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Nuyorican Poets and their Impact in Latino Poetry

The poetics of the “Broken Souths” in the context of neoliberal economics and its sociocultural literary significance is at the core of Michael Dowdy’s 2013 book, aptly and descriptively titled: Broken Souths: Latino/a Poetic Responses to Neoliberalism. A good extent of the discussion centers on the work of Nuyorican and/or Boricua writers, among them: Martín Espada, Víctor Hernández Cruz, Jack Agüeros, and Judith Ortiz Cofer. Ruptures, dis/continuity, activism, transnationalism, etc., are some of the key issues discussed through an encompassing array of contemporary Latino/a authors.

Dowdy makes the case for his engaging theoretical approach, stating that “Broken Souths foregrounds relations between Latino poetics, the mechanisms of literary production, and the neoliberal norms and constraints reshaping both” (p. ix), and Nuyorican/Boricua poetics play a significant role in such re-shaping. The study is keen to note the difference between the effects of globalization (integration) and neoliberalism (separation) (p. 23). Moreover, it contemplates how “Latino poets think against and beyond capitalism” (p. 11). After positing the foundational questions pertaining to periodization and connotations of the politics of the Latino/a authors chosen, Dowdy proceeds to distill the significance of the poetics employed by these writers in their own depictions of the “Broken Souths” in six chapters and a coda with underpinnings of cultural resistance. The result is a meticulous analysis through ample and effective use of both theory and primary sources, catered to scholars in related fields and advanced graduate students of US Latino/a,  Nuyorican, and/or Boricua matters.

The first chapter, “Hemispheric Otherwises in the Shadow of ‘1968’: Martín Espada’s Zapatista poems,” initiates the illustration of how a specific socio-political-historical event marks a moment that keeps unfolding as free markets take over the paradigm of relations between the North and the South. Dowdy incorporates José Rabasa’s work about the Zapatistas and their “linking neoliberalism to the conquest” (p. 31). In this light, the chapter stresses how “Espada’s Zapatista poems develop a lucid place-based consciousness contesting the ludic, atomized individualism that reinforces neoliberal norms” (p. 32). The study demonstrates Espada’s use of localities as spaces of resistance, as well as collective modes of transportation such as the bus to explore issues related to advocacy and the role of the poet in speaking for those without a say (p. 48). While highlighting the politics in the uses of space-times such as 1968 (or 1973 Chile) to pinpoint the emergence of neoliberalism, the poetics of the tropes such as the bus, may allow “for rethinking city and nation as pluralist asymmetries” (p. 53). Therefore, the notion set forth by Espada that “the bus is a moving vantage point from which to critique official narratives” (p. 54) is certainly an indicator of the “Broken Souths” as places of latent, in-progress, and/or potential revolutions.

In “Molotovs and Subtleties: Juan Felipe Herrera’s Post-Movement Norteamérica,” the discussion focuses on how “Herrera’s dialogic poetics reconciles ‘molotovs’ and ‘subtleties’ by finding innovative forms to express a spirit of direct, uncompromising action within the openings for individual expression under neoliberal citizenship modes and postmodernist aesthetics” (p. 63). In this sense, the concept of collective action is fueled by individual acts, allowing one and all “to break” and incur in rupture, and Herrera himself to “[mine] the territory between 1968 and the neoliberal present” (p. 66). Chapter three turns to the space-time of September 11, 1973 in Chile. Its title is: “Against the Neoliberal State: Roberto Bolaño’s ‘Country’ of Writing and Martín Espada’s ‘Republic’ of Poetry.” The “Neochileans” become, in Bolaño’s poetry, subject to “el azar” which “resides in the North rather than in Chile, or in the South in general” (p. 103), as neoliberalism becomes a continental phenomenom. The contrast with Espada’s approach to 1973 through the figure/trope of Neruda is that “[w]hereas Bolaño’s Neruda symbolizes the fraught relation between poetry and politics, Espada’s Neruda is a talisman for the capacity of ‘Poetry’ to threaten hegemonic power” (p. 107). The concept of “here” and the here/there dichotomy that “serves neoliberalism’s power structures” is taken by Espada to the level of “an inter-American ‘republic’ comprised of poets and laborers from overlapping ‘Broken Souths’ who critique and remake the North” (p. 118).

