Laurie Ann Guerrero
(Guerrero’s) poetry can be gritty and stark, sweaty and close,
and it elicits a sense of extended observation that reaches inside
her human subjects. It can be uncomfortablewhile revealing,
similar to standing closer to someone than you might prefer.
-Eric Sean Weld, The Greacourt Gate News, Northampton, MA
Dedicated and addressed to the poet’s grandfather, A Crown for Gumecindo is a heroic crown of sonnets that chronicles the grief experienced through the loss of the family’s patriarch. In 15 linked sonnets, journal entries, and meditations, Guerrero reexamines the lessons she inherited—both intentionally and unintentionally—through the careful dissecting of the multigenerational, multilingual, and multifaceted male-female relationship. Paintings by Maceo Montoya offer reader a layered experience of the tender and often shocking revelations of grief.
Let's look at our reflections in the mud—
see how, in four months, each of us has changed.
What is your name without a body? My name
without you here? I am new: what I never
was. Suddenly I carry my newborn
grief like a new mother—I nurse and swaddle
my most fragile, my newest, my sweet. What
festers in the bellies of others does not
concern me. There is only this: I am
the only mother; mine is the only child.
I decompose alongside you, wanting
and not wanting everyone to see me—
off-balanced and leaking, my skin in strands—
the oddity that was put in my hands.
from A Crown for Gumecindo
A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying by Laurie Ann Guerrero is a stunning collection of moving poems. Here, poetry is both universal and very local; the personal turns collective in the mode of Tomás Rivera’s Chicano classic …Y no se lo tragó la tierrra / And the Earth Did Not Swallow Him. The authenticity and the plurality of the poetic voices strike the reader for their uncommon accomplished originality.
This is the poetry of both saints and sinners (and even murderers). The poet conjures up Pablo Neruda, Gloria Anzaldúa, Sylvia Plath, and rooted in the best Latin American, Chicano/a, and contemporary American poetics, is able to render an effective poetic version of Nepantla, the land where different traditions meet, according to Anzaldúa. These poems make the reader laugh, cry, cringe, lose one’s breath, and almost one’s mind, at times.
Tongue becomes the ever-present image. In the opening poem, “Preparing the Tongue,” a cow’s tongue is sliced in preparation for cooking, “…I choke down / the stink of its heated moo, make carnage / of my own mouth, add garlic.” The poet handles pen and butcher knife with the same great dexterity. Upon summoning up childhood memories, the poet pleads, “Open your jaw. / Let the eye of your tongue see … / how we licked the fat black olives from tamales…” Yes, here, poems become ultimately licking tongues.
A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying is a collection of poems that would haunt the reader and won’t be easy to forget. I celebrate and praise the power of these poems that engage the great diversity of human reality with empathy, and do this, also with tremendous imagination. These poems restore my faith in the power of poetry.
"These poems restore my faith in the power of poetry.”
— Francisco X. Alarcón, judge
“Guerrero writes in a language of the body, visceral, almost unbearably vivid, the language of a poet who knows how to work with her hands. In an age when so many poems say nothing, these poems miss nothing ...attention must be paid to such a poet now and for years to come.”
— Martín Espada, author of The Trouble Ball
“Guerrero has always written pointedly with a sharp pen and a sharp knife always at the ready. In her first full-length collection, these dazzling, edgy, irascible poems lean into their sweet natural bristling air, stitching and stretching image to image. This is the singing blue glory of language at its best.”
— Nikky Finney, author of Head Off & Split, winner of The National Book Award
“In poems crafted with tremendous skill, Laurie Ann Guerrero’s A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying explores, so often, the ways in which the colonized or poor or brown have been brutalized, and their stories written by the conquerors. But the wonderful discovery one makes while reading what’s often painful and heart-breaking is that Guerrero’s the one telling us. In other words, the re-writing is begun. This is a powerful, necessary book.”
