April is not only the month of spring showers, but of flowing prose. For National Poetry Month, NBC Latino reached out to Latino poets around the country to find out which other Latino poets inspire them most.
1. Nuyorican spoken word poet and author Giannina Braschi’s favorite line from a poem is by César Vallejo:
I want to live always, even on my belly,
because, as I was saying and I say it again,
so much life and never! And so many years,
and always, lots of always, always, always!
(Translation by Tess O’Dwyer)
“Vallejo is a jack-in-the-box who performs the movement of my spirit,” says Braschi. “No matter how much you push him down into the box, the poet always bounces back to affirm his love for life.”
Sing the word zapateado, tap and stamp of women dancing in the plaza
to the hummingbird rhythms of Veracruz, guitarist in fedora
watching his fingers skitter like scarabs across the wood,
shawled dancer lost in the percussion of her feet.
“The poem lays out the backdrop of the Zapatista movement and repeats the line “Sing the word” to different images,” says Méndez. “A very well written piece. One of my favorite lines.”
3. San Antonio’s Poet Laureate Dr. Carmen Tafolla’s favorite line of poetry is by Demetria Martinez:
I’m the one Spanish word
You forgot to look up
That might have given meaning
To your life sentence.
This twisted and breathing forest crushes me
With gigantic flowers like mouth and teeth
And black roots like fingernails and shoes.
“This passage reminds me of what/how I felt when I first moved to New York City, and how far I’ve come from thinking about the city that way since,” says Maxime. “I think it can still be oppressive at times, but not in a suffocating way, just an intense way.”
5. Peggy Robles Alvarado, author of “Conversations With My Skin” and “Homage to the Warrior Women,” featured recently in HBO Latino’s “Habla Women,” enjoys a poem called “Bomba, Para Siempre” by Tato Laviera:
bomba: we know we are electricity, we know we are a sun;
bomba: bring in the jazz, and merengue, blend Africa
“These verses speak to who I am as a Latina of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent born in the United States, and to the vivacity and rhythm with which I live my life set to my own beautiful beat. Bomba!,” says Alvarado.
6. Maria Aponte, author of “Transitions of a Nuyorican Cinderella,” admires poet Louis Reyes Rivera. Her favorite line is from the poem “Continuum from Scattered Scripture:”
he does not know that much / but knows enough to know / the gap between the friction / of another aging generation / disallows a firmer grip on how & why / to mold these days / beyond the grave of repetition.
“Louis Reyes Rivera was one of my mentors/scholars of the Nuyorican Poetry Movement that I grew up in,” says Aponte. “He taught me to give of myself to help others to open the doors to [the] next generation of poets. His love of his people and historian of Afro-Latinos gave me courage to ‘write from my heart’ as he always told me.”
7. Tammy Gomez, a Mexican-American Texas-born writer, has over 20 years of experience in producing, directing, and hosting literary performance events, and has curated the Poetry Tent readings for the Texas Book Festival for six consecutive years. She is especially moved by a line in “Help Me Believe We Will Not Be the Last People on Earth,” by Gioconda Belli (as translated by Steven F. White):
That’s why I’m determined to wield these poems
and build a small place of happiness come hell or high water,
and maintain the faith that…we will not be the last people on earth,
that we’ll be spared when the Empire destroys itself.
Aqui to be called negrito, means to be called love.
“Brilliantly, in this one line, master poet Pedro Pietri manages to encompass the enigma of the power of self-love,” says Meléndez. “He reminds us here, at the end of his seminal poem, ‘Puerto Rican Obituary,’ that we are all one – even in identifying ourselves with a particular culture, and therefore embraced by it, or by acknowledging the entirety of humanity as family; and, that color, in fact, in the final analysis, doesn’t matter – that what, indeed, matters is love, and the unity of love’s charity. In this way, it reminds us of who we are.”