The next chapter carries the title: “Andando entre dos mundos: Maurice Kilwein Guevara’s and Marcos McPeek Villatoro’s Appalachian Latino Poetics.” Here, the bridge to the “Broken Souths” is extended beyond the Nuyorican, Chicano, Mexican-American, and Cuban-American communities, linking both Appalachian and Latino Poetics, as “governmental, financial, and corporate discourses have long used similar terms to portray Appalachia and Latin America as ‘the other America’” (p. 126).

While all chapters are seamlessly enmeshed, perhaps the instance where the transition and expansion of topics is at its finest is from chapter four to chapter five. Thus, the topic of neoliberalism discourses on “the other America” and the false choices entailed in its economics and politics heralds the discussion in “ ‘MIGRATION...IS NOT A CRIME’: Puerto Rican Status and ‘T-shirt solidarity’ in Judith Ortiz Cofer, Victor Hernández Cruz, and Jack Agüeros.” From statehood not being viable from the perspective of Puerto Rico as “other”, like Appalachia or a “dogpatch,” and with the most recent plebiscite with the majority choosing the “none of the above” status option, Dowdy contextualizes the studied authors within the notion of “a translocal sense of Puerto Rico” (p. 160). According to the analysis, while Ortiz Cofer’s work points to a transterritorial citizenship that recasts the Puerto Rican cultural nation as pan-Latino” (p. 164), Hernández Cruz’s approach to migration is nuanced in the sense that “he foregrounds expansive spatial constructions over ‘grounded’ local experiences of place” (p. 171). Meanwhile, Agüero’s use of the sonnet enables “the convergence of traditional form and radical critique” (p. 181). In all three cases, as seen also with the writers studied in previous chapters, especially in chapter four, the “Broken Souths” poetics employed “confounds definitions of Latino writing” (p. 184). In this light, Nuyorican/Boricua, as well as Chicano/a and Latino/a poets, advance the desire “to break” and find freedom within the fragments as they contest neoliberal and hyper-capitalist paradigms, an approach being threaded since the first chapter of the book.

“Godzilla in Mexico City: Poetics of Infrastructure in José Emilio Pacheco and Roberto Bolaño” is the sixth chapter. Just as it rekindles some of the insights about space-time (p. 207) illustrated in chapter three, the concept of place is at the forefront of the discussion, especially the site and trope of the Mexican capital. Through the environmental repercussions foreshadowed in the book’s introduction and foregrounded further in this chapter, the logical next step is described in the conclusion: a coda about Juárez (p. 214).

Broken South’s thorough approach to US Latino/a poetics and the neoliberal context would not have been complete without the inclusion of the femicides in Juárez, the issue of the maquiladoras and the legacy of NAFTA, even if these interrelated matters would merit a study of its own. Thus, in “Too Much of It: Marjorie Agosín and Valerie Martínez’s Representations of Femicide in the Maquila Zone,” Dowdy incorporates the work of these writers and other critics to tackle the notions of border, invisibility, and writing about disaster. This coda brings the overall analysis of the “Broken Souths” to the conclusion that US Latino/a poetry, in tis broadest sense, is a space in which to break and to contest the very paradigm that has crafted that “other America.”

Indeed, Dowdy’s book is not a last word on the subject, but rather, an ambitious critical undertaking that asks the right questions and guides the scholar into further research for ensuing queries into the “Broken Souths.” Moreover, it also provides an intelligent discussion as to how poets like Espada, Hernández Cruz, Agüeros, and Ortiz Cofer, converge in the questioning of neoliberal practices as they inscribe their own revolutionary—transnational—ways within the broad array of US Latino poetics and the topic of globalization.


The book:
Broken Souths: Latina/o Poetic Responses to Neoliberalism and Globalization
By Michael Dowdy
Tucson: The Unversity of Arizona Press, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-8165-3029-8
296 pages; $30.00 [paper]
To order the book click here.

© Nancy Bird-Soto. Published by permission in Centro Voices on 19 November 2014.