— Ross Gay, author of Bringing the Shovel Down
"A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying is populated by...women who defy and trouble long-held assumptions about, and expectations of, motherhood and maternal behavior: here, mothers take lovers, make war, cause damage — “make carnage of [their] own mouth[s].” And they also write daring poems that break with polite and romanticized representations of femininity, situating the woman as the source of her own volition, a daunting force to be reckoned with."
--Rigoberto Gonzalez for LA Review of Books
"..these verses of germination and carrying, of labor and production, deliver us to a place of potent ferocity, expressed in multilingual cries, embodied by the wide, red lips of earthenware vessels, and through eyes that refuse to back down."
—Diego Báez for Booklist Online
(forthcoming) A Crown for Gumecindo (Aztlan Libre Press 2015)
A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying (University of Notre Dame Press 2013)
Babies under the Skin (Panhandler Publishing 2007)
Luna Luna: (forthcoming) "Sunday Dinner," "Plums"
Cobalt: (forthcoming) "Casketing," "Untouchable"
Huizache: "Morning Song"
Nuerstras Voces Anthology of Latina Poetry: "Beets," & "Night Feeding"
Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review: "Cactus," "Newborns," and "Dia de los Muertos"
Chicana/Latina Studies, the Journal of MALCS: "School Among the Ruins: An Afternoon with Adrienne Rich" [prose]
Texas Monthly: "Considering the Cactus: a Lamentation on Roots"
Texas Observer: "A Case for the Beauty of Mourners"
San Antonio Express News: "Ode to the Beet"
San Antonio Current: "Carmen Tafolla’s Rebozos: a Review” [prose]
San Antonio Current: "Javier Huerta's American Copia: a Review" [prose]
San Antonio Express News: "On Blinding"
Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review: “Reaping the Bloom: A Review of Valerie Martinez’s, Each and Her” [prose]
San Antonio Current: "Notes on Ashes"
Texas Observer: “A Case for the Beauty of Mourners”
Indigenous Woman Magazine: "Alma de Mujer: An Awakening” [prose]
Huizache: "Pinedale, CA" and "Night Feeding"
Women's Studies Quarterly: “Birthing the Warrior” [prose]
Bellevue Literary Review: "Mr. G's Collection"
PALABRA: "My Mother Woke a Rooster" & "Ode to My Boots"
Boxcar Review: Review of J.Michael Martinez's Heredities & Interview with the poet
Acentos Review: "Preparing the Tongue," My Mother Will Take a Lover," "Cocooning"
Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review: "Put Attention"
Global City Review: "The Way She Sees It"
Feminist Studies: "Babies under the House" and "Babies under the Skin"
MERIDIANS: feminism, race, transnationalism: "How I Put Myself Through School"
The Weight of Addition: An Anthology of Texas Poets (Mutabilis Press, 2007): "Las Lenguas"
Texas Poetry Calendar 2008: "High Noon and Texas Beckons"
Silkworm: "The Dionicio Martinez Land Grant of 1834 & Other Things We Don't Question"
Palo Alto Review: "Texas in the Fall," "Late or Very Early," "Sundays After Breakfast"
Literary Mama: "As I Walk"
BorderSenses: "Los Americanos"
Texas Poetry Calendar 2007: "Remember the Alamo: Texas-Born Mexicans"
San Antonio Express News: "As I Walk" and "Leaving Grandpa"
Voices Along the River, anthology "Star-Spangled Momma"Echoes of Yesterday, anthology "Sixteen"
San Antonio Express News: "In Praise of Bullies" [prose]
He demands this. Nothing
else. No mahogany slick,
or roses kissed by lilies. No
music or speech. Weeping,
limited. We are to file down
the aisle, nod head to his dead
body, return home to care for things
still living. We are not
to sob for the child
him, the bed- and alphabet-less
picker of cotton,
Follower of crops.
We are not to sob for the cactusman-
vaquero-lover him. Grandpa
who takes his milk from the moon,
who knows the time
the time for wine,
When he is gone,
he will be gone.
I can make the box
myself, he says.
I can make it myself.
from A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying
Copyright 2014. Laurie Ann Guerrero. All rights reserved.