As a young poet in the early 1970s I was immediately aware of what was then just called Chicano Poetry, though to my mind and experience then that poetry did not stand out as something completely separate from the rest of the poetry being written here. Despite the social and economic injustices prevalent in the state which civil rights activists Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta organized against and labored to redress, a significant portion of the culture of California, southern California especially, was Hispanic, and if you were raised by parents who were not prejudiced, then you were aware of that culture if not somewhat acculturated.
When first in graduate school at San Diego State University, I became familiar with the work of Luis Omar Salinas along side that of Philip Levine, Peter Everwine, and Larry Levis, unaware of the social and political forces driving much of Chicano literature. I was taken with Salinas's brilliant and mercurial turns of imagery before I found the poems in his first book, Crazy Gypsy such as the title poem, "Aztec Angel," and "Mexico, Age Four." And so it was no surprise to me that entering the workshop at the University of California Irvine that the best poet in the room was a Chicano, Gary Soto. Upon the advice of Henri Coulette, Salinas had moved from Cal State L.A. to Fresno to work with Philip Levine; and here was Soto, also a student of Levine's, from Fresno and already publishing in the best literary journals, POETRY, The Iowa Review, and others. His first book, The Elements of San Joaquin, won the United States Award from the University of Pittsburgh Press for 1976 while we were still in grad school. A good poet was a good poet it seemed. But reading more of Soto and Salinas I soon came to understand the importance of a poetry that confronted and bore witness to the social and political inequities that were especially part of the fabric of California, and, more importantly, I saw how those socio-political inequities became specific and personal and transferred to living and surviving daily life. When I moved to Fresno in the late 1970s, I met poets Ernesto Trejo, Leonard Adame, Juan Felipe Herrera, and Salinas. I became familiar with Jose Montoya, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Sandra Cisneros, and later Alma Luz Villanueva, Mary Helen Ponce, Maricela Norte, and Diana Garcia, all accomplished poets whose work was witness to la vida.
I realized that Salinas's Crazy Gypsy, published in 1970, was published not by a national or even recognized small press but only through the efforts and contributions of members of La Raza Studies at Fresno State College. Lorna Dee Cervantes soon started up Mango Press in San Jose to publish Chicano poetry, and Gary Soto began what would be a long and substantial legacy of publishing Chicano writing and supporting literacy projects in California. Soto's Chicano Chapbook Series published 10 titles from 1978 to 1980. The first series included Alberto Rios, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Luis Omar Salinas, Sandra Cisneros, Leonard Adame, Jim Sagel, and Ernesto Trejo. The second series published twelve titles from 1997 thru 2000 and included young writers Michael Jayme, Alex Espinoza, John Espinoza, Rigoberto Gonzalez, Danny Romero, and Juan Delgado. In total the series published twenty-two poets and writers. These poets, senior and younger, influenced a younger group of poets such as David Hernandez, Tim Hernandez, Michael Madrano, and David Dominguez, most of whom have published multiple books.
The young Chicano/Latina poets I have been privileged to know and work with owe, in large part, their poetic lives to the good influence of these poets who have gone before them and established a tradition and a model. They write still of la vida, what it means to be Chicano/Latina and grow up in California, and they do so with grit and with imagination, for you will find a range of personal approaches and exceptional talents in the work that follows. California is a state rich in poets and poetic tradition. My observation over forty years is that Chicano/Latina poetry is a major part of the backbone of our poetry, and that it is alive and well in the next generation of poets coming to the fore. My companero, Juan Felipe Herrera, has been gracious enough to offer the following appreciations for these young poets.
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|Title Annotation:||Chicano/Latino Poets: A Special APR Supplement|
|Publication:||The American Poetry Review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2011|
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