"With the certitude of a true believer, Vellya Paapen had assured the twins that there was no such thing in the world as a black cat. He said that there were only black, cat-shaped holes in the universe."
-- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Friday, September 27, 2013

Review: My Own True Name: New and Selected Poems for Young Adults

My Own True Name: New and Selected Poems for Young Adults
My Own True Name: New and Selected Poems for Young Adults by Pat Mora

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From My Own True Name, by Pat Mora:

Two Worlds

Bi-lingual, Bi-cultural
able to slip from "How's life"
to "M'estan volviendo loca,"
able to sit in a paneled office
drafting memos in smooth English,
able to order in fluent Spanish
at a Mexican restaurant,
American but hyphenated,
viewed by anglos as perhaps exotic,
perhaps inferior, definitely different,
viewed by Mexicans as alien
(their eyes say, "You may speak
Spanish but you're not like me")
an American to Mexicans
a Mexican to Americans
a handy token
sliding back and forth
between the fringes of both worlds
by smiling
by masking the discomfort
of being pre-judged

This book by Pat Mora is subtitled "New and Selected Poems for Young Adults" but really it is for anybody. Anybody who has ever struggled with identity, anybody who has deeply loved (and maybe lost) a family member, anybody who likes a good poem.

In many of the pages of this book (which is divided into three sections-- Blooms, Thorns, and Roots), Mora gives a voice to Mexican-Americans struggling to find their place in two different worlds. In "Los Inmigrantes" she paints a picture of immigrants who "wrap their babies in American flags" and give them American names and feed them hot dogs and apple pie, hoping they will be accepted. In "Elena" and "Learning English: Chorus in Many Voices", Mora tackles the topic of Spanish-speaking mothers trying to learn English for their children, and the effect is heart-wrenching. The poet captures the hurt, the embarrassment, and the feeling the women have that their children are slipping away from them in an honest and compassionate way.

Other poems in the collection cross cultural boundaries. "Teenagers" and "To My Son" are both beautiful poems about children growing up and leaving home. And while most of the poetry in the book is in free verse, I was surprised and delighted to see a villanelle about "Strong Women" on page 70.

My Own True Name is a book of very personal poems about life and family and fitting in. Young and old and in between, any reader will find something in its pages that touches the heart.

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