Daily Archives: April 6, 2017

Guillermo Gómez-Peña: I Could Only FIght Back in My Poetry

While I am wary of anything that generalizes anyone, there is a greater truth to this poem in that Gómez-Peña is fighting not necessarily one person, but an attitude from people like that person. It’s a dangerous line where on one side is enlightenment of truth and on the other failed empathy, however, I think the poem works quite well.

There seems to be right away an argument, “I tried to explain” is then followed by a slight insult, “Texas had once been a Mexican ranch”. I like his use of the word “ranch” because it evokes “raunch” as if Texas is a dirty backwater filled with ignorant cattle (which the poem is getting at anyway), but also it declares ownership, too. A ranch is an operation run by someone who controls the whole thing and has dominion over all the living things on it. And there is the Western motif of cattle rustlers (cattle thieving) as one of the worst crimes you could commit in the west, and the implication is that the ranch was stolen from the Mexican’s.

I like the line “‘gringo-bashing ideology’” because this seems like a legitimate argument this sort of person would make. They feel they are in the right and that anyone who has a problem with them is somehow just racist against white’s. It’s a strange victim complex you see in people with limited understanding. But the line is also a plea, it’s saying there’s a more complicated situation going on here. It’s not that gringos are bad, but that there are real divides and differences that need to be overcome. There is real racism here, from both sides, actually.

“Meskin”, great use of sound and spelling to inhabit the character of the Texan this poem is addressed to. You can feel and hear the disdain to even properly say the race of them man his is beating. This is followed by the humor of “& not that skilled in cross-cultural diplomacy” which takes the power away from the Texan and gives it back to the poet who keeps his good cheer through this terrible event. Basically the Texan can’t beat anything out of the Mexican, he only gets stronger (figuratively).

I suppose the “gentle mariachi” could be the poet, and that’s why the fight started – he tried to hit on the Texan’s wife and so got beat up. He tried to maybe steal something back from Texas? He seems to have been successful, too because the wife seems willing to go. However, we have a weird misogyny here (machismo) where the woman is like cattle on a ranch. What are her feelings in all this?

Reading Response for Ada Limón

Ada Limón’s reading was the most professional and polished reading I have attended so far for this course, and while I enjoyed her performance, I left with more questions than I began the evening with.

Ada’s presentation of her work and her ability to “work the crowd” reflected a strong and practised professionality. Ada is a well known poet and no doubt performs numerous readings so it is no wonder she is comfortable with her banter between poems (even during them!). Her overall presentation was engaging, she spoke with a clear and measured style, and she came across as a very “nice” person, someone who reminds me of that kind aunt whose visits are greatly anticipated.

Yet it was her measured and polished presentation, along with her easy and charming personality which left me confused. Her poems, most of which were from her book Bright Dead Things, did not seem to match up to the kind, funny lady reading comfortably in front of a crowded room where only moments before, in a posh lounge adjoining the hall, a piano player fingered away the sort of classical jazz you would hear in a private country club. Could this be the same poet who lifts up her shirt or squats to pee with a pit bull bitch in a garage? Is this sweet, impeccably (though still casually) dressed lady the sort of person who talks about her “first full-fledged fuck”?

And it was exactly this dissonance between poet and poem which I have been struggling with since I first read the entirety of Bright Dead Things. When I began her book I knew nothing of the poet and assumed she was a white lady from somewhere in California and Kentucky whose interests were fairly typical of the white, middle class experience: pop culture (“a big-voiced singer found dead in her London flat.”), people mowing their lawns, domestic affairs – to be honest I initially assumed this was the sort of poetry for the not-too-bad-off wine drinking ladies, a stereotype for sure, but my honest first impression. There did not seem to be a strong character in the book, and all the poems ended with a strong conclusion as if something had been figured out – as if the purpose of art was solving equations and writing platitudes.

Yet the more I thought about this disconnect between poet and book, and reader and poems, the more I came to realize that her very un-remarkability might be at the very core of what she is trying to express. Thinking back to my initial stereotype of whom the poet might be speaks to how easy it is to judge a person, how easy it is to assume that kind aunt of ours only spends all day drinking wine with friends who tip-toe through antique shops before going home at night to a few cats and an herbal tea. How generic I must think the people I’m more closely related to: middle class Americans. How have I had no understanding that these are the same people who fuck and piss like a “hard bitch”, who have fears and worries that, while not as dramatic as a march for civil rights or time spent saving children in Syria, are no less valid.

And so while I left Ada’s reading with more questions than I went in with, they are questions of myself, questions about what do I really know about what the people around me are going through, questions about why I want to placing more worth on some extreme display of civic demonstration over the simple life of a kind, well-spoken poet who has lost family members, lives in Kentucky, and simply just wants to live. Does all art, or in fact do all people need to spend all their energy fighting the system, is it not hard enough just to get through our own, simple lives without someone judging us for not doing enough, for not living up to some sort of unrealistic expectation?

I feel I have a lot of soul searching to do, and I am grateful to Ada Limón for reminding me of the struggle and complexity inside even the kindest, and most beautifully average person.