Monday, May 18, 2015

Monday Muse: New Texas Poet Laureate

. . . my poetry is auditory—it comes from the voice
 of the people!. . .*
~ Carmen Tafolla

The new Poet Laureate of Texas is Carmen Tafolla, whose one-year appointment was announced earlier this month by the Texas Commission on the Arts. Tafolla also holds the honor of first Poet Laureate of San Antonio, Texas; appointed to that post in 2012, she served two years, during which time she appeared at more than 300 schools, universities, conferences, and community arts centers. In addition, she created SA PoetSource, part of her "Signature Series of Initiatives" developed with the City of San Antonio's Department for Culture and Creative Development.

The National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies cites Tafolla for "giv[ing] voice to the peoples and cultures of this land." The National Latino Book Club named Tafolla's collection This River Here its October 2014 "Book of the Month".

The highly accomplished Tafolla succeeds Dean Young in the honorary position. The process of selecting and appointing an incumbent is explained in my Monday Muse post dated June 21, 2010, covering the appointment of native Texas Karla K. Morton.

As in other positions she has held, Tafolla as state Poet Laureate aims to improve literacy through increased access to literature and literary arts, foster appreciation of cultural diversity, and promote the reading, writing, and enjoyment of poetry throughout the state. 

* * * * *
. . . if poetry does its job right, it reaches the most honest
and most authentic part of our humanity. It helps us
understand, why we're here and what we need to do. . . It
speaks to who we are. It celebrates our strength. It
celebrates our uniqueness. . . .**

Native Texan Carmen Tafolla, Ph.D., is a poet, storyteller, performance artist in the United States, Europe, New Zealand, and Mexico, motivational speaker, and university professor. She has published more than 20 books. Her most recent poetry collections are This River Here: Poems of San Antonio (Wings Press, 2014) and the bilingual Rebozos (Wings Press, 2012). The latter was awarded three International Latino Book Awards First Prizes (Best Book of Poetry, Best Gift Book, and Best Art Book); it contains images of the paintings of Catalina Garate Garcia, which were the inspiration for Tafolla's poems. A 30th Anniversary "Banned in Arizona!" Edition of Tafolla's highly regarded Curandera (M&A Editions, 1983; Wings Press, 2012) was republished three years ago with a new introduction by photographer Norma Cantu, who writes that "[t]he power of the words in Curandera transcends the pages and reaches into the heart."

Tafolla's other poetry collections are Sonnets and Salsa (Wings Press, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2011), which has been translated into German, and Sonnets to Human Beings and Other Selected Works (Lalo Press, 1992; Reissue, McGraw-Hill, 1995; available via resellers), which includes Sonnets to Human Beings and a selection of other poems, as well as a number of stories, an autobiography, and critical and interpretive essays. 

With co-authors Cecilio Garcia-Camarillo and Reyes Cardenas, Tafolla published a debut poetry collection, Get Your Tortillas Together, in 1976. 

Other work by Tafolla includes children's picture books (Tricycle/Random House), television screenplays, song lyrics, nonfiction (a biography about civil rights organizer Emma Tenayuca, That's Not Fair: Emma Tenayuca's Struggle for Justice), short stories, and a feature film comedy co-written with Sylvia Morales

Tafolla's work has been translated into five languages, including Bengali, and included in elementary school readers, high school and university textbooks, newspapers, and magazines.

Place, especially the barrios of San Antonio where she grew up, and ancestry are strong and prominent themes in Tafolla's poetry, which also reflects a profound awareness of social injustice and a deep knowledge of the cultural heritage she shares with the Latina/o and Chicana/o communities. Subjects such as identity, culture, language, and women's strength and self-empowerment in the face of entrenched poverty, sexism, racism, and other discriminatory and adverse social ills can be traced throughout her work.

Described as a "master of code-switching", a literary technique, Tafolla uses both formal and colloquial Spanish and English in her poems. She has noted that her favored style and approach are to "write in the voices of people, to let poetry or prose come in their words and thoughts, and to let it come in their language and accent. . . I like my works to understand . . . people—to reveal our strengths and our weaknesses, our struggles and victories and failures and flaws, and,  ultimately, our beauty as human beings." ***

Below is an excerpt of Tafolla's poem "Tia Sofia", which shows how Tafolla uses "code-switching":

Mi Tia Sofia
sang the blues
at "A" Record Shop,
on the west side of downtown,
across from Solo-Serve's
Thursday coupon specials
she never missed.
       "Cuantro yardas de floral print cottons
       por solo eighty-nine cents—fijate nomas, Sara,
       you'll never get it at that price anywhere else!"
       she says to her young sister.
And "A Record Shop
grows up the walls around her like vines
like the flowers and weeds and everything in her
green-thug garden.[. . . .]
~ from Sonnets and Salsa 

This next excerpt is the concluding stanza from Tafolla's "How Shall I Tell You?":

[. . . ]
When no one lulls the child to sleep
or takes the wrinkled story's hand
or listens to the news — a wired sound
of tribe on tribe — stet now — man on man
how shall I tell you that I love you then?
how shall I touch your fingers tip to tip
and say that we were blood and
human voice and friend?
~ from Sonnets to Human Beings and Other Selected Works

Poems by Tafolla have been published in a lengthy list of literary journals and anthologies, including Voices de la Luna (a quarterly poetry and arts magazine), Before/Beyond Borders: An Anthology of Chicano/a Literature, Ventana Abierta, NewVerseNews, Swirl, Frontiers: A Journal of Women's Studies, The Langdon Review of the ArtsTexas in Poetry: A 150-Year Anthology, Puerto del Sol, and The Texas Observer.

