"POEMAS CALLEJEROS / STREETWISE POEMS" BOOK REVIEW
BY MARC ZIMMERMAN
BY MARC ZIMMERMAN
Chair, Dept. of Modern & Classical Languages at the University of Houston
Director of Comparative, Critical & Cultural Studies (CCC) and
The Latin American Cultural Activities & Studies Arena (LACASA)
A veteran of the Chicago women and Latino poetry scenes, Johanny Vázquez Paz (aka Johanny Vázquez-Nieves), is one of a handful of recent educated Chicago Ricans who have been giving new life to Rican poetry but clearly moving away from the street poetry model developed by the Nuyorican poets and David Hernández’s early Chicago group. Her new collection, Poemas callejeros/ Streetwise Poems includes a broad selection of poems each presented in Spanish and English, covering a wide range of urban themes flirting with but ultimately diverging from David Hernández’s Chicago thematics through her own female and feminist perspectives. Section I, "Tránsito pesado / Heavy Traffic" presents this "hija de la ciudad" walking through streets and alleyways, or riding on the el, always moving with "paso firme," even as she meditates about Latino family and self, as she makes her way through Chicago. Section II, "Adoquines / Paving Stones" contains meditations on birth, life, African dimensions of identity, the problems of using words, of missing her island home and family; but it also contains poems about the Puerto Rican island of Vieques and the sea that remind us of one of her favorite poets, Julia de Burgos. Section III, "Calle sin salida / Dead-End Street," returns us again to the city and its rough streets, but with heightened subjectivity in relation to themes of longing and loneliness, the tedious routines of everyday life, moments of passion and indifference. Section IV, "Luz verde / Green Light," returns to African associations to speak sensuously of the body, dance and sexual adventures. It affirms sexual revolution in a post-revolutionary era. There’s a poem about "the morning after," another relating the island to body geography, another expressing the plight of a passionate woman. This, then, is a collection which brings together the work of a poet who has finally found her voice and who speaks out from her urban space, projecting us toward her Caribbean and African roots, and the broader world beyond.