We’re lucky enough to be in the middle of a veritable poetry boom right now. Young poets are reaching audiences on social media and finding new ways to collaborate and publish their words. With slam poets blowing up YouTube and screenshots of poems abounding on Twitter – and on some occasions leading to publishers to print their eclectic poems on paper – there’s never been a better time to get into poetry. Poems fit in well with social media and shortened attention spans – it can take you as little as a few minutes to read a poem you can carry with you for the rest of the day, returning to lines and verses when you have a minute.
With April marking National Poetry Month, here’s a list of seven Latino poets you may not have heard of, but you should know.
Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
“After the first boy called me a wetback, / I opened his mouth and fed him a spoonful of honey.”
Born in 1988 in Zacatecas, Mexico, Poet, essayist, and translator Marcelo Hernandez Castillo has lived in the United States since age 5. He’s truly on the edge of making it big. His first book, Cenzontle comes out next week (April 10) and has already won the 2017 A. Poulin, Jr. prize. HaperCollins will publish his memoir, Children of the Land, in 2020.
His name may sound familiar: Along with Christopher Soto and Javier Zamora, Hernandez Castillo founded the Undocupoets Fellowship, to help non-citizens apply to more contests and submissions. Cenzontle plays with borders – those between the real and the imaginary, between the human and the divine, between light and the shadow.
“Three times on Saturday / I remember you / as dead, / mamá.”
The cover for Rosa Alcalá’s third book, My Other Tongue, makes it immediately clear the structure and content you’ll find inside: the words are fractured and repeated – Mother Tongue, Her Tongue, Other Tongue. Bodies, language, women, families, and the empty space of the page are all woven together and in conversation with each other. Alcalá’s poetry highlights the limits of one language and then two.
The Paterson, New Jersey native currently works as a professor in the Department of Creative Writing and Bilingual MFA Program at the University of Texas-El Paso.
“I pump bidi bidi bom bom hormonal harmonies / for his jawlined mitzvahs bidi bidi bidi bidi bidi”
Roy Guzmán is a queer Honduran poet who can drop Selena references in their poetry like nobody’s business, but their poetry covers topics from the celebratory to the solemn. After the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando – where 49 predominantly Black, brown and queer people died – Guzmán, poet Marco Antonio Huerta, and visual artist D Allen collaborated on a bilingual chapbook, Restored Mural for Orlando. All the proceeds of this chapbook go to organizations for the victims, or toward queer spaces in Florida.
Graywolf Press will release their first work in 2020. They are a 2017 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellow.
“remember your body/the body – a land of feelings we’ve been told to cut down”
Melissa Lozada-Oliva is a spoken-word poet, meaning that you can encounter her work both in her book, Peluda, or on YouTube, where her poem/performances have thousands (and in some cases, hundreds of thousands) of views. Her writing is sometimes funny, sometimes tender, usually both. And her super-expressive performance style makes her a compelling poet to watch anywhere, any time. Not only that, but Lozada-Oliva recently opened a show for band Palehound, so you can keep an eye out for her at your favorite music venues as well.
Lozada-Oliva’s first book, Peluda, is what it says on the tin: a book about body hair, and families and girlhood, and it will make you laugh and then break your heart.
“Born American, raised Dominican, found black, found God, found home”
Gabriel Ramirez is an Afro-Latinx performance poet working in NYC. Ramirez brings humor and rigor alike to his poetry, bringing lightness while shining a light at issues like racism, colonialism, and mental health.
His work is featured in Afro-Latino Poetry Anthology (Arte Público Press).
“No one told me they were written in ‘other languages.’ I read and semi-understood them. Not understanding opened the door to other forms of imagining.”
Only recently translated into English (by another member of this list, Rosa Alcalá), Cecilia Vicuna is a performance artist and poet exiled from Chile since the 1960s. In the last few years, transcripts of her works have been gathered into books. Each of her books is then a sort of small collage, circling around the idea of time, performance, and precarios.
“Oh, body, be held now by whom you love.”
Her work has inspired Mary Lambert and comforted Junot Díaz – Aracelis Girmay is a poet’s poet, already beloved by many of your favorite writers and artists. With these kinds of seals of approval, what are you waiting for? Girmay – whose Eritrean, African-American, and Puerto Rican heritage inspire her work – has several books out, including Kingdom Animalia and Teeth.