By Sarah Dahlen
Writing poetry is an intimate endeavor. Reading it can feel equally intimate when a poem is well written and resonates with its reader. Many poetry fans may never pick up Mariposas: A Modern Anthology of Queer Latino Poetry for fear that its themes would not resonate with them.
These readers would miss many expressive and effective poems about race, politics, injustice, self-realization, family, poverty, and pride. Gay themes are present throughout the book, and while the descriptions of sex may be too graphic for some readers’ tastes, love is the more pervasive motif, and one that is easily related to by readers of any sexual orientation.
Like many anthologies, however, Mariposas is uneven. The 17 poets whose work appears in this volume, edited by Emanuel Xavier, range from college students to college professors, medical doctors to activists.
Aside from two Argentineans, all live in the United States and are Latino, though this term is used here in its male-only sense, with no queer Latinas represented. While it is admirable that Xavier gives voice to this underrepresented demographic, he would have done better to be more selective, as several contributors have not yet hit their poetic stride.
It is well worth sorting through the chaff to arrive at stunning lines such as these from Brandon Lacy Campos’ poem about Hurricane Katrina, Las Tormentas: “poor people in motion/because 1,000,000 is an army/a liberation brigade/that says we will not go back to the ghettos/we will not go back to full time jobs/that pay for a part-time life/we will not go back because that has been washed away/and the wave is moving forward.”
Other highlights include the works of the editor, who in Writer’s Block talks about the disillusionment and ambivalence felt after being gay-bashed by fellow Latinos. If only for gems such as these, Mariposas merits the reader’s consideration.