At eight years old, Sarah Dalilah Cruz Ortiz is well on her way to becoming a literary powerhouse. The Puerto Rican poet is a new regular at cultural events and is a member of the local all-female arts collective Las Musas Descalzas, where she was given the moniker Ninfa Dalilah. Last year, she published her first collection of poems, Sueño Mágico entre Versos de mi Infancia.
Its subject matter is seemingly beyond her years; love, liberty and la patria are among her preferred topics, she says. Her heartfelt dedication to Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López Rivera—imagining him free, como el cielo—is absolutely moving. “Libertad” is another that’ll hit anyone right in the feels, whether privy to her very young age or not:
Her mother, Solimar Ortiz Jusino, is a driving force behind Sarah’s poetic prowess. A writer herself, she turned to poetry for catharsis during a period of illness, and shared the craft with her daughter as a form of mutual therapy, she says. Realizing Sarah’s genuine interest, she began incorporating poetry into her home schooling.
After lessons, Solimar provides a prompt as a jump-off, allowing Sarah’s reaction to naturally guide her poetry. Her favorite so far: “Tambor de Africa,” written in response to the acclaimed Puerto Rican poet Luís Palés Matos’ “Ten con ten“:
Tambor de Africa
Tambor que está en mí de África
su ritmo africano que no para de cantar
¡BUM, BUM, BUM!
Ese es el tambor
que está en mi corazón.
African heritage is a topic Solimar believes is essential to any Puerto Rican child’s education, and the lack thereof in public schools, she says, is in part why she’s opted to teach Sarah herself instead.
In second grade, Sarah and the rest of her class were instructed to identify themselves as either Spanish, African or Indio. Solimar received a call from the teacher that Sarah had responded by indicating “all of them, and none of them.”
Under her mother’s educational stewardship, Sarah is actually running ahead of schedule—she’s already advanced to the fourth grade. She’s even doing some teaching of her own, visiting classrooms of all levels to share her poetry, as well as another artistic pursuit: Singing. She recently performed the original “La Borinqueña,” a revolutionary call to arms written by Lola Rodríguez de Tió in 1868, to a group of grade 11 students. None of them recognized the song, Solimar laments.
On election day, however, Sarah stunned a crowd of activists protesting La Junta de Control Fiscal with her powerful rendition. She’s also performed at an event calling for the release of Oscar López Rivera, as well as events organized at El Campamento Contra La Junta, the ongoing occupation just outside the US District Court of Puerto Rico in Hato Rey. Sarah sings at her local church, too.
Her next collection is already in the works, Solimar notes, adding that “Sarah tiene sus planes.”
“Tres cosas: Publicar, bailar, y cantar,” Sarah declares.