The following is a guest post by Alejandro Pérez, a spring intern in Literary Initiatives.
This post is part of our “Literary Treasures” series, which highlights audio and video recordings drawn from the Library’s extensive online collections, including the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. By showcasing the works and thoughts of some of the greatest poets and writers from the past 75 years, the series advances the Library’s mission to “further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people.”
This past week, I was exploring the PALABRA Archive, and I came across a recording of the Chicana poet Laurie Ann Guerrero. I was moved by her story and her poems, and felt compelled to write a blog post about her work.
Guerrero was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, and started writing at the age of eight. She didn’t come to poetry by reading any of the classics—not through Shakespeare, Whitman, or Frost. Her interest in words was passed down to her by her grandfather, Gumecindo, who helped raise her. In the recording, she speaks of his incredible storytelling abilities: his delivery, his tone, and his humor. How he inspired her to find her own voice.
A majority of the poems in this reading are for her grandfather, who passed away in 2013. In a way, these poems feel like elegies; they are a lamentation of his absence and an expression of grief. But they are also love poems; they attempt to redefine love and explore its power.
In her poem “Día de los Muertos,” Guerrero writes, “Today I bring you chicharron con huevo, chile. Which is to say, I brought breakfast to the goats.” Here, she is taking breakfast to her grandfather’s tomb on the Day of the Dead, even though he is unable to eat anything. And maybe this tells us that love is doing something for someone even when they aren’t able to see it. Or maybe it means that love is a rejection of loss, the need to hold onto someone forever.
By the end of this poem, she writes, “I lay my ear to stone; it doesn’t hurt: I hear your song—water rising from the dirt.” Here, it’s as if Guerrero is saying that love is some sort of divine connection: the ability to hear someone when everyone else hears nothing, and the ability to hear music in someone’s voice when others would only hear sounds.
Later, in her poem “Untouchable,” she writes, “You were blind and I loved you for it.” This fragment suggests that love is something entirely illogical: that to love someone means to love all their supposed imperfections, not merely accept them. Guerrero is saying: You either love someone completely or you don’t love them at all.
Finally, in her poem entitled “En las Costillas de la página,” Guerrero writes, “Let us gather/ together in the ribs of the page—I will/ bare myself in the soft curve of your name.” With these verses, Guerrero creates a unification between poetry and love. She is saying: Poetry is a space where we’re able to connect with the people we’ve lost; a space to bring back and spend time with the dead. She is saying: Poetry, like love, is an illogical landscape where everything is possible.
In many ways, the poems in this reading are devastating. But they are also hopeful. They tell us that when we feel weighed down and constrained by the world, we will always have love and poetry as a means of escape.