From my perch as director of Letras Latinas, the literary program of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame, I try to stay abreast of what's new in Latino poetry, particularly among emerging voices. As 2008 winds to a close, I'd like to recommend five titles, stocking stuffers if you will-all published by small presses, where American poetry is at its most vital, in my view. Here they are, with companion commentary:
1. The Date Fruit Elegies (Bilingual Press) by John Olivares Espinoza.
"Espinoza es una espina en el corazón, a thorn in the heart. Gracias Espinoza for writing about our raza with so much sentimiento, so much love. Sometimes the beauty and pain of our stories are overwhelming, and I am grateful when writers like him recognize this responsibility as a privilege."
2. Jane-in-the-Box (March Street Press) by Rita Maria Martinez
"Rita Maria Martínez's Jane-in-the-Box is a Rubik's Cube of Janes. Each poem is a smartly annotated hauntingly revisionist homage to Jane Eyre. Martínez's astounding poems are literary, conversational, personal, fun, as she confidently transports her Janes from Moors to Macy's, from Thornfield Manor to the world of tattoos." -Denise Duhamel
3. Please Do Not Feed the Ghost (BlazeVox) by Peter Ramos
"I've lived with these poems for many years-- they've never failed me. Part Plath's black humor, part Stevens's bright obvious, part Hugo's degrees of gray. Please Do Not Feed the Ghost is an exceptional meditation on family, country, friendship, and language-and on the inevitable loves and thefts to which these things give rise" -Graham Foust
4. Little Spells (GOSS 183 / Casa Menendez) by Emma Trelles
"'The beginning should eat the eyes'. With intimate and imagistic language, the start of Little Spells offers a graceful meditation on how to write a poem, drawing us into a poetry collection filled with humor and sorrow and the bright details of a hyphen-American life. Also a journalist, Emma Trelles is a Cuban-American writer accustomed to crossing cultures, and these poems wind with equal ease between a host of settings, and with a lens trained on the magic of the ordinary. Urban hamlets are painted as fables and saints and musicians offer salvation, as do intricate women, the green wilds of Florida and a spry attention to the beauty of words." -Goss 183
5. The Space Between Our Danger and Delight (Beothuk Books) by Dan Vera
"The poetry of Dan Vera is clear, strong, honest and funny. He's the sharp-eyed observer in the corner who doesn't say much, but makes every word count. He handles the political and the personal with equal grace, even as the lines blur. Whether he's ruminating on the perils of bilingualism, giving voice to the bewilderment of his Cuban immigrant family, cursing the censors who tried to repress gay writers over the years, waiting for the late great poet Sterling Brown to turn the next corner in Washington, D.C., or taking delight in things delightful, Dan Vera is damn good company. You'll see. -Martín Espada
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