Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Monday, May 7, 2007


In the last decade Virgil Suárez has authored seven collections of poetry, most recently 90 Miles: Selected and New Poems. Such a flourish of publishing credits seems almost incredible when one considers the challenges many new, younger, and emerging poets must confront as they seek imprint homes for their manuscripts. Despite an apparent and welcomed burgeoning list of new releases (if VPR’s roster of recent and recommended books of poetry offers an accurate indication)—some still appearing at larger presses, but most volumes released by reputable small or university presses—securing publication for one’s manuscript of poetry nowadays usually remains a problematic task.

Indeed, in recent years Virgil Suárez has rapidly become a familiar name frequently encountered among the contributors to numerous magazines across the country, including as a featured poet in a past issue of Valparaiso Poetry Review. With the closing poem of 90 Miles: Selected and New Poems, a piece humorously titled “Upon Hearing That My Poetry Is Being Published ‘Everywhere,’” Suárez even appears to acknowledge and play upon this impression of his growing presence in contemporary poetry. However, if there were any doubt among readers about the value of the work represented by such a publishing record, in the case of Suárez, this book’s amassing of poetry from his first half dozen volumes with an additional group of fifteen new poems proves such a rush of increased recognition seems warranted.

Earlier this past week as May Day immigration rallies filled television screens and Fidel Castro’s absence from Cuban celebrations fueled further speculation about his physical condition or reignited rumors suggesting that nation neared the end of his rule, my re-reading of Virgil Suárez’s poetry held an enhanced significance. After all, a persistent focus on the experiences of an immigrant’s existence and an expatriate’s memories of pre-Castro Cuba has always been central to Suárez’s poetry.

The poet, born in Havana in 1962, arrived in the United States at the age of twelve by way of Franco’s Spain. He and his family or friends have exemplified the life of exile while waiting for the day they may safely return to Cuba should they choose to do so. In fact, an epigraph that opens this collection reinforces Suárez’s intentions in the 90 Miles of the title: “The distance between Cuba and the United States according to a mile marker at the southernmost point in Key West, Florida, and where thousands of Cubans have lost their lives and continue to do so in their desperate journey to freedom.”

Even this weekend’s Cinco de Mayo festivities in various American cities fed a greater interest in revisiting this poet’s personal history as an immigrant whose work continually attempts to connect two cultures and two countries employing a lyrical language that also often borrows from both of the poet’s backgrounds. Certainly, creating cultural connections or building bridges linking people, whether from differing geographical locations or from differing generations, even blending events from the past with current situations and associating individuals from his personal autobiography—friends or family, acquaintances or ancestors—using an acute awareness and exposure to emotional states with which readers may empathize, Suárez regularly reveals a poetic instinct that serves him so well.

Virgil Suárez delivers poetry that is personal though not private, pieces that appear intimate yet seem to respond to larger concerns of his fellow exiles, and work that corresponds with his own search for knowledge or comprehension of inherent human frailties, small faults of behavior, and unwavering faith in the future. He reports in his VPR interview with Ryan G. Van Cleave from the Fall/Winter 2001-2002 issue: “I aim to write about the people I know. In this particular case my work focuses on Cubans and Cuban-Americans. I consider myself a Cuban-American because I have lived most of my life here in the United States. I don’t see myself going back to Cuba any time soon, if ever. I have made my life here in exile. I write about the nature of exile and the travails of my people because that’s what I feel I know best. My work stems from my trying to understand our condition, our exiled situations and lives.”

As I have written before about editions of “selected and new poems” by other authors, I welcome an occasion to glimpse works gathered from different volumes and to observe them side by side, sometimes in a way to indicate a writer’s growth and continuing development, at other times to display alternative ways one poet perceives individual subjects or situations at distinct stages of his or her life and career. However, I also have commented upon my belief that the “new” poetry assembled in such books often suffers by being overlooked or unfairly compared with the “best poems” chosen from previous collections. In 90 Miles: Selected and New Poems one would be doing a disservice to neglect or slight in any manner the fine new poems included in this volume’s final section. Consequently, I’d like to concentrate my current commentary on those latest additions to Suarez’s estimable assortment of poetry.

