Saturday, August 30, 2008

From Steel Town to Motown: Part Two

Around 4:00 pm we left Subway and hit 376 West. In my rearview mirror, accompanied by the sound of Bon Jovi on the radio singing "Living on a Prayer," I looked back to the Pittsburgh skyline. With skyscrapers and the yinzer lifestyle behind me I began to think about what a kick ass city Pittsburgh really is and how it may be difficult for me to ever feel such attachment to Detroit. The cats knew we were headed for suburbia but I was in denial. No more $1 Blue Moons at Hemingway's or cheap pitchers and Journey at Squirrel Cage. Three years and the things I will miss most about Pittsburgh are my friends, my job, and the cheap beer. I know this isn't a great post but as I sit in Michigan, drinking wine, watching fireworks, and eating cereal, all I can think of are the smells, the sounds, and the accent of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Friday, August 29, 2008

From Steel Town to Motown: Part One

My anxious move from Pittsburgh back to the Detroit area was a success! Five hours of drugged cats meowing in the car led me back home to suburbia where I only pretend to like the landscape. I am happy to be close to my loved ones again but the process of leaving my Pittsburgh friends behind has been difficult.
We had the trucks packed, gas tanks were full, and the cats were buckled in. Before we hit the road we stopped at Subway for a quick bite to eat and that is where the tears started to fall. Thus begins the journey back home.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Chapbook for Sale!

My chapbook, Lavender & Honey, from Blast Furnace Press is now on sale. Each chapbook contains poetry that studies the influence of environment and place on writing. My poems concentrate on Michigan, Pittsburgh, family, and relationships. Dive in and take a peak. Chapbooks are $10 and come with a CD recording of me reading the poems. Below is an excerpt. If interested in purchasing a copy please message me or check out Blast Furnace Press at:
Thanks and enjoy!

Petoskey Stone

There are guitars in Michigan.
Dotted colors of pinstriped stars
made of clear notes, high sand dunes
lake water fossils.

My parents knew love
in Petoskey.

In my father’s dresser
I hear the Great Lakes
hold the stone he keeps
in the top drawer.
The one he pluckedfrom the beach on their honeymoon.

In my mother’s bible are death notices,
the receipt for her engagement ring.
History preserved
in thin pages,

in their bedroom.

Poet Gloria House stated:

These are poems of lyric elegance and the remembered intimacies of special relationships and places. Reading these lines, one discovers that at the center of what we generally call "everyday encounters," there is brilliance and magic.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Welcome to my sassy blog!

Welcome all to my blog! It's still in the beginning stages but more is to come.
The blog will be dedicated to poetry, art, literature, and handmade crafts. You will also be able to purchase my chapbook, Lavender & Honey, published by Open Hearth Press in 2008.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Cultivation of the Literary Voice

The following is an excerpt from my article The Cultivation and Liberation of Julia Alvarez's Literary Voice published by Confluence.

Tucked away behind the great works of Shakespeare, Whitman, and Frost is the voice of the female writer. Can you hear her? Is her voice strong and bold or meek and passive? Does she have an audience or does she whisper her talents to herself? The female voice is of great importance to the cultures and societies of the past, present, and future. Women share secrets and insights of freedom, liberation, creativity, and confinement. The female author and poet are vital to the progression of the literary world, yet she is ignored and sometimes silenced.

A writer’s voice is equal parts talent, confidence, experience, background, and literary influence. An individual’s first sense of community is her family. Julia Alvarez grew up in a home where intelligence, activism, and full bodied personality were encouraged. From mother, father, aunts, teachers, and maids, Alvarez learned to fine tune her poetic voice by simply observing the characters in her own life “…Our droplets are our history, our families and neighborhoods and countries of origin, all of the forces that have shaped us as persons, and, therefore, as writers” (Something to Declare, 116). As Alvarez confesses in the afterward of her poetry book “Homecoming,” home is where she began to take ownership of her voice.

In writing Homecoming, I can see how fiercely I was claiming my woman’s voice. As I followed my mother cleaning house, washing and ironing clothes, rolling dough, I was using the material of my housebound girl life to claim my woman’s legacy (118). Home is more than domestic confinement; it may include conflict, support, creativity, and the inspiration to put words on to paper. Alvarez continues to return metaphorically to the home she was raised in, for it is a rich part of her creative voice and personality.

