Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Review: Falling Angels

Angel lintel. Diego Rivera. Secretaria de la Educación Publica. DF. Foto Msedano.

Olga Garcia Echeverria. Falling Angels: Cuentos y Poemas. San Diego: Calaca Press, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-9717035-6-8/ $14.00+S/H / Perfectbound/ Flipbook (one side stories/one side poetry)/ 136 pages total. Cover and illustrations by Ricardo Islas.

Michael Sedano

Some readers are never satisfied, including me. When Calaca Press brought out its spoken word CD, “Raza Spoken Here, Poesia Chicana Volume 1” Olga Angelina Garcia Echeverria’s captivating reading of her “Meztli Chingona” and “Sonia on Hope Street” weren’t enough for this listener. I complained that a printed companion would have made “Raza Spoken Here” a perfect literary achievement. Garcia’s unique voice and characters stand out in a stellar collection.

Later that same year, 1999, when Calaca released “When Skin Peels,” featuring Elba Rosario Sanchez and Olga Garcia, the jewel case included a printed insert offering all of the CD’s poetry. I complained that the microscopic type size makes reading impossible without a magnifying glass. But what a completely satisfying experience, to hear these two poets and be able to follow along, as one might follow an orchestral score of a great symphony, just for the awe of watching its grandeur unfold.

Calaca, in conjunction with Chibcha Press, have now laid to rest those complaints. Their 2008 collection of Olga Garcia’s poems and stories publishes for the the first time those beautiful pieces from “Raza Spoken Here Vol 1,” and reprints in legible type with ample white space a substantial number of Garcia’s work from “When Skin Peels.” If you were fortunate enough to buy the CDs, both now out of print, you owe it to yourself to own Falling Angels so as to experience to the fullest Garcia’s arresting poetry and characters.

Falling Angels’ poetry is only half the story. Flip over the poetry book and read a handful of intriguing short fiction, much of it humor. The first story, “The Disappearance” offers a sad and multi-level account of its title event. A neighbor woman, somewhat the local harridan, mysteriously vanishes, her car found later abandoned. At the same time, a street person named Zelma has taken up daily residence at a bus stop. When the vendors attempt to run her off, Zelma fights them into a humiliating truce. When, one day, Zelma fails to appear, the mango vendor asks, “Who’s Zelma?”

There’s a saying about people who attempt to whitewash their identity. Such a person can put on airs, talk all fancy and dress muy mainstream, but one look at their indio face tells the whole story—you can’t escape who you are con el nopal en la frente. Self-denial is oft termed selling out, or vendido. To me, that’s too strong a charge and I prefer to designate such people as vencidos, gente beaten down into cultural submission. Garcia has a lot of fun with a story of one such fellow’s cultural redemption. A vencido returns home after an extended absence. His tía regañars him for being mean to his departed abuelo, mean to his suffering mother, and generally being a bad son. Nature treats him like a chicano-Mexicano Gregor Samsa. He is transformed into an enormous nopal. At first, the fellow grows a nopal en el frente. Literally. A cactus grows out his forehead, then tunas. Finally, the man has become a useful member of the community—his pencas and tunas are delicious.

The prose collection in Falling Angels includes a bizarre funeral in “Death of a Kleptomaniac” that highlights Garcia’s outrageous imagination, likewise her “Assault with a Deadly Donut.” One of my favorites, reprinted from The Calaca Review: La Revista Calaca, is Garcia’s hilarious “Ana Leticia Armendáriz: Matando cucarachas.” Readers will find great fun in reading “Matando cucarachas” in tandem with the poetic piece, “Conversation Between Two Dead Bilingual Roaches.” Do the rich offer roaches a better death?

Much of Garcia’s poetry work is just plain fun to read, “Lengualistic Algo,” being the best example. A hilarious, pissed-off satire offering gems of expression such as

I've already eaten the thin white skeletons
of foreign words
choked on the bones of Inglés Only,
learned the art of speaking in codes
and code switching,
learned to spit palabras
out of boca abierta
like bullets

More of Garcia’s work explores the poet’s image of a womanly ideal. Meztli, Mamá Azucar, and the unnamed persona of “Beso” offer up a “toda mujer” for whom the term “liberated,” seems so tame and misleading, but “nihilistic” perhaps dangerously misleading. I might heed MacLeish’s conundrum that poems should “not mean but be” and simply enjoy Garcia’s work. But I would love to have teenagers and young adults read and think about some of these women.

Meztli—full name Meztli Chingona—lives pura carpe diem, life to its fullest,

You turn the tide red
turn tough illiterate colos
into poets

Mamá Azucar has a scandalous reputation in the apartment house, drawing tsk-tsks of chismosas and object lesson of outraged morality.

