Academic journal article MELUS

The Language of Resistance: Alurista's Global Poetics

Academic journal article MELUS

The Language of Resistance: Alurista's Global Poetics

Article excerpt

Alurista (the pen name of Alberto Baltazar Urista Heredia) began publishing his poems in the 1960s, is still publishing in the twenty-first century, and is referred to by some as the Chicano poet laureate. Whether one chooses to accord him such a place of honor, it is indeed undeniable that he has, as Juan Bruce-Novoa notes, "made the most significant contributions and innovations" to the field of Chicano poetry (Chicano Poetry 281). His first published collection, Floricanto en Aztlan (1971) achieved great acclaim; critics praised his short lyrics as consummate reflections of Chicano/a life and commended his bilingual verse and innovative use of indigenous Mexican symbolism and cosmography. In later volumes, Alurista continues to experiment with poetic language and form, building a diverse and challenging body of work.

These later collections, however, were decidedly less well received. Critics either deplored his linguistic experimentation as an incomprehensible distraction from his earlier poetic and political goals or faulted his earlier poetic and political works for a lack of linguistic experimentation. For example, in a discussion of "libertad sin lagrimas," a poem from Alurista's Floricanto en Aztlan, Rafael Perez-Torres argues that the poem fetishizes pre-Columbian themes in ways that reduce native epistemology to caricature (180). He sees Alurista's use of indigenist iconography as obscuring historical reality, thereby creating a false foundation for Chicano/a identity. Cordelia Candelaria, on the other hand, views Alurista's linguistic experimentation as obscuring the historical reality that his earlier indigenismos brought to the fore. Ironically, Alurista has been rejected by the critical community for the very things that brought him favor in the first place. Significantly, though, this rejection was precipitated by a play of language and form that complicates Alurista's deployment of indigenous themes. This experimentation was quickly forgotten by critics who associated indigenous references with a rigid cultural nationalism and berated Alurista for not experimenting or complicating things enough.

In this article I focus on Alurista's first and fifth collections, Floricanto en Aztlan (1971) and Spik in Glyph? (1981). These works illustrate the major shifts in Alurista's poetics that were able to produce such variant critical responses. I consider these critical responses to determine what underlying assumptions about Chicano/a literature Alurista's strongest critics share, such as Candelaria's belief in a "genuine" Chicano poetics and Perez-Torres's insistence on the relationship between history and identity. Alurista's poetry challenges those assumptions through its meditations on the nature of identity and its relationship to language, nation, and time. In these ways he lays the groundwork for further innovation in Chicano/a literature. Ultimately, critics and scholars have been too quick to dismiss Alurista, and he can and should still be read, taught, and pondered. I offer here some concrete strategies for doing so at a time when increasing immigration and a growing sense of a shrinking world continually modify our notions of identity, experience, and nation.

Identity has always been one of Alurista's central poetic concerns. From the very beginning of his literary career, however, Alurista's poetry has critiqued identity politics and cultural nationalism, instead advocating global, anti-imperialist struggle that denies notions of "self" and "other," foundational concepts for much of Chicano/a literature and criticism. This notion of the permeability of the borders between people manifests in his poetry as inventive language play, internationalist themes, and a rejection of linear time.

Questioning the discreteness of self from other is part of Alurista's larger project of calling attention to the dual function of language as experience and object. This is increasingly evident as his poetry develops, and it marks a crossroads in the development of Chicano/a literature more broadly. …

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