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Formal Matters in Contemporary Latino Poetry

I focus Formal Matters in Contemporary Latino Poetry on the incredibly vibrant contemporary poetic works of Rafael Campo, C. Dale Young, Julia Alvarez, and Rhina P. Espaillat.


In these poets we frequently encounter poems that tell stories.The poems spin good yarns, but the poets work hard to give shape to their “stories” in recognizable poetic forms such as the iambic pentameter or tetrameter metrical rhythms. The poets think through carefully just where to place carefully selected words and to cut lines (segmentation)—all of which variously injects a kinetic charge in ways that we conventionally recognize as of poetry.

What The Critics Say

Romance Notes

By addressing a central historical flaw in U.S. Latino literary studies – the lack of attention to the analysis of (poetic) form – Frederick Luis Aldama’s new book offers a provocative approach to contemporary Latino poetry. . . .

Aldama’s interviews at the end of the book address the importance of the poets’ own views on their craft and the location of their work. It seems that in the field of Latino poetry, more so than in any other field of Latina/o cultural production, we have to pay close attention to what the authors themselves are saying about their art and theory.

Second, Aldama’s book is provocative because it questions the strong politization of the field of Latina/o studies. It is not unusual to find both non-Latina/o and Latina/o scholars in the humanities and social sciences who openly declare that the value of Latino literature is strictly sociological and not aesthetic. Aldama’s book makes a strong and eloquent argument against that idea, especially in his powerful close readings of the authors’ most memorable poems.

Dana Gioia, author of Can Poetry Matter?, poet, and former Chairman of the NEA

Frederick Luis Aldama’s new book marks a milestone in Latino Poetry studies. His alert and careful exploration of four formalist authors reveals the true diversity of contemporary Latino poetry.  This fascinating book not only corrects a long-standing critical oversight; it also shows how four ambitious authors have explored the poetic riches of both the English and Spanish traditions to create a compelling new Latino American voice.

Urayoán Noel, poet, professor at NYU, and author of In Visible Movement: Nuyorican Poetry from the Sixties to Slam

Aldama performs a thoughtful revision of existing critical vocabularies, urging us beyond purely sociohistorical or discursive approaches to Latino/a poetry, and towards a renewed engagement with aesthetics. Fusing close readings with cultural and theoretical reflections, Formal Matters in Contemporary Latino Poetry opens up challenging and largely unexplored lines of inquiry. There is nothing pro forma here, except in the hortatory sense.

Marta E. Sánchez, author of Contemporary Chicana Poetry & Professor Emiritus, Arizona State University

In a world of digital and social media, detaching us, it would seem, from the material word, Aldama restores the sheer heart of poetry.  Brilliantly, creatively, and with no apologies, he guides us through the ‘story,’ the metrical rhythms, and segmentation (where lines are cut) in four Latino poets—two feminists and two gay—to show us how they make new our perception, thought, and feeling about the twenty-first century world we inhabit.

Francisco Aragón, editor of The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry

The pleasure of form is that it’s a kind of play,” says one poet. Another: “I often begin with a phrase, a grouping of words that have become incantatory…” A third, on a scrap of language: “I pick at it over time and eventually I come up with a line.”

And the fourth, in talking about a successful poem: “Its sounds please the ear.”

So what we have here, where Latino poetics is concerned, is a book-length study that refreshingly privileges how poems are made, and not poems-as-props for some pre-determined thesis. These interviews are companion to Aldama’s trove of close readings over the course of these four engaging studies. Formal Mattersin Contemporary Latino Poetry marks a new threshold in the study of one of American poetry’s most vital, yet under-examined strands.

Herbert Lindenberger, Avalon Foundation Professor of Humanities Emeritus, Stanford

Here is a pioneering study of four Latino poets who have chosen to express their distinctly modern-day concerns within traditional English metrical forms.  Combining subtle close readings of representative lyrics with interviews of their creators, Aldama turns a revealing spotlight on a unique body of contemporary writing.

David A. Colón, poet, professor, and author of The Lost Men

With a keen critical eye Aldama doesn’t so much interpret poems as he inhabits them, bringing to dazzling light the pleasure in actively participating with the forms and functions of carefully crafted language and lines. His magnificent book follows a unique and intuitive argument: that segmentivity, a quality endemic to both modern verse and Latino identity, illuminates how poetics and identity mutually arrange one another.

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