Didn’t matter what Simón
or anybody else said
Mamá Azucar was the only woman
in the building who didn’t have a man
yelling at her

What Garcia suggests about woman’s freedom in apostrophe or third person takes its own voice in “Beso.” The kiss of the title is a metonymy for one woman’s life and choices, consequences be damned.

this kiss
tired of Sunday mass
and pleated skirts
has painted herself rojo
burning orange
bruised purple pressed
against cold mirrors
and warm faces

Consequences, indeed, lurk in the background—the bruised purple. Ultimately, nothingness resolves itself into mere existence, and for this woman, that seems to be more than enough.

she’s disappeared

but she comes back every time
like an endless mambo
a full grown woman
in bare shoulders and bangles
all fucked up and beautiful
dancing beneath a raining showerhead
cold water on hot skin
she steams
splits herself open
like a ripe pomegranate

she breathes

Four poems titled “Vuelo” offer a counterstatement to those lives. The first Vuelo has a little girl daydreaming out the window of her mid-rise apartment. Her mother warns her against falling out—the vuelo of the title—but looking out into the urban landscape the little girl dreams that she would exit the window in flight,

They didn’t know it but
she had already fallen
226 times
. . .
her flight was always
and elegant
body gracefully ascending
arms and shoulders opening softly
into wings

In the second “Vuelo,” Rosie, a woman who, perhaps having tired of the excesses of bare shoulders and bangles, or hopscotching kisses across shirt collars, has leapt to her certain death. In mid-vuelo Garcia recounts the woman’s instantaneous regrets. The powerful vision ends with a snapshot of her tumbling body seen from afar, she

Wanted to be
Blue silk

Vuelo three could be one of Rosie’s final thoughts.

she lost her memory in the wind
a cold gust of air swept
across her hair rose
danced like angry fuego
en el viento

The final Vuelo poema comes as a dirge, a eulogy, sung at Rosie’s funeral. Imagine a gathering of weeping gente and what will you tell the children? Should they, like Mamá Azucar’s neighbors, admire her from afar, not heed Simón’s warnings about “two kinds of women”? Should they live with abandon, “La party girl / who smokes mota / and drinks too much tequila” like Meztli Chingona? No. Find your own place, the mourners hear,

mujer sembradora
suelta semilla
lo que llevas sembrado
bajo tu lengua
entre tu pecho
en tu puño
abriéndose como flor
mujer suelta
las flores moradas
mariposas blancas
tan blancas
que llevas
suelta la mascara
échala al río

The answer is there is no answer, other than what remains when the woman sows her seeds and lets go her masks. Puro choice. Obviously, it’s futile to extract “meaning” from poetry, especially when the poetry offers such richness and insight as the twenty-two titles contained in Falling Angels. The answer, clearly, is contact Calaca and order copies for yourself and all your friends.

As I noted, some readers are never satisfied. My only complaint about Olga Garcia Echeverria's latest work is the fact so much is reprinted from earlier editions. Olga, I want to say, find a way to write more! Your friends may be all forgiving--Garcia notes in her "Thanks" page separating the poetry from the prose, "Gracias to my family and all of the artists and allies who throughout the years have supported my work . . . tolerated my long hibernations and encouraged me to grapple with my words and finish this book."--but readers don't need to forgive, they need to read! And we can read only when you write. Adelante, Olga, otra!

Kansas Chicana Chicano Poets Earning Notice.

La Bloga friend Rigoberto Gonzales writes up the outstanding collection from Kansas City MO's Latino Writer's Collective, Primera Pagina: Poetry from the Latino Heartland, from Scapegoat Press, 2008. La Bloga reviewed the collection itself, in June. Note: the group's site seems to be broken right now. Here's the URL to their site: http://www.latinowriterscollective.org/anthology.htm

Here's an excerpt from Rigoberto's interview with Latino Writer's Collective portavoz Linda Rodriguez:

Although Latinos thrive in every part of the U.S., not just along the coasts, it always seems to surprise people that Latinos have a long history in the Midwest. A project like this is an excellent reminder of that relationship, and of how Latinos also contribute to the cultural life of the country's "heartland." Can you discuss the genesis and history of this collective and how this project came to be? Can you also speak to the decision not to name an editor?

As you mentioned, there have been strong Latino communities in Kansas and Missouri for a hundred years or more, but no one elsewhere seems to know about them. The Latino Writers Collective came about because there were no local Latino writers (and hardly any nationally known Latino writers) giving readings in the area. Two of our members, Jose Faus and Angela Cervantes, came together with the hope of forming a supportive group for Latino writers. The rest of us coalesced around that tiny core. We always had the same mission, articulated at a very early stage--to support each other's writing efforts, to provide role models and instruction for Latino youth, and to provide an opportunity for the diverse voices of the Latino community to be heard. Early on, we set up the first of what we hoped would be an annual reading series, and while we were still in the throes of trying to do that, we decided we wanted to do the anthology. That series was hugely successful and continues to grow each year, and our first anthology grew out of it. Hence its title, which, like that first year's series, is Primera Pagina.

Here's that link again to read the full interview.

Denver Convention Chisme.

Don't forget to send your fotos, chisme, news, views to RudyG. Rudy's posting the next two Mondays during Daniel Olivas' vacation in the piney woods and granite massives of northern Califas.

That's the view for the last Tuesday of August 2008. August 31 marks my wife's 40th wedding anniversary to her first husband. Since I got married on my birthday, when next you hear from me, I'll be a year older and working on number 41. Tempus fugit. Yo! hymen hymenaeus. See you next week.

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1 comment:

norma landa flores said...

That's a beautiful photo of the angel lintel, by Diego Rivera, that you used in your review "Falling Angels."

The review about women with sad lives, was very positive and pointed out that, even for the "other woman" there is a time of redemption, of release, when all her regrets can be thrown in the river.

You choose the perfect examples and strung them together for the eye to see and the ear to hear. Congratulations to the extraordinary poet and to you for praising her works!