicion, literary territoriality akin to gang partition: Blood turf, Crip turf? Why, in my early years as a writer in New York City,...

(The entire section is 2476 words.)

Viviana Rangil (essay date September 2000)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Rangil, Viviana. “Pro-Claiming a Space: The Poetry of Sandra Cisneros and Judith Ortiz Cofer.” MultiCultural Review 9, no. 3 (September 2000): 48-55.

[In the following essay, Rangil argues that Cisneros's writing provides new roles and affirming definitions for Latinas.]

When ethnic or minority literatures first appeared in the United States during the 1960s, writers may have felt it necessary, even essential, to validate the existence of their works. Through the demarcation of specific characteristics they legitimated a new kind of writing, making it more accessible and perhaps even more palatable to an uninitiated, “foreign” (Anglo-American) audience....

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Adriana Estill (essay date fall 2002)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Estill, Adriana. “Building the Chicana Body in Sandra Cisneros' My Wicked Wicked Ways.Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature 56, no. 2 (fall 2002): 25-43.

[In the following essay, Estill examines the collection My Wicked Wicked Ways alongside Cisneros's novel The House on Mango Street, tracing the narrators' barrio childhoods, their struggles to gain independence of their families, their travels of personal discovery, and their transformations through celebrating control of their bodies and identifying with women of the third world.]

Sandra Cisneros' poetry has been long overshadowed by her novel, House on Mango...

(The entire section is 8218 words.)

Further Reading

(Poetry Criticism)


Chavez, Andres. “Sandra Cisneros.” In ¡Latinas!: Women of Achievement, Diane Telgen and Jim Kamp, pp.. Detroit, Michigan: Visible Ink Press, 1996.

Brief biographical profile in general interest biographical dictionary of Latino Americans.

Cisneros, Sandra. “From a Writer's Notebook: Sandra Cisneros.” Americas Review 15, no. 1 (spring, 1987): 69-79.

Three lectures, mostly autobiographical, that Cisneros gave in 1986 and 1987.

———. “Only Daughter.” In Latina: Women's Voices from the Borderlands, edited by Lillian Castillo-Speed, pp. 156-60. New York, New York:...

(The entire section is 653 words.)