This post is dedicated to my mother, Carolina Hospital, in honor of Mother’s Day, this weekend!
As a gift, my mother invited me to take a poetry workshop led by the prolific (and perfect!) poet, Li-Young Lee. We waited to meet him. Mom gave him a copy of her own poetry book (which, like Lee’s, grows from an identity formed in exile). When she told him we were mother and daughter poets, he looked at us warmly with curiousity, the way I admire an interesting seashell.
Below, I write about my experience with my mother’s book– a unique sort of review, from the perspective of a daughter, a daughter poet to be exact.
After studying and reading so many poets, my mother’s poetry has taken on a new form. I perceive and absorb her work differently and have a newfound admiration for her. I always did of course, but now that I’m a stronger reader and a stronger poet, I appreciate her process and obsessions so much more. I can comprehend her gravitations and poetic pulls toward certain subject matters and materials. Also, I didn’t realize what a groundbreaking historian and recorder of the Cuban American writing movement she was. I know it seems silly not to realize how important your mom is in the context of your own field, but I tended to steer clear of her subject orientations, probably for the purpose of my own self-discovery. Now, that I feel confident and more artistically mature, I can come home again.
Home, in the context of writing is my mother’s voice. I listened to her read and address audiences around the country. When I was little, I’d fall asleep on folding chairs to the sound of Adrian Castro’s booms and my mother’s lyrical bongo beats. I envisioned Cuba’s prisons through metaphor. I heard stories of rafters, explanations for Spanish street names, el exilio and about me and my place in my mother’s heart. I understand now that my mother’s obsessions hang heavier than any of mine ever could, that her personal agenda stems not only from social injustice or witness (as mine might) but from personal heartbreak and geographical and cultural loss.
Aside from my close ties to the work and to the author :), I felt intimately involved with the material. It’s funny because my mom will say to me, “you’re so brave to take your work into these emotional issues,” but I said to her, “you’re so brave for expressing moments of intimacy!” She does so in such a relaxed way and for the purpose of social or cultural commentary. I don’t know how to achieve that kind of intimacy and quietness through language yet. Also, her lyrical conveyance of love and the private self radiate the page with genuineness. After reading my mom’s book, I wonder if I rely on surrealism to skirt this intimacy and explicit references of sentiment. Or, I wonder if I have not experienced such massive interconnectedness with the mature self, loyal non-familial love and utterly dedicated faith. My mom always used to tell me, “I do it out of love!” She has this overwhelming and true faith that love itself is a reason to do anything, that selflessness is more fulfilling than selfishness. In my younger years, I would get angry or protective and worry that she was being exploited or that she was overly concerned with too many responsibilities. Now, especially after rereading the poetry, I understand what she meant all along about love and her schemas of self-fulfillment. I can definitely recognize her attachments to Li-Young Lee and his philosophies. I see both my mother and Lee in each other’s’ work and in each poet’s philosophies on life.
My mother’s precise depiction of nature feels crisp and fresh, not overstated or understated. The images seem to frame the personal: the loveliness or