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Vickie Vértiz

Vickie Vértiz earned her MFA from the University of California, Riverside. A Macondo and VONA fellow, she is a Los Angeles–based poet, writer, and social justice advocate who teaches creative writing to adults and young people across the country.

Blurbs

“A chamber opera that Vértiz vivifies with jangle and sparkle.”

– Library Journal

“Palm Frond With Its Throat Cut is an offering; to a people, to a city—but it is also an irreverent reclaiming of land and home for those who have always been here.”

– Bitch Magazine

“Vértiz pays tribute to the fighters and the lovers inside each of us in this fearless and remarkable collection of poems that sings ‘about the dark times, about school. About how La Llorona needs a vacation from that riverbed.’”

– NBC News

“Vértiz is a powerhouse. Her work is incredibly nuanced with a full sensibility of place without sentimentality, without pity, and without need to justify its worth. These poems are smart, sassy, sonically enhanced, and scintillating. A must-read.”

– Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, author of Burn

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Palm Frond With Its Throat Cut

Palm Frond With Its Throat Cut by Vickie Vértiz

02/25/18

Latinx Los Ángeles. One of the main reasons the city is always praised for its diversity. Spanish peppering homes in Bell Gardens and mariachis shooting the breeze as they wait to be hired at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights.

But pay attention to the media or watch the movies and T.V. shows made by Hollywood, and it’s like the community doesn’t exist. As Chris Rock said in his 2014 Hollywood Reporter article criticizing the industry’s lack of diversity, “You’re in L.A., you’ve got to try not to hire Mexicans.” It’s as if Hollywood refuses to know its own city. A willingness to ignore a community that makes up half the city’s population.

However, Latinx Angeleños, like poet Vickie Vértiz, are increasingly penning their own narratives of a lived life born here in Los Ángeles and of the community they’re from. These writers, most with roots in Mexico and Central America, use their writing to portray their loyalty and love for their community in the context of discussing social issues. This Latinx Angeleño literary tradition took hold in the 1980s, in part due to what L.A. poet Marisela Norte said about her community living on the Eastside of the L.A. River: “I don’t know why things start and stop and matter once they’re safely over that side,” the Westside, “of the bridge.” [1]

That’s why in 1982, the poetry anthology Two Hundred and One: Homenaje a la Ciudad de Los Angeles/The Latino experience in Los Angeles appeared, that focused on these long ignored voices of L.A.’s Latino/a poets. The anthology included such future heavy hitters as former L.A. Poet Laureate Luis Rodriguez, Victor Ville, Marisela Norte and Helena Maria Viramontes. [2]

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Vickie Vértiz’s second poetry collection Palm Frond With Its Throat Cut (University of Arizona Press), sidesteps the glare of Hollywood and vividly focuses on her community of working class Latinxs in Southeast Los Ángeles. At the outset, the first poem “Already My Lips Were Luminous,” places the reader directly into her family and community with Amá and her uncle whose “breath is two cases of cigarettes and one/aluminum beer.” Where “Amá throws/up two dollar wine/after a pool party.” This place is where “the songs of crows/outside unspool.” However, Southeast Los Ángeles is more than just the stereotypical working class Latinx. Vértiz tells the reader not only that “my first kiss is with an uncle/comforting.” but that:

When his sons leave for the Persian Gulf  he kisses them too   and
I’m                  confused
because men never embrace around me…
I understand, then                there must be other ways to love
your children

This is what Vértiz’s collection explores, the different ways to love a person or community. One of the most personal and prevalent ways she explores, Vértiz learned from her father. She explained in an interview that “my relationship to home is…the way my father related to the family he made with my mom…that I could leave, and I should leave, and I could always come back.”[3] And in Palm Frond she periodically leaves Southeast L.A., at one point, the outset of part two, traveling to Paris and Mexico. But when Vértiz returns home, her poems retain that intimacy and socio-critical eye that illustrates that her community matters and that it matters in/to L.A., while retaining the love and empathy of a place that will always be a part of her.

In the persona poem “Don Mario” she says:

One bedroom in the city of crowded…
covered in finger filth…
In the living room, darting bullets in the dark…
Mario dreams of driving
his plump neighbor on her errands
: church first, the 99 Cent Store
Bursting with school kids

Vértiz does a powerful job of allowing the reader to experience her Southeast L.A. community through her and her fellow Latinxs as individuals, employing precise line breaks. These breaks create multiple contextualized levels of meaning, like ending with “driving” in the above poem. That evokes open freedom and possibilities before cementing Mario’s dream into a more realistic and plausible one, shaped by Mario’s reality and circumstances. Circumstances born out of a long history of neglect that Vértiz understands all too well.

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Palm Frond With Its Throat Cut also expands on Los Ángeles’ Latinx literary tradition of documentation, of giving a “historical and cultural consciousness” to a community,[4] by Vértiz including her own queer Latinx identity. This is one of those other ways to love that she tactfully alludes to in “Already My Lips Were Luminous.”

In the poem “Portrait as a Deer Hunter” Vértiz places her Latinx queerness, by again using history, in the struggle for LGBTQIA rights, including an epigraph about the famous Stonewall incident in New York. But it’s her ability, as she says in “Lover’s Letter,” “To be untranslatable” that infuses many of these poems with her compassion and certainty, that creates a refreshing queerness that’s definitely her own. Vértiz says at one point, “Today is more like summer in South Gate or/Bed-Stuy.” This is the regular everydayness of being a queer Latinx, the unnoticed and unrecorded parts of these lives that occur once the media has left.

Vértiz skillfully captures this “untranslatability” because she understands how to adeptly use poetic lines. She creates extra spaces within a line to capture the extra meanings and layers of her queerness with a verve and sincerity that lacks the typical insecurity that accompanies such a self-discovery and portrayal. These extra spaces cause these otherwise easily accessible poems to strategically pause, powerfully allowing the reader to notice and feel the extra complexities of the love and affection she has to navigate through.

As Vickie Vértiz says in the final poem, about her language—these poems—they are “My resist.” In the Latinx Angeleño literary tradition she vibrantly expands on, and brings thought provoking light to, her Southeast L.A. community. And when readers step away, a part of that light lingers inside them.

 

Notes

[1] Rachmuhl, Sophie. A Higher Form of Politics: The Rise of a Poetry Scene, 1950-1990. Otis Books/Seismcity Editions, 2015.

[2] Rachmuhl, Sophie. A Higher Form of Politics: The Rise of a Poetry Scene, 1950-1990. Otis Books/Seismcity Editions, 2015.

[3] Membreno, Soraya. “Fierce As Fuck: The Future of Poetry Is Brown & Queer.”Bitchmedia.org, Bitch Media, 6 Oct. 2017, 9:22am.

[4]Rachmuhl, Sophie. A Higher Form of Politics: The Rise of a Poetry Scene, 1950-1990. Otis Books/Seismcity Editions, 2015.

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