DRIVE: The First Quartet (hardback edition)
Hardback, 313 pages
LESS THAN 20 COPIES REMAIN OF THIS IMPORTANT TITLE.
ePub ISBN: 978-1-60940-066-8
Kindle ISBN: 978-1-60940-067-5
Library PDF ISBN: 978-1-60940-068-2
DRIVE restablishes Cervantes as a singular voice. — Publishers Weekly
This is a landmark work. — Martín Espada
This is what it means to be a poet. — Ana Castillo
She taught us that poetry can change the world. — Sandra Cisneros
Cervantes is a poetic force to be reckoned with. — Women in the Arts
This video is a series of "vistazos" or glimpses into the life and poetry of Lorna Dee Cervantes. It was created for Debra Castillo's "Contemporary Latino Writers Class."
Lorna Dee Cervantes reads her poem "Bananas" for the Mark Allen Everett Poetry Series at the University of Oklahoma. Tuesday, March 2, 2010.
- There are high notes here, lyrical as any aria, and bass notes as fiercely passionate as a battle cry.
— Gwendolyn Diaz, Ph.D., St. Mary's University
- Lorna Dee Cervantes is a daredevil.... We are transfixed as she juggles rage, cruelties, passion. There is no net. Seven generations uphold the trick of survival. No one is alone in this amazing act of love.
— Joy Harjo
- As young writers we grew up alongside Lorna Dee Cervantes. When no one else was listening, she published us, encouraged us, guided us. Her work was the light we turned towards directing us towards a poetry of lyricism and social activism. She taught us that poetry can change the world.
— Sandra Cisneros
This is a landmark work. Lorna Dee Cervantes is not only an important Chicana poet; she is an important American poet, and her voice comes to us again, after many years, at a time when we desperately need to hear that voice. In fact, there are many voices here: the voice of protest against the atrocities committed in the name of coffee and bananas, the voice of the suffocated poor in the barrio and Latin America, the voice of girls fighting to survive on the street, the voice of jazz from the 78s of the past, the voice of praise for ancestors and the next generation, all voices of the most profound energy, compassion, strength, wisdom. "Come and see the blood in the streets," Neruda wrote. Lorna Dee Cervantes knows the blood in the streets and the blood of the heart, the blood that spills and the blood that keeps us alive. Come and see.
— Martín Espada
This is what it means to be a poet, I tell myself, reading the thick, rich poems of Lorna Dee Cervantes' new collection. A poet is a "one winged dove." She is a "copper kettle," a "tuna-tamed tiger" and the "thundering of a hummingbird's wings." These images and many more are among Cervantes' treasure trove of poetic labors. If you love poetry, you've come to the right place. Throughout these pages, be prepared to feast your heart.
— Ana Castillo
A poet returns: Cervantes impressive Drive promEl Paso Times2006
Reviewed by Rigoberto González
After nearly a 15-year lapse since her last full-length publication, Lorna Dee Cervantes makes an impressive comeback with Drive , a five-books-in-one, 307-page poetry tome she claims is only the "first quartet."
The opening sequence, "How Far's the War?," taps into the poet's political identity with its eye-opening accounts of global atrocities, many committed in the name of American capitalist interests. Akin to Eduardo Galeano's "Memory of Fire," this book enlightens the reader about the world outside the privilege of safety:
I worry about winter in a place I've never been, about exiles in their homeland gathered around a fire, about the slavery of substance and gruel: Will there be enough to eat?
But the terrors are domestic, too, manifested in the violence of racism. Invoked also are the late Chicano activist Corky Gonzales and poems written shortly after 9/11, heralding a new era of activism through verse, which Cervantes punctuates with the line, "America, don't build me a country to mourn."
The book "Play" is a sequence of "7 Minute Poems" that highlight the poet's skill at spontaneity. Read closely, these poems also trace Cervantes' many moods with language, from playful (as in the poem "Say What You Mean") to elegiac ("Shut Eyes").
