In a guest post for the November issue of Poetry, poet Roy G. Guzmán celebrates how the unsung poetry of Ray Gonzalez captures "the different angles of our Latinx experiences."
"Here was a celebration of people like me," Guzmán writes, "of the poetry we put in our bodies, of the stories, people, and language slipping away from us. The speaker of the poem becomes Chorizo Warrior, La Familia Detective, Memory Weaver, Brown Possibility. In 'Praise the Tortilla, Praise Menudo, Praise Chorizo' I continue to hear Anne Sexton’s 'In Celebration of My Uterus,' Ross Gay’s 'Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude,' Martín Espada’s 'Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100,' and Walt Whitman’s 'Song of Myself.' It is a poem that charts new horizons, giving poets like me a lexicon fleshed out with our tongues."
Gonzalez is the author of six collections published by BOA Editions, including The Hawk Temple at Tierra Grande, Cool Auditor, Consideration of the Guitar: New and Selected Poems, and most recently Beautiful Wall, winner of the 2016 Minnesota Book Award.
Beautiful Wall takes readers on a profound journey through the desert Southwest where the ever-changing natural landscape and an aggressive border culture rewrite intolerance and ethnocentric thought into human history. Inextricably linked to his Mexican ancestry and American upbringing, Ray Gonzalez’s collection mounts the wall between the current realities of violence and politics, and a beautiful, never-to-be-forgotten past.
Guzmán's profile concludes: "Last year, before winning a Minnesota Book Award for Beautiful Wall, Gonzalez casually mentioned to me that it was his best work. I remember saying, That’s what we say every time we write something new. But he remained obstinate: It was his best. After the win, I expected excitement for his legacy to ensue. Revivified interest in his work. But the reviews hardly ever came. One of the chirpers, Publishers Weekly, commented on Gonzalez’s 'layered dynamics' and his being 'a writer of place,' the latter an observation that could mean a poet is too niche to appeal to readers beyond that region.
"Our literary idols often reside in unread tunnels, like a form of contraband, and I believe Latinx poets continue to struggle to find places that will welcome their work. There was a time, for example, when I would tell poets about my fascination with Elizabeth Bishop and they would give me a puzzled look. The same has occurred to me when I mention Ray Gonzalez. The thing is, I see Gonzalez’s direct and indirect influence everywhere: in the works of Javier Zamora, Erika L. Sánchez, and Jennifer Givhan. I find him in the words of Natalie Scenters-Zapico, Joseph Rios, Anaïs Deal-Márquez, and Vanessa Angélica Villarreal. I trace his colors in the poems of Ada Limón, David Tomas Martinez, Eloisa Amezcua, and Michael Torres. I sense him in the language of Natalie Diaz, Alexandra Lytton Regalado, Ariel Francisco, and Steven Alvarez. I see his shadow in the metaphors of Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, Joe Jimenez, Maya Chinchilla, and David Campos. And these are just a few names.
"Perhaps we never stop writing because we don’t want to be reminded of our mortalities. Or maybe we write precisely because we must deal with our mortalities. I empathize with the Antigones of the world. Despite his broad impact, Ray Gonzalez’s work remains criminally underrated. My hope is that people spend more time with it. I want to see Gonzalez’s words tweeted. I want to read poems written after Gonzalez’s poems. We live in a culture obsessed with the future. We keep asking, What’s going to get published? and put little weight on what we missed out on from yesterday. How we invoke the poems of our teachers will instruct future writers on how to respond to our poems. So go ahead: open that collection of poems. Which Gonzalez line will be your favorite?"
Read the full profile on Poetry Foundation's Editors' Blog.
Learn more about Ray Gonzalez and order copies of his six BOA collections by visiting his author page on the BOA Bookstore.
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