Twenty years after learning to sing with Gladys, I was reminded of the lessons I had learned in childhood: that my voice would not be found up in a tower, in those upper reaches or important places, but down in the kitchen among the women who first taught me about service, about passion, about singing as if my life depended on it (162).

Writing allowed Alvarez the ability to create worlds without boundaries, a world where the forgotten could be remembered.
I didn’t even recognize it as magic until years later: it looked like schoolwork, a writing assignment. An English teacher asked us to write little stories about ourselves. I began to put into words some of what my life had been like in the Dominican Republic. Stories about my gang of cousins and the smell of mangoes and the iridescent, vibrating green of hummingbirds. Since it was my own little world I was making with words, I could put what I wanted in it. I could make things up. If I needed more yellow in that mango, I could put it in. Set amapola blooming in January. Make the sun shine on a cloudy day. If I needed to make a cousin taller, I could make her grow two inches with an adjective so she could reach that ripe yellow mango on the tree. The boys in the schoolyard with ugly looks on their faces were not allowed in this world. I could save what I didn’t want to lose—memories and smells and sounds, things too precious to put anywhere else (as cited in Contemporary Authors Online,
Thomson Gale, 2004).

Alvarez’s creative journey began at a young age and was enriched by the love, support, and wisdom of her mother, teachers, and maids. The elements that go in to making a creative mind are invisible but intense in strength. Without the women in Alvarez’s life to help her through the journey of childhood into adulthood, there would not have been such a unique element of approachability to her writing.

It is a difficult task for a female writer to thrive and succeed in a patriarchal world where only the words and philosophies of men are validated, respected, and studied. The challenge for female authors to be heard and valued is immense, include bi-lingual minority writer into the mix and one has a completely different struggle. Alvarez is a writer that poetically speaks in two distinct and contrasting languages. Such conflict is the perfect recipe for a unique and intellectually complicated writer to produce profound and thought provoking poetry.
Alvarez’s dueling identities formed early on in her life as an immigrant living in America. As a young girl, in an intimidating and frustrating country, Alvarez tried to lose her ethnicity in the hopes of fitting in as an American. Alvarez’s most recent collection of poetry, “The Woman I Kept to Myself,” describes the plight of living in separate but equally important worlds. In the poem, “All American Girl,” Alvarez describes the inner struggle one must endure when one believes that conformity, being tall, thin, and blonde, is the only way one is accepted.

In the beginning, and throughout adulthood, Alvarez struggled with the loss of her native language and the inaccurate translations between Spanish and English. When living in two worlds, how does one find a place to call home? And how does one find her way home? The tone and flow of a language can cause someone to see beauty in ordinary words. In the poem, “In Spanish,” Alvarez finds deeper meaning in words and emotions when she speaks her native Spanish:
..her saying it in Spanish goes deeper
and stirs the sediment at the bottom
of my heart, so the feeling is stronger,
more mixed in with everything else I am,
swirling through both the thick and thin of me,
leaving nothing unfeeling which is why
I’ve been accused of overreacting
when I change countries and forget myself. (Alvarez 107)

Alvarez addresses the conflict she experiences when writing her emotions in English and how she must refer to Spanish to make sure that what she is writing is exactly what she is feeling:
It’s puzzling then that I write in English,
as if I have to step back from myself
to be able to say what I’m feeling—
the way sometimes we have to get away
from the place we were born or from someone
we love in order to know who we are.

Alvarez lives in tandem between her Spanish and American heritage. Yet her truth, her core, lies with and in the Dominican Republic.
In the poem, “You,” the journey to make a home in the English language is described. Alvarez is intrigued by the informal use of “you” in the English language in contrast to the hierarchical rank of Spanish’s formal pronouns. English holds an informal and comfortable environment for Alvarez to relax in.

I love the true democracy of you.
The pampered son of a dot-com millionaire
or the local coal miner’s daughter—all are you,
united in one no-nonsense pronoun. (109)

Alvarez finds comfort in the English language for the English “you” does not discriminate:

Comforting when I write because it means
I’m leaving no one out, even a line
intended for an intimate includes
you, and also you. In this, my Noah’s ark,
everyone is invited and can board
in twos or threes or singly—those unborn
as well as ghostly antepasados
who used to be usted and now are dust.
At sea in mystery, we all become
human cargo down the generations.
The pronoun “you,” offers sincerity and specific beauty for Alvarez. Alvarez loves her native tongue but she was able to make a space all her own in the English language.
…I once climbed into a second tongue
and it made room for me in its pronoun.

