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Latina Poets at Woodland Pattern: Juarez, Death and Fairy Tales

by Mary Vuk

Two award-winning U.S. Latina poets, Valerie Martínez and Emmy Pérez, will read at Woodland Pattern, on Saturday, August 11 at 7 pm.

Martínez was born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she is associate professor of English and Creative Writing and director of Interdisciplinary Studies at the College of Santa Fe. Her first book of poetry, Absence, Luminescent (Four Way Books, 1999) won the Larry Levis Prize and a Greenwall Grant from the Academy of American Poets. World to World (University of Arizona Press, 2004) is her second poetry volume.

Curator Brenda Cárdenas said that Martínez will read from published books as well as from her new book-length poem, Each and Her.

“Each and Her is a really long poem in part that concerns the deaths and disappearances of a lot of young women in Juarez, Mexico, just over the US border, who work in the foreign-owned factories called maquiladoras,” Cárdenas explained.

“There have been a lot of articles written and documentaries made about these factories and the mistreatment of the workers in these plants,” continued the curator. “They are supposed to be at least 16, but many are younger. There have been a rash of deaths, of rapes and strangulations, dismemberment and disappearance of young women working in those factories in Juarez. The family members can’t seem to get justice from the police on either side of the border in terms of investigating these murders. I think there’s been almost 500 young women who have died or disappeared.”

Emmy Pérez will read alongside Martínez. Pérez was born and raised in Santa Ana, California. She now lives in Texas, in El Paso’s Lower Valley. After graduating from Columbia University’s MFA program, she received poetry fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Rhode Island.

Cárdenas said that Pérez will read from an anthology, The Wind Shifts: Latino Poetry (University of Arizona, 2007), from her first collection, Solstice (Swan Scythe Press, 2003), and possibly some new unpublished material.

“There’s this kind of lyricism to Pérez’s work, a kind of deftness of image and very interesting choices of diction, and juxtapositions of words,” admired Cardenas. “I hate to use this word because it is so nebulous, but her work strikes me as just being incredibly beautiful. I’m always very moved when I read a poem of hers – moved, but also challenged to go back and read it again and to figure it out.”

Cárdenas has read at Woodland Pattern on many occasions, both at Redletter readings and at the annual Poetry Marathon. Cárdenas was born and raised in Milwaukee but has also lived in Chicago and Michigan.

She is Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She teaches poetry writing and literature. “This fall, I’ll be doing a survey of Latino literature. I’ll also be doing a literature course in poetry in which we will examine hybrid forms where poets collaborate with musicians and visual artists,” Cárdenas said.

Cárdenas is the author of The Tongues of Brick and Stone (Momotombo Press, University of Notre Dame, 2005). Her new volume, Boomerang, is forthcoming from Bilingual Press at Arizona State University. Her poetry has also been included in the anthology, The Wind Shifts: Latino Poetry (University of Arizona, 2007).

Describing her own work, Cárdenas said, “There is a lot of language play in my work – words turning into other words. Sometimes I write love poems. Sometimes I write nature poems. Some of them include humor and a kind of satire. Some of them recall old stories – stories that I was told by my family members – what I would call cuentos. They’re stories that a grandparent would make up and tell to a grandchild. Like a fairy tale but not a traditional one that is written down.”

Cárdenas’ paternal grandparents were born in Mexico. She recalls hearing such stories as a child and she enjoys using them in her poetry.

“Poems are made of language, and I often find that super-interesting kinds of things happen when you experiment with interlingual rhymes, assonances and alliterations. The English word and/or the Spanish word suddenly take on new meanings and new nuances just because it’s next to that other word in that other language,” Cárdenas said.

She will be reading with Dasha Kelly on August 23, 7-8:30 pm, at a reading curated by Jacqueline Lalley at Neighbors Gallery, 800 E. Clarke St. The program, Let It Bleed, will include a 20-30 minute open mic preceding the guest readers.

Cárdenas will also read with Maurice Kilwein Guevara, Roberto Harrison and Alvaro Saar Rios on Friday, October 5, 7-8:30 pm at the UWM Union Art Gallery. The reading includes an open mic for students.

Riverwest Currents online edition – August, 2007