leading member of her generation of Chicana/o poets, Lorna Dee Cervantes writes poems that explore her experiences in complex and strikingly imagistic ways. Writing in Spanish and English, she responds to poetic traditions throughout the Americas. Although she has overcome economic, ethnic, and gender barriers, the memory of those struggles remains in her work.
Born in San Francisco, Cervantes grew up in a poor Mexican-American community near San Jose, California. Educated at San Jose State University and other nearby institutions, she has taught at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her work has won the American Book Award (1982), the Paterson Poetry Prize (1992), and a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Award (1995).
Using memory and social observations, the poems in Cervantes's initial collection, Emplumada (1981), focus on friends and family members with notable empathy. Poems like "Uncle's First Rabbit" and "Freeway 280" recall childhood landscapes and conflicted family relationships, even as "Visions of Mexico While at a Writing Symposium in Port Townsend, Washington" and "Emplumada" expose a split identity that can be redeemed through poetry. In the first part of "Visions of Mexico" the speaker identifies with the Mexican people she observes but remains separate from them as well: "I don't want to pretend I know more / and can speak all of the names." In the second part of the poem, set in Washington State, she also finds, "I don't belong." She heals her divided self in the creation of poetry, gathering her "feathers" for "quills." In a similar way, "Emplumada" plays on the Spanish words for "feathered" (emplumado) and "pen flourish" (plumada) in order to interweave imagery of birds, sexuality, Aztec ceremony, and writing.
The poems of Cervantes's second collection, From the Cables of Genocide: Poems on Love and Hunger (1991) are more densely textured, allusive, and wide-ranging than the earlier work. Cervantes dedicates the book, in part, to three women artists who depicted their personal anguish: Sylvia plath (a poet from the United States), Frida Kahlo (a Mexican visual artist), and Violeta Parra (a Chilean poet). Many of the poems in this volume, including "Raisins" and "Ode to a Ranger," ponder the painful aftermath of a failed love affair. In contrast, "Pleiades from the Cables of Genocide" explores a variety of cultural stories, revealing the hybridizations that inevitably follow from social change.
Engaged with the personal life as well as with social realities, history, nature, and myth, Cervantes's poems construct a new identity and a new tradition without being trapped in them. They provide a great journey of discovery for contemporary readers.
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