Cantos in Context

Article excerpt

The Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingue, a subunit of Arizona State University's Hispanic Research Center (HRC), is delighted to inaugurate a much-needed publishing resource in Latina/o poetry. Francisco Aragon has recently agreed to assume the editorship of our new series, Canto Cosas. We are delighted to collaborate with Francisco and to give him wide editorial latitude over this series, for he has distinguished himself not only as a productive poet and anthologist in his own right, but as a person who draws in and exhales pura poesia. Canto indeed! I know of no other individual who is so committed to poetry as Francisco Aragon.

A Story Worth Recounting

The story behind the creation of the Canto Cosas series is an interesting one and perhaps instructive as well for fellow writers and publishers who seek to make a contribution to belles lettres, not to mention bel canto. Here briefly is that story.

The culminating moment for our newly replenished commitment to poetry was the successful writing of a grant to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) by the Publications and Product Development (PPD) working group of the Hispanic Research Center. The grant was for the establishment of a Web site to create and nourish an online Latina/o poetry community. This Web site has become an operational reality and will be maintained and expanded for the long term. We will return to this culminating moment.

In 1973, the Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingue was founded at two separate campuses of the City University of New York (City College of New York and York College) in the form of a scholarly journal, the Bilingual Review/Revista Bilingue. This journal was (and still is) a publication focused on the linguistics of bilingualism with some attention to bilingual education and Latina/o literary scholarship. From the very beginning, however, we reserved a limited number of pages to the publication of creative literature, primarily but not exclusively the genres of poetry and short story. We did this because we were attentive to the fact that in the United States the publishing outlets and prospects were exceedingly poor for Latina/o writers, and even more so for bilingual writers, especially poets, known for their ingenious and original use of code-switching (see Keller 1976 [Literary Stratagems], 1976 [Toward a Stylistic Analysis], 1984, 1994) for an analysis of literary code-switching). We took very much to heart Alurista's comments about his early experiences in submitting his poetry:

I don't want to brag, but I believe that I was to first modern Chicano writer who dared send bilingual work to an editor. I remember the reaction of one editor when I first gave him my poetry. He said, "Listen, this is a pochismo. Why can't you write either in Spanish or in English? ... You ought to use correct English. And all of these vatosisms of chicanoisms; that doesn't sound good; it's the decadence of our Spanish language." ... He said he wouldn't publish trash like that when I first talked to him. (Bruce Novoa 271-72; italics in original represent translated Spanish)

Nevertheless, the amount of attention our journal was able to provide to poetry was limited, given our dedication to bilingualism and applied linguistics, to ethnic scholarship, to education, to reviewing a few books in depth in the form of review articles, and to providing a materials received section of some depth covering books, journals, and media, which in the 1970s consisted of the likes of filmstrips or microfiche/microfilm products-terms on their way to the attic of usage following, of course, the actual tools, which have already gone to the attic.

The bicentennial year, 1976, was a major one for the Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingue. We published our first book that year, Bilingualism in the Bicentennial and Beyond, and soon after that not only additional social science-based and literary scholarship books, but creative literature as well. …