Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Crown for Gumecindo - Laurie Ann Guerrero (Aztlan Libre Press)

Today's book of poetry:
A Crown for Gumecindo.  Laurie Ann Guerrero.  Paintings by Maceo Montoya.  Aztlan Libre Press.  San Antonio, Texas.  2015.

Gumecindo Cover

"I will offer his name, Gumecindo Martinez Guerrero, as a symbol for all the missing names in all the history books past and future."  -  Laurie Ann Guerrero

And so begins Laurie Ann Guerrero's sonnets of grief and love.

A Crown for Gumecindo is an eulogy, crisp and elegant, for a beloved family patriarch.

Without You I am Cactus

Like yours, mi muerto, the last time I saw you,
October's eyes are gray. Today, you are
not a dead man: October resurrects.
Today your blood, my blood, fills the private
rooms of my barbed and thorny limbs. I have
come to love October in the name of you.
Today, I say, you're back. Today, swallow, rain.
Today, I soften on the earth; you emerge
from it. Today, I breathe life into your
dead lung. Today, I am God. Today, I
beat marrow into your bones. Today, yours
are the hands that pull spines from my spine.
Today, I shed my cactus skin for flood;
we'll look at our reflection in the mud.


Laurie Ann Guerrero is creating new myths from her own family legend.  This suite of poems is an attempt to distill the agonies and sorrow of loss into a palatable and reaffirming elixir and it works.

Aztlan Libre Press has given Guerrero a lot of room to play in this beautiful over-sized hardcover book.  A Crown for Gumecindo is hauntingly illustrated by the foreboding paintings of Maceo Montoya and they bring a solemn majesty to the project.  Today's book of poetry is rather naive about American painters but we thought that Montoya darkly inhabits the space between painters like Maynard Dixon and the great Mexican painter Diego Rivera.

Stone Fruit

Good? I would ask. Good enough, you would say
of the wine we made from plums. Didn't we,
for years, tend the mothertree? Didn't we,
for years, prune, pluck, hold in our hands the purpled
bodies bursting, that begged: me next, have me?
Weren't we so nourished in the nerve? Someone
is buying our tree. You are reduced to pit.
I put seed in dirt, wait for you to come
back to me in a jar by the window.
You are not growing. Aren't you a plum?
Little red, little kidney, little mouth
singing, calling, I'm here! I'm here! I thought
the dirt would give you something to take hold of:
I've buried everything I've ever loved.


It was solemn reading in the Today's book of poetry offices this morning.  You can't read the tender and longing love poems Laurie Ann Guerrero has written to deal with the dying, death and absence of her beloved grandfather without emotionally accessing your own personal book of the dead.

For me, my father, Russell William White, died a short six months ago.  Now I wear his old shirts and his old winter coat.  I wear his old watch and silently pray that some of his goodness wears off onto me.  Milo's grandmother died last spring and he was gutted, she'd been the one who introduced him to poetry.  Our new intern, Kathryn, she hasn't had a relative or anyone else particularly close meet the end of their mortal coil yet - but she read real sad and pensive as she gave A Crown for Gumecindo a voice.

Goodbye Sonnet

And yes, I am the Laurie Ann you left,
who begged: Don't go alone. Don't cross the line.
                                Aren't you a plum?
I've learned to keep my finger off the trigger,
                                How many times did you say
                                That to me? How many times?
spare the goats who've come to say hello,
shaking in their skins, faces split like mine--
like yours, mi muerto, the last time I saw you
I look for your reflection in the mud,
                                 Let me say your name again:
that oddity that was put in my hands.
I hear your song--water rising from dirt:
Good? I ask. Good enough, you say.
I've buried everything I've ever loved:
You are always going to be dead.
                                   I sing to bees: 
One day in hot July: my kind you were gone--
only the page on which to place your crown.


Memory holds all the high cards when it comes to dreamscape.  Laurie Ann Guerrero has honoured her grandfather in the most timeless way -- she has made his name eternal.

For all time, when the name Gumecindo Martinez Guerrero is called out, those of us who've had the pleasure of reading A Crown for Gumecindo will shout out as a chorus:


Laurie Ann Guerrero

Laurie Ann Guerrero was born and raised in the Southside of San Antonio, Texas and was named Poet Laureate of the City of San Antonio in 2014 by former mayor, Julián Castro. Her first full-length collection, A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying, was selected by Francisco X. Alarcón as winner of the 2012 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize and published by the University of Notre Dame Press in 2013. Guerrero holds a B.A. in English Language & Literature from Smith College and an MFA in Poetry from Drew University. She is the inaugural Poet-in-Residence at Palo Alto College in San Antonio and continues to live and write in her hometown.

"Guerrero skillfully shapes the sonnet to build a crown of memory, tenderness, and grief for a man who becomes more than a man in this collection...Gumecindo, in these poems, becomes our beloved, our grandfather, the carpenter and king of our broken hearts."
     - Natalie Diaz, author of When My Brother Was an Aztec

"After the death of her beloved grandfather, Guerrero turns to the work and craft of poem-making and collaboration as methods of survival. The result is a tenaciously, keenly honed crown of sonnets that live in the territory of loss, resilience, and grief. In this book, the formal projects are profoundly linked to the heart of the content: interruptions, ruptures, and layers of texts seem to be as much about the anxiety of losing, loss, and, sometimes, of forgetting. A Crown for Gumecindo was worked for, and earned, and now without great resistance. The result of that work is staggering."
     Aracelis Girmay, author of Kingdom Animalia

"This crown of sonnets and the Maceo Montoya paintings that accompany them embody the complexity and depth of elegy. Wrought from both love and anguish, Guerrero, one of our finest lyric poets...invites us to the complex and dense universe of familial bonds."
     Carmen Gimenez Smith, author of Milk and Filth

"A craftswoman, the poet makes home with her hands. Digging up dirt and memories and dreams. Guerrero carves this heroic crown out from the depths of her sorrow and lays her grief, her mourning, down on the page. We feel the fragility of time and life, the absence, the loss, but find refuge in these poems masterfully constructed by her hands, the foundation laid in Gumecindo's song. An exquisite collection."
     Virginia Grise, author of blu

Laurie Ann Guerrero
A Crown for Gumecindo
Book Trailer from Aztlan Libre Press



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