In latest anthology, poet recalls stories of youth

In modern times, we have many avenues to tell our story: tweets, Snapchat, blogging, Instagram and Facebook, but these methods lack the thoughtfulness and permanence of older forms of storytelling (I can personally attest to many Facebook posts I’d rather not have preserved for future generations). 

Poetry, on the other hand, has always been a vital avenue for preserving culture and telling stories. From the Iliad and Odyssey to Shakespeare’s sonnets, poetry conveys story through verse, making it easier to remember and pass on.

Local poet Luis Lopez tells a variety of stories through verse. In “Andromeda to Vulpecula,” he recounts the histories of the constellations. In “Each Month I Sing,” an American Book Award winner, he captures the significant aspects of each month. His upcoming collection, “More Musings of a Barrio Sack Boy,” which is being published June 21 by Lithic Press, expands on the neighborhood stories of his youth first recounted in “Musings of a Barrio Sack Boy.”

The precision required in crafting poetry makes it a powerful storytelling tool, and it is clear in reading Lopez’s work that he has great flexibility in his use of language. The mixture of Spanish, Spanglish and English in the Barrio Sack Boy collections reveals the heart of his youth and his neighborhood. The poems bring the reader right to Lopez’s Albuquerque barrio, a place of close community and humor. While there is poignancy in many of the poems, they are not overly sentimental, relying instead on snapshots of people and the essence of their stories. I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Lopez read from his new collection, and as so often happens with a good story, I connected deeply with the poems.

His love of story and language was born, as it is for many of us, in childhood, listening to his grandmother tell stories, and sitting through the long Good Friday services of his local parish, fascinated by the beauty of the language in the Bible as read by Father Libertini. This love of language and narrative translated into a career teaching Latin and writing poetry.

He didn’t begin writing poetry seriously until he was in his 30s, when he wrote about the people in his neighborhood, whom he encountered at the grocery store where he started working at 6 years old. His cousin Ben owned the store and was like a second father to Lopez. He credits Ben with helping him develop the humor threaded throughout the poems.

Initially, no publishers would touch the poems because many of them are written in Spanglish, the mixture of Spanish and English commonly spoken throughout the Southwest. Rudolfo Anaya broke this barrier with the publication of his novel “Bless Me, Ultima,” and soon Lopez won a Writer’s Digest award for one of his Musings of Barrio Sack Boy poems.

The second collection of poems was born when Lopez was invited to study and work with Harvard professor and poetry critic Helen Vendler as part of program for high school teachers. She recognized that he was not finished telling the stories of his barrio, and as the people of his neighborhood read and heard his poems, they reminded him of more anecdotes. While his childhood neighborhood has changed a great deal, he still likes to go back and host readings there.

Lopez’s passion for teaching and poetry helped him become a leader in the Grand Valley writing community. For about 20 years, he worked with Lithic Press co-owner Danny Rosen to conduct Poetry Night at the Mesa County Public Library, where people come to share their poetry and fine tune it with the help of fellow writers. While Lopez no longer runs Poetry Night, he often participates in the workshops, which are now overseen by Colorado Mesa University professor Jennifer Rane Hancock.

Recently, Lopez read from “More Musings of a Barrio Sack Boy” at East Middle School’s Enrichment Day. The themes of the poems resonated with the students, who were inspired to create and share their own works. Lopez says there are natural poets everywhere, from the children and adults he has worked with in various capacities, to the guy at the end of the bar telling his story.

“More Musings of a Barrio Sack Boy” will be available through Lithic Press in Fruita. It will also be available as an audio recording through the Mesa County Public Library later this summer. I recommend experiencing the poems in both formats to really understand the power and importance of the language Lopez has chosen for each poem. Perhaps you will even be inspired, as I was, into penning a few pieces of your own.

LaReina Kalenian is an elementary schoolteacher and mother of two. Her column appears here the last Sunday of the month. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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