An early piece in the “New Poems” section of this book, “The Exile Speaks,” already offers a forceful addition to Virgil Suárez’s body of work. As the poet discloses, an exile tells “of a red tongue, black words, / a necessary longing for the shadow.” The poem extends Suárez’s tendency to mix natural images, especially those rich with color, with the human palette’s sampling of emotions, as “fingers claw / any dirt; seeds bloom into fists, // as anger never allowed to ebb, / dreams of rotted, worm infested // pulp, all that tastes bitter, agrio / like bile, a regurgitation of lost // steps.” In this piece the speaker replies to an often-asked question: “Why not forget?” A powerful response vividly closes the poem with an evocative and haunting set of details: “Teeth / chatter in cold night air, dentures // in a glass. Away from the mouth, / teeth sing to all those about to drown.” As with the poet, an exile speaks, even sings, not only for himself, but for all who do not yet have the freedom of such speech, for those of the past perhaps imprisoned, tortured or killed for their exercise of speech, and for those who sought to sing their words in freedom, yet came up short and were lost in their passage over those 90 miles of water separating them from the promise of liberty.

Suárez follows this poem, including its last line’s reference to singing, with a lovely “Poem for Eliades Ochoa, Maestro del alambre dulce,” another work that weaves English and Spanish within its lyrical lines. The poem’s opening suggests that guitarist and composer Ochoa’s music—like much of Suárez’s poetry, I’d propose—makes “the trees sing,” and “Cuba’s / landscape comes alive through the pick & twang.” Suárez, as he has done in the past, blends landscape and lyric, creating his own musical tributes to Cuba: “Hills, verdant valleys, a brook, endless pasture lands, // the bronze of neighing horses, how you make music / out of wood, string, this plucking of chords, zing // in rhythm with the clave, guayo, and maracas.” By the final lines, the poet shows how music provides “healing,” sounds that soothe, spanning the 90 miles between the exiles’ emotions and the beauty of their beloved Cuban countryside: “Bridges between two long and interminable distances.”

Another wonderful piece among the “New Poems” of this volume, “The Seed Collector,” connects Cuba and the United States through the spreading of fruit or vegetable seeds by the speaker’s father: “My father, for all the years he lived in exile, / spent afternoons, after he arrived from work, // slicing open pomegranates, guayaba, mangos, / eating of their meaty pulp, then saving the seeds.” The young son doesn’t understand his father’s actions; however, the poem later reveals: “He scattered them everywhere as he walked, / on people’s yards, in his own, on the medians, // sidewalks, open fields, vacant lots. His mission / was to plant these seeds along his path, a memory // of his days in Cuba, our days in paradise, he said / and walked out of the house toward the setting sun.” One might easily see this poet’s poignant pieces as literary seeds also allowing memories to grow for all readers, but especially for those members of immigrant families, perhaps like himself, who were born too recently to know fully the Cuba their parents or grandparents experienced.

Similarly, in “The What of Rocks” the speaker begins by confiding to readers his own collection of objects: “Everywhere I travel I stop to pick up a rock, / a hard-kept promise to my mother who needs / the foundation of hard things in my life, / some certainty at my hand.” Further, he believes when he gathers the small smooth stones in darkness, “They are the eyes of my father / in moonlight.” The poem progresses toward an ambiguous and moving moment, perhaps even one of love and longing: “A rock held in the night does feel / as light as a dead father, a tongue gone dry, / a mouth so thirsty for words that when / you say ‘rock,’ something grounds you / to the spot, though it could simply be / the earth mistaking you for its hunger.”

The dedication at the front of this book addresses Virgil Suárez’s wife and daughters as ones “who bridge the distances”; however, in his six previous volumes of poetry and now in these new poems released with the selected works from those past collections, Suárez has repeatedly and importantly bridged distances. His poetry connects the pasts of his parents and grandparents with the lives he and his family now lead. His poems couple Cuba’s gloriously colorful history with the difficult present conditions under Fidel Castro. The lyrical lines Suárez writes unite his backgrounds in the English and Spanish languages or literature. Finally, the singular work Virgil Suárez produces often joins Cuba’s numerous exiles with the cherished land they left and the dear home they hope to revisit sometime soon, as Suárez bridges the distance, those 90 miles so carefully calibrated, again and again in the measured expressions and emotional texture of each poem.

Suárez, Virgil. 90 Miles: Selected and New Poems. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005.


Michael Lee Johnson said...
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