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Emplumada

Emplumada [PDF]

This is Cervantes's first collection of poems, published in 1981 by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Most critical work about Cervantes focuses on this first collection, in which many of the poems describe Cervantes's experiences growing up in San Jose. Some of her most anthologized work, like "Poem for the Young White Man Who Asked Me How I, an Intelligent, Well-Read Person Could Believe in the War Between Races, "Beneath the Shadow of the Freeway," and "Visions of Mexico While at a Writing Symposium in Port Townsend, Washington." Most critics choose to understand Cervantes's work as emerging from the historical moment when Chicana writers began to articulate their dissatisfaction with both the women's movement (feminism's second wave) and the Chicano Civil Rights movement. Both groups marginalized Chicana writers and their standpoints.

Cervantes's poetry, which is mostly confessional and semi-autobiographical, often depicts and critiques the various oppressions that she saw around her as she came of age. Yet many of the poems in the book, almost half, are less explicitly "Chicana"—here, I mean Chicana in the sense of covering a certain set of themes (like Aztlan, the Spanish language, etc.). These less political poems deal instead with loss, grief, nature, and death. One of my favorites is called "Starfish." This poem, told in first person, follows a narrator whose fascination with the hundreds of starfish s/he finds on the beach stems from both the loveliness of the specimens as well as their impending death. Cervantes writes: "little martyrs, soldiers, artless suicides/In lifelong liberation from the sea." Cervantes is someone who often gets pigeon-holed as a Chicana poet (a term Cervantes is certainly proud to claim, by the way), but reading her collection in its entirety offers a more expansive understanding of what themes count as "Chicana," and what kind of writing counts as "political." Almost every poem in this collection feels rich with imagery, yet still manages to create a narrative. While these poems read quickly the first time through, many are compelling enough to warrant re-reading and unpacking.

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