Saturday, November 12, 2005

Book Review of DRIVE: The First Quartet in San Antonio Express-News

What with the hurricane hitting right after my debut of DRIVE I wasn't able to post anything about it. Here's a review that appeared the week I arrived for my reading at Trinity University. I've got some great pics from Dr. Arturo Madrid of the after party with Elizabeth Martinez, Antonia Castaneda, Sandra Cisneros & others that I'll be scanning & posting soon. ~ LDC

Book Review: Cervantes' poetry aims to link cultures [click link to go there]

Web Posted: 10/16/2005 12:00 AM CDT

Yvette Benavides
Special to the Express-News

Drive: The First Quartet

By Lorna Dee Cervantes

Wings Press, $24.95

Some critics consider Lorna Dee Cervantes to be a confessional poet reminiscent of Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath.

Cervantes, however, puts a finer point on that designation. The fifth-generation Californian of Mexican and American Indian (Chumash) heritage calls herself a "bridge poet."

"I'm not writing secrets or confessing sins, nor do I have a need to tell my business to the world," she said in an interview from her home in Boulder, Colo. "It's more taking on a persona."

Confessional poets construct subjectivity in relation to gender, sexuality and social roles within political, social, literary and historical contexts. Cervantes believes that Chicanos and American Indians are outside those contexts.

"Our history is not documented," she says. "Our stories are not told. Our historical stories — much less our individual stories — are not valued."

Cervantes said she discovered early on in her career that telling her story helped her to address a wider audience.

"I can go so far into myself that somehow I come out the other side into the universal," she says.

Perhaps Cervantes most important work — her first poetry collection since 1991, titled "Drive: The First Quartet" — will be published by San Antonio's Wings Press in January. The mammoth 320-page volume is in fact five books in one. "Drive" contains five separate works with very different poetic strategies: "How Far's the War?" "BIRD AVE," "Play," "Letters to David" and "Hard Drive."

"Drive" is generating a lot of buzz in the poetry community; the 50-year-old Cervantes gave a sneak preview of the work last week with a reading at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C.

San Antonians can get a glimpse of the new collection Tuesday when Cervantes offers a reading at Trinity University.

In April, a special limited edition of numbered, signed and specially bound books in handmade wooden boxes will be available through Wings Press. The special editions are in keeping with Cervantes' vision of the book and her desire to present each of the five books as an individual work.

That kind of artistic freedom is what led Cervantes to choose Wings Press for this long-awaited publication.

"Wings Press allowed me to design my own book and to see it through," says Cervantes.

Perhaps it's payback. In 1976, Cervantes established Mango, a small press which published the first works of Sandra Cisneros, Alberto Rios and others.

She began her career in the early 1970s and is known as the first female poet to be recognized during the Chicano Movimiento. Before long, she was winning mainstream prizes and fellowships, not just those limited to Latino literature. Her awards and honors include a Lila Wallace/Readers Digest Writer's Award, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship Grants for Poetry and the Pushcart Prize. In 1993, she was named Outstanding Chicana Scholar by the National Association of Chicano Scholars.

"Cervantes helped to break down the reluctance of academe to study multicultural literature," notes Bryce Milligan, publisher of Wings Press. "This has been reflected by the fact that she is included in almost all of the relevant Norton anthologies, the mainstay of American college literature curriculum."

Cervantes last book of poetry, "From the Cables of Genocide: Poems of Love and Hunger," was published in 1991. Even so, her work has appeared in no fewer than 200 anthologies and textbooks over the last 15 years.

Cervantes has been deeply influenced by T.S. Eliot. Says Milligan, "Like many other poets of her age who grew up beneath the shadow of Eliot's 'Four Quartets,' she has had an inherent desire to respond to those great poems. Thus you can consider 'Drive' to be the first of Cervantes' own four quartets."

"You might notice that each of Eliot's 'Quartets' is considered to have five distinct movements, so that accounts for the five separate works included in 'Drive.'"

Cervantes says her poetry is about "bridging cultures, bridging languages and bridging class chasms which I think are deeper than even racial divisions."

Ironically, Cervantes doesn't drive. It's her small way of giving back to the environment, she says.

"But I love drive metaphors," she says. "I want readers to reflect on that word in their own lives."

Paraphrasing her father, a visual artist who died last spring, Cervantes believes we should all "find that inner thing that drives us — whatever it is — and let out the clutch."

And what drives Lorna Dee Cervantes? She responds instantly: "Love. That's a good engine."

Lorna Dee Cervantes will read from the forthcoming "Drive: The First Quartet" at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Trinity University's Chapman Graduate Center Auditorium.

"Drive" will be published by Wings Press Jan. 1, 2006. Advance copies may be purchased through Lorna Dee Cervantes' blog at

Yvette Benavides in an English professor at Our Lady of the Lake University.


Blogger 666poetry-finchnot said...

what a wonderful review

lorna dee / you rock

14/11/05 10:17  

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