Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 485
In this potpourri of essays and poetry, Ortiz Cofer reveals what it means to be a writer. It is obvious from her exquisite use of language that she is intoxicated with the wonder of words and with their emotive potential. She is also intrigued by the role memory plays in writing. Writers drift mentally through the full accumulation of experience and pluck from it the elements from which they construct stories.
For Ortiz Cofer, this revisiting of memory involved two distinct cultures, three or more generations, and the equilibrium that she was forced to reach as she moved from her childhood in Puerto Rico to her childhood in Paterson, New Jersey. Hers was not a single adjustment. She and her family left Paterson and returned to Puerto Rico whenever her father was at sea for an extended period, then returned when he returned.
Ortiz Cofer also delves into her later life when, married to an Anglo and raising a daughter, she went to school in quest of two degrees and held various jobs—all of this while she continued to write. For Ortiz Cofer, the excuse “I cannot find time to write” does not hold up. Writers always find time to write because they have something that desperately needs saying; not to say it is the greatest hardship any writer can endure.
Born into a family that loved telling cuentos (stories), Ortiz Cofer began at an early age to construct her own realities through the magic of words. Her story “The Woman Who Slept with One Eye Open,” which resulted in her collaboration with Marilyn Kallet titled Sleeping with One Eye Open: Women Writers and the Art of Survival (1999), reveals the measures that a would-be writer must take to avoid being sidetracked by other responsibilities. In essence, what she talks about in many of the essays in this book is time management, a concept drawn more from the vocabularies of efficiency experts than from the vocabularies of writing instructors.
Both by her advice and by her example, Ortiz Cofer emphasizes the importance of listening, of absorbing not only what people say but also how they say it, and of paying close attention to the small details that create believable worlds for readers. Her own cadences are those of natural speech. She adjusts them from character to character so that much of her characterization evolves from how people say what they say. She also builds atmospheres alive with details that shape them into credible realities.
In this book, as in several of her other publications, the author intermixes genres, using in this case both essays and poems. By doing this, she creates a microcosm that communicates the basic nature of what writing means to her. She does not chalk off some areas as prose, some as poetry. She combines them because she sees genres both as separate entities and as parts of a larger, all-important entity.
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