The sense of belonging and unity with others in the English language is what enables Alvarez to find space in her second tongue.

In her poem, “Leaving English,” language becomes and addiction and drug for Alvarez. “Leaving English” depicts the sadness and loss of English that Alvarez faces when uprooting her life in America to return home to the Dominican Republic. Yearly, Alvarez performs the ritual of clinging to words that are used sparsely in English, regretting that she didn’t use them more before the return to her Spanish homeland and language. The journey of traveling between two languages provokes a sense of confusion as to where she belongs as a writer and woman. She knows that she cannot live without one language, she must live in both. Although there is room for Alvarez in both languages she is unable to transition between the two smoothly. When she returns to America it takes days to place her pieces and identity back together.
Alvarez lives in an “in-between” state of mind with pieces of her identity and home in the Dominican Republic and America. To quote Sandra Cisneros:

Ordinary business takes place regularly in English. But dreams, the language of lovemaking,
the language of the heart, is Spanish—even those who were born in the United States. Spanish is ‘that language that crooned babies, that language that murmured by grandmothers, those
words that smelled like your house, like flour tortillas, and the inside of your daddy’s hat, like
everyone talking in the kitchen at the same time’ (Aguinaco 34).

As individuals we want to belong to a specific group, ideology, or country. The ability to choose a single country, language, or culture is not an option for Alvarez. She must delicately live and love two different worlds. An affiliation with two countries is one that family or friends may not understand, but it is what feeds Alvarez’s craft and spirit.

The truth was I couldn’t even imagine myself as someone other than the person I had
become in English, a woman who writes books in the language of Emily Dickinson and Walt
Whitman, and also of the rude shopper in the grocery store and of the boys throwing stones in
the schoolyard, their language, which is now my language (Alvarez 72).
Alvarez is the artistic, beautiful, and complicated child of two cultures, languages, and memories. A mixture that leads to an authentic female talent and voice. A voice that must not be ignored. To quote Alvarez: “we make our art/ out of ourselves and what we make makes us.” (121).

Aguinaco, Carmen. “Creative Tension: How Latina Writers Make Sense of Two Worlds.” US. Catholic 64 (1999): 34-5.

Alvarez, Julia. A Cafecito Story. White River Junction: Chelsea Green Publishing
Company, 2001.

---. et al. Cry Out: Poets Protest the War. New York: George Braziller, 2003.

---. Homecoming. New York: Plume, 1996.

---. Something to Declare. New York: Plume, 1999.

---. The Other Side: El Otro Lado. New York: Plume, 1996.

---. The Woman I Kept to Myself. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2004.

Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. New York: Vintage Books, 1984, 1991.

Curbelo, Silvia. “The Great Elsewhere.” American Poetry Review. 36 (2007): 33-34

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hickory Smoked Turkey: A Poem

Hickory Smoked Turkey
Oringinally published by:

Ten years ago my father started cooking the Thanksgiving bird outside on the grill. Designer coal and hickory branded the meat, crisp brown skin. I take a picture, every year, of my father lifting the meat off the fire. An entire photo album dedicated to the Thanksgiving animal.

A body sectioned off, cut through by an electric knife. Electric. Edges, almost pink, lie on my plate. After every bite my father inquires, with an almost schoolboy curiosity, Can you taste the hickory chips? Can you?

Every Thanksgiving my father offers me a plate of flesh. You still eat turkey, right? Don’t you miss the hickory?

My sarcastic plate of potatoes, squash, and lettuce send my father into a wine-washed monologue of eating meat. Seriously, you don’t want to try a little piece? I do, but I would never tell him. I look at the bird and recall the animal. I decline once again.

Truth: Most turkeys don’t give a shit whether or not they end up in an oven or a grill. My father seems to be the only one who cares.

This morning a wild turkey, dead on the highway, greets me as I drive home. I smell hickory. I place the plate of food my mother sent, mashed potatoes and green beans, in the fridge, stick this year’s photo of my father and the Thanksgiving bird on the freezer door.