Among Tafolla's many and varied honors and distinctions, which she began receiving as early as 1976-1977, are the Americas Award (2010), five International Latino Book Awards (including Best Book of Bilingual Poetry, 2013), two Tomas Rivera Book Awards (2009, 2010), two ALA Notable Book Awards, a Texas 2 by 2 Award, and the Charlotte Zolotow Award (2010), Art of Peace Award (St. Mary's University, 1999), and Top Ten Books for Babies (Fred Rogers Corporation). Tafolla also is in the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame (since 2009) and is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters (1999), which cited her for outstanding literary achievement.

An educator who has held numerous faculty and administrative appointments, including positions at California State University at Fresno, Texas Lutheran College, and Northern Arizona University, Tafolla lives in San Antonio. She was formerly Writer-in-Residence for Children's Youth, and Transformative Literature, University of Texas at San Antonio, where she established Cuentos y Carino (Bilingual Bedtimes), a UTSA project to encourage parents to read to their children. Currently, Tafolla is an associate professor of practice in UTSA's College of Education and Human Development's Department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies.


Photograph Credit: Magdalena Yznaga via Texas Commission on the Arts

All Poetry Excerpts © Carmen Tafolla

* Quoted from The Report@Robert Leos ("Carmen Tafolla on Knowing Alex Haley"), November 2006

** Quoted from Carmen Tafolla's Speech Delivered at the Induction Ceremony for the Inaugural Poet Laureate of San Antonio (The speech is available at Wings Press.)

*** Quoted from Texas Women Writers: A Tradition of Their Own (page 235)

Also see "Carmen Tafolla: A Life in Letters Documentary", a biographical video. 

Canto Mundo published the press release announcing Tafolla's appointment as San Antonio's Poet Laureate.

Carmen Tafolla Poems Online: "Feeding You", Excerpt from This River Here, "They Call Me Soledad",  "How Shall I Tell You?", Excerpt from "The Story Keeper" in Sonnets and Salsa, and "How Shall I Tell You?" from Sonnets to Human Beings and Other Selected Works, All at Carmen Tafolla Website; "Aqui", "Caminitos", and "Voyage", All at Poetry Foundation; "Do It", First Official Poem as San Antonio Poet Laureate, at The Rivard Report (May 2012); "Ocupando Mi Voz" at Sampsonia Way Magazine; "And When I Dream Dreams" at In the Heydays of His Eyes; "Compliments" at Samantha Mabry; "Fragile Flames" at Modern Tejana (Video Included); "La Malinche" at Women in World History (Center for History & New Media, George Mason University); "Right in One Language" at The Texas Observer ("The People's Poets: Houston, San Antonio and McAllen Hire Poets Laureate", August 13, 2013)

An excellent separate Website, Carmen Tafolla Performance and Resource Site, created in collaboration with Wings Press, features seven of Tafolla's poems ("The Magic", "La Malinche", "Marked", "Mujeres del Rebozo Rojo", "Right in One Language", "This River Here", and "Voyage"), videotaped readings, book trailers, and textual resources and curricular aids, as well as public presentations and writing exercises.

Carmen Tafolla's poems also can be found on Tumblr. See also "The Poet Laureate Film Project"; coordinated by Three Chord Media, it is designed to celebrate Tafolla's poetry. For the project, six filmmakers, including Daniela Riojas, visually interpret her poems. 

Carmen Tafolla Papers, 1967-2001, Texas Archival Resources Online, University of Texas at Austin

Carmen Tafolla on FaceBook and LinkedIn

Carmen Tafolla Videos at Vimeo (Tafolla readings also can be found on YouTube.)

"Video: Author Carmen Tafolla Tells the Truth About Being Latin@ in America", Latino Rebels, June 12, 2012

Elaine Ayala, "Poet Laureate Fighting Cancer Her Own Way: Tafolla Embraces Alternatives", San Antonio Express-News, March 3, 2013 (Updated March 4, 2013)

Jeff Biggers, "San Antonio Names Tafolla First Poet Laureate, as Tucson Banishes Her Classics from Classrooms", Huff Post Books Section, The Huffington Post, March 27, 2012 (Updated May 27, 2012)

Jesus Chavez, "UTSA Associate Professor Carmen Tafolla Named Texas State Poet Laureate 2015-16", UTSA Today, May 13, 2015

Rene Colato Lainez, "Interview with Author Carmen Tafolla", La Bloga, July 20, 2008

Rene Martinez, "NewBorder Interview with Carmen Tafolla", NewBorder, June 13, 2012

Crystal Poenisch, "San Antonio Artist Announced State Poet Laureate", San Antonio Current, May 7, 2015 

Veronica Anne Salinas, "Four Questions for SA Poet Laureate Carmen Tafolla", San Antonio Current, September 3, 2013

Nick Swartsell, "San Antonio's Multi-Faceted Poet Laureate Gets a Multimedia Outlet", The Texas Observer, June 10, 2013

Review of This River Here at Voices de la Luna (Scroll to page 11 of the pdf.)

Rebozos on GoogleBooks

Sonnets and Salsa at GoogleBooks

This River Here on GoogleBooks

Lone Star Literary Life

Wings Press (Wings Press on FaceBook)


Sridhar Chandrasekaran said...

You have such an interesting blog. Thanks for sharing. Reading blogs is my hobby and I randomly found your blog. I enjoyed reading your posts. All the best for your future blogging journey. Please keep in touch with me in Twitter, @ipersuade.

Sridhar Chandrasekaran said...

You have such an interesting blog. Thanks for sharing. Reading blogs is my hobby and I randomly found your blog. I enjoyed reading your posts. All the best for your future blogging journey. Please keep in touch with me in Twitter, @ipersuade.

drew said...

Always enjoy these Poet Laureate posts. Thanks Maureen!