Award-winning writer, Rigoberto González, reviewed my book Santo de la Pata Alzada: Poems from the Queer/Xicano/Positive Pen, for the El Pasto Times.
El Paso Times
Living Sunday, March 5, 2006
Emotions, communities, even languages pair for gay poet
Special to the Times
Sunday, March 5, 2006
"Would you forgive me if I spoke of those things not meant to be said," reads the opening lines of Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano's collection "Santo de la Pata Alzada" (Evelyn Street Press, $14 paperback), like a caveat. Expression can come in no other form for a book subtitled "poems from the queer/xicano/positive pen."
Poems in this collection are written in either English or Spanish, and a few entries navigate the two. This strategy mirrors the tones in the poems themselves. Herrera y Lozano moves between extremes, usually love and rage, which are -- like his languages -- not mutually exclusive but partners in passion. "I am the incarnation of filth and purity," he declares.
On a personal journey retold in poetry, the speaker traces the ache of familial rejection, the loss of faith, and the triumphs and failures of same-sex relationships. Religious imagery, however, is what gives these experiences language, as in the poems "Last Prayer: My Farewell to the United Pentecostal Church International," "Altar Boys" and "Three Queens":
tonight is la virgen
yourself and I ...
could have been machos
somos hombres who love men
queens who love
como lo hace ella
And interspersed throughout are the testimonies and "cartas anónimas" that read more like revelations at the confessional -- a combination of exhibitionism and catharsis that juggles yet another binary pair, pleasure and guilt:
for my love is a sin
my sin as ample and
joyful as a kindergarten
Playful, irreverent and homoerotic, Herrera y Lozano's verse is attitude personified, perhaps owning up to the mentorship expressed in the poem "Raised By Drag Queens." In a follow-up poem, drag queen Marlene tells it like it should be:
we are divas
we are fabulous
and we die fabulous
no seas bruta
But underneath this empowerment is the pain of survival and struggle in a homophobic world. "May my cries hover," says the speaker, "so truth can feel the air."
And in the final stanza of the tour de force that closes the collection, "Ode to the Men I Love/ Loved/ Never Did and the Handful the Love/ Loved/ Never Did Me," the poet makes the long-awaited dedication: "to the queer men left to die under the shadow of a flag and their/ our families' backs/ to you/ for you this book."
"Santo de la Pata Alzada," with its brazen title, risk-taking subject matter and colorful vocabulary, is in fact a touching book -- a young poet's story of his exile from home and church, and his arrival to a family and faith in a community no less valuable or valid than the one he lost.
Rigoberto González is an award-winning writer and associate professor of English and Latino studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His Web site is at www.rigobertogonzalez.com, and he may be reached at [email protected].