Vera, Dan. “Speaking Wiri Wiri”, Red Hen Press, 2013.
Rich and Witty History
I was thinking last night that I have not read a good collection of poetry for the last two weeks and someone heard me because the next morning in my mailbox was an advance uncorrected proof of Dan Vera’s new collection of poetry which I read as I ate breakfast today and let me just say that after that reading experience, nothing can go wrong today. There is a poem for everyone here and themes such as identity, migration, family, history, ethnicity and others can be found in this little 80 page book. Vera finds poetry in everyday life from the banal to the exciting and he shares that with us. He also shares some of the stories of Latinos in America and we learn a great deal in a lyrical mode.
I remember that famous line from Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” that says “The play is memory” and if we think about that carefully, we see that life is, in effect, based on memory. Memory guides history, time and place and it certainly guides Dan Vera. Looking back on his life to being born to Cuba parents in South Texas, Vera, although Latino was a fish out of water since Latino Texas culture is basically Mexican/American. Vera has had to reconstruct his past to bring it to us through poetry which demands a fusion of culture and language. Then imagination enters the picture and the task becomes quite difficult and he strove to bring his motherland ad family to us. It is a gift that I, personally, received warmly.
When we were children growing up, we were constantly reminded that “actions speak louder than words” and while that may be true in many instances, it is certainly not true for a poet whose words are his actions. In powerful words perfectly chosen, Dan Vera relates to us his Cuban heritage, his history and his family.
“Because Cuban food in South Texas
is like dishes from Venus or Mars,
a reporter is sent to interview Mama”.
In these three short lines, we have history, family and culture and then Vera goes on to ask,
“Where are the historical markers
to the persistence of cooks
who held fast to the old plates
who made flan in the new world?”
Without those “historical markers”, all is left to memory and if there is an overriding theme in this collection, it seems to me that it is memory.
Vera writes about the “false borders of men” with eight poems in the section named “The Trouble with Borders”. “History is not glorious or truthful” he tells us. We adhere to the borders that are set for us or to those we set for ourselves. “When does what is strange become what is welcoming”? Is it possible to reopen our borders is a question that faces all of us. We are troubled by borders and we are troubled by memory and we are troubled by language. “The language holds us together…the language pulls us apart…There are demands for the sounds from that singular place with its undeniable song”. Language changes as borders change and we must keep up. Language can exile us and it is a memory of the past. To truly know a people, one must know its language but he must also know when to speak it.
Vera looks profoundly on the way words impact both us and the people around us. Is what we say truly who and what we are? Vera tells us to search and to discover as he even provides us with a map for doing so.
There is one other thing that Vera does here that I find particularly fascinating and that is in his search through memory, he brings up the imaginary. In doing so he combines the real with the thought about or wished for and this reconstruction of memory is something that all of us do. Vera, however, does it poetically and in imagination there are great riches. There are also great riches in Vera’s poetry.