"Letters to David" is perhaps the most intense of the books, with its series of centered lines that descend with the same downward spiral as the life of the Kennedy that inspired the poems. Cervantes links David Kennedy's alcohol-induced death to the era that became imprinted on the social consciousness through the media. The '60s witnessed the assassinations of David's father, Robert, and of his uncle, the former president, as well as the Vietnam War. The 14 poems, which the poet labels after the Stations of the Cross, speak to the martyrdom of the Catholic Kennedys, but also to the cross left to bear by the language and imagery of the dominant mass medium: television.
"BIRD AVE" and "Hard Drive" are books in dialogue, since they move through similar autobiographical sensibilities, but with the poet underscoring two key stages: the restlessness of youth in one book; the maternal and sexual being of womanhood in the other. "That was another age," Cervantes declares as she weaves a portrait of Las Gatas, a fierce Chicana clique, "pachucando" through the urban streets:
the great boiler room of the moon like a cardboard marquis before the factory chugging out their dream with the smell of potato chips and burnt crayolas.
This seemingly vulnerable young woman grows into the mature poet who can examine herself at 33, at 40, and beyond, never losing her touch as the premier voice of Chicano letters. Cervantes continues to dazzle with lines like:
I was looking for your hair, black as old lava on an island of white coral. I dreamed it deserted you and came for me, wrapped me in its funeral ribbons and tied me a bowl of salt.
The book Cervantes' fans have been patiently waiting for will not disappoint. Indeed, this lengthy read will be devoured rapidly, leaving readers hungering for the next quartet.
Rigoberto González is an award-winning writer living in New York City. His Web site is www.rigobertogonzalez.com, and he may be reached at Rigoberto70@aol.com
A rich, far-reaching book ...Speakeasy MagazineWinter 2005-2006
If Consideration of the Guitar and My Nature Is Hunger say something about the range of Chicano writing in the United States at this juncture, Lorna Dee Cervantes's Drive: The First Quartet on its own presents a wide variety of content, style, and approaches. The first poetry book by Cervantes to be published since 1991, Drive is made up of five distinct sections — most of which could stand on their own as strong books of poems. Across their sections, we find Cervantes as the political poet of witness, Cervantes the young girl in a California barrio, Cervantes in her years as a developing poet, and Cervantes the teacher.
The collection's first section, "How Far's the War?"; connects contemporary aggression and war in the Americas to its history of conquest. The poems are enraged yet nuanced. In "Coffee," her anger rises from a general analysis:
In Quetzaltenango, foreign interests plot the futures of Mayan hands and Incan gold. While on Wall Street, the black sludge of a people trickles through cappuccino machines like hissing snakes.
The poem moves on to witness atrocities -- the bloodied mud that "sucks the plastic sandals of a child," the killing floor where "the people / were hacked into pieces the size of a bat" -- and to recite a list of names, presumably of those who were brutally killed. Yet she pulls the poem back in its last two sections to scenes from 1940. Here the Jewish poet Hans Sahl is drinking coffee -- first in Marseilles, where he assumes he is doomed to leave "in a cattle car," and later in Greenwich Village, to which he has escaped through the efforts of Varian Fry, who saved him and others through persistence and defiance of "the orders / of nations, Nazis, industry, collaborators, / gendarmes, and the United States Consulate." We are reminded as readers that U.S. policies have supported atrocities in the past as well as the present.
She also takes on atrocities perpetrated at home. In "Murder," she writes of Danny Treviño, a minor who used to live down the street from her and who is shot by the police for being drunk. In "The News," she writes of "3 crossburnings / 3 bodies in a swollen river."
In "BIRD AVE," we meet the young Cervantes growing up in the barrio. The poems pop with energy: "we wore tease / tight skirts / tough teased hair / talked tough." They celebrate wildness, toughness, and caterwauling, while they mourn their losses: "Two / days after graduation, María / swaying from the limb." In spite of the zing in these lines, the narrator emerges as a shy character who is self-conscious about her looks, "pretty / smart, but not pretty," gradually moving from being a street kid to being a poet among poets, an academic among academics. In the section's final poem she begs,
Save me from a stupid life! I prayed. Leave me anything but a stupid life.
The section "Play" grows out of a writing exercise, adopted from Natalie Goldberg, that Cervantes conducts with her creative writing students. In her workshop they write down the first thing they think of -- a word or a phrase -- and place it in a hat. They pull out a slip of paper and she time-keeps for seven minutes. They then each read their poems aloud, going in rounds of four or five without comments and without rewriting. Hence, the poems in "Play" present themselves without deliberation. They show fluidity in Cervantes's voice, an ability to work with wide-ranging vocabulary. They are playful poems, but not slight.
While "How Far's the War?" seemed to me to be the most mature and ambitious section of the book, "Letters to David: An Elegiac Mass in the Form of a Train," was the most intriguing. Cervantes dedicated a series of fourteen poems to Robert Kennedy's son David A. Kennedy, who drank himself to death in a Palm Beach hotel room in 1984. As a twelve-year-old boy, David had watched his father's assassination on television, one day after the senator had saved him from being swept away in an undertow. Why this particular project? Cervantes writes that she was in seventh grade when Robert Kennedy was shot, and she remembered it as the year she was first aware of politics or wars of the world.
Each of the poems is slender and centered on the page. They are swift-moving (Cervantes refers to them as being in the form of a train) but reverent, echoing the fourteen Stations of the Cross. And Cervantes enters the poems, in conversation with David -- at once feeling for him and feeling estranged from his privilege.
Cervantes closes this rich, far-reaching book with "Hard Drive," poems covering nearly twenty years of her life and ranging in tone and form of address, adding up to a complex portrait. Like the collected works of Ray Gonzalez and Luis Rodríguez, her writings continue to move outward, developing in complexity and nuance. We have so much before us in these three books. It's thrilling to read the signs that we can expect even more from these writers.
Copyright Speakeasy Magazine (www.speakeasymagazine.org). Used by permission. All rights reserved.
(Frances Phillips teaches creative writing at San Francisco State University and is a member of Northern California Book Reviewers.)
Substantial, versatile ...Publishers WeeklyDec. 19, 2005
One of the first Chicana poets to achieve wide U.S. recognition, Cervantes did so with just two books, Emplumada (1981) and From the Cables of Genocide (1991); this substantial, versatile follow-up consists (subtitle not withstanding) of five distinct collections, that can be considered as discrete works. All show fire and range, and all draw on Cervantes's life on the streets as a teen and on her left-wing activism as an adult. The first, "How Far's the War?", comprises poems of activism and protest against a global spate of injustices, from Latin American dictatorships to shortages in Eastern Europe: "La plumage de justicia hangs from the broken/ arrows of palabras [words] breaking the media block/ Of Truth and Consequences of Free Trade Agreements." The last, "Hard Drive", collects warmly convincing poems of erotic and parental love, remembered, promised and achieved: "Come,/ and let us eat/ up the hours/ between us." "BIRD AVE", perhaps the strongest, concentrates on Cervantes's youth, recalling "what girls/ did in/ the barrio/ to get/ their 15/ minutes of fame." About 10 poems are abbreviated appropriations of very famous poems by Bishop, Williams and others, with new titles. But this five-in-one volume reestablishes Cervantes as a singular voice.
Copyright by Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Recommended for general collections and also thoseLibrary JournalJanuary 2006
In her first collection since 1991, Cervantes presents five books bound together that can stand alone or be read as a series. Many pieces are political, while several others are intensely personal. Some poems are playful; some are love or lost-love poems, or small snapshots of residents of a neighborhood not unlike Sandra Cisneros's poetic vignettes in House on Mango Street. A seminal contributor to the Latino movement of the 1970s, Cervantes published, in her journal Mango, many important Latino writers including Cisneros. In one "book," Cervantes exposes readers to wordplay, imagery she refers to as "seven minute" poems. In another, she addresses David Kennedy, doomed son of Robert Kennedy, who took his own sad life in 1984, some 20 years after witnessing his father's death on national television. Cervantes's language is accessible, her diction plain, yet her poems are often lyrical and full of rich imagery: "She was striving/ for a dream that was already/ broken, off the cuff,/ in the rough, and off the key/ of Freedom." Enhancing the musicality of her diction, she slips from English to Spanish and back — with ease. Recommended for general collections and also those that feature Latino, Chicano, and Native American poets.
Reviewed by Karla Huston, Appleton Art Ctr., WI.
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