December 12, 2003

A Literary Highlight of 2003

La Calaca Review is a bright collection of new voices

By Michael V. Sedano

La Calaca Review, Un Bilingual Journal of Pensamiento & Palabra, released on December 1, comes early enough to order holiday gifts for friends who enjoy discovering vibrant new writers. A bellwether work of literary importance, students of United States literature will recognize in La Revista Calaca a parallel to 1969’s El Espejo: The Mirror, that introduced the genre of Chicano Literature, launching several important literary careers.

One need not be an expert to appreciate editor Manuel Vélez’s selection of the brightest collection of new voices to find print since El Espejo. La Calaca Review presents twenty-nine writers — principally poets — whose cultural homelands range from Washington, California, Colorado, to Texas, Illinois, New York, and reflect Americans from Mexico, El Salvador, Colombia and the United States.

La Calaca Review is generous with readers, giving most poets several pages to display a richness and variety of work. The majority work in English, although most writers explore the resources of bilingualism, some writing only in Spanish, others fashioning English-Spanish gems. Several poets work in facing page translation, challenging conventional wisdom that poetry can be said in only one language.

Erendira Ramirez‚ prose memory “Treasure” typifies the debut talent Calaca Press has nurtured. The story recounts a little girl’s discovery of an abandoned infant in a shoebox on a neighbor’s stoop. As the little girl grows into her teens, a burning vision of the baby torments the girl. She wonders if a child on the street corner, if the kid she tutors, might be that abandoned soul. Ramirez exhibits a mastery of irony, displayed with a flourish at the climax of this small story. “Treasure”, like so many of La Calaca Review’s titles, signals a talent about to thrust itself onto the literary stage.

Olga Garcia, one of the most accomplished young poets in the United States today, debuts as a prose humorist with “Matando Cucarachas.” That Garcia enjoys language play is well-known from her work on Calaca Press‚ spoken word CDs When Skin Peels and Raza Spoken Here. Garcia’s prose debut in La Revista Calaca enhances that reputation. The disquisition on Karma with its hilarious reductio is just one of dozens of literary jewels of wordplay. Garcia casts the piece as a dispatch from some remote battle front by one “Ana Leticia Armendáriz.” Readers of renowned Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska will recognize Ana Leticia’s voice and indomitable readiness and wish Garcia had written a more fully developed piece.

While most of the writers are newcomers, Vélez includes new work from Chicano luminaries Raul R. Salinas, Alurista, and Abelardo. Abelardo Delgado thundered onto the Chicano artistic stage with 25 Pieces of a Chicano Mind. The self-published collection included Abelardo’s timeless “Stupid America,” and twenty-four other pieces that made Delgado the most frequently reprinted poet of the early movimiento. Staged in the anthology’s closing pages, Delgado’s three pieces in Spanish form a fitting climax to the collection and help a reader refocus La Calaca Review’s literary snapshot of Chicanismo today.

I would have been a far happier reader with a larger and less torturous font, perhaps Garamond or Palatino, conventional book faces. Also, I recommend delaying the editor’s preface until finishing the collection. Velez‚ attempt to characterize the extremes of the United States experience for Latinas and Latinos is jarring, and he would have been better off allowing the poets to speak for themselves and the reader to draw one’s own conclusions.

Those complaints aside, from the wonderful cover art by Sal Barajas to the artist biographies at the end, La Calaca Review provides a highly worthwhile sampling of fresh literary voices that any reader, whether conversant with Chicana and Chicano literature or not, could enjoy. Unfortunately —but typical of small press gems— La Calaca Review, Un Bilingual Journal of Pensamiento & Palabra, suffers from lack of distribution and the marketing muscle of a big East Coast house. Availability will be slow in coming to a local bookseller, so contacting will be the best way to get your eager eyes into this highly worthwhile collection.

La Calaca Review, Un Bilingual Journal of Pensamiento & Palabra

ISBN 0-9660773-9-3. Available by contacting Calaca Press at (619) 434-9036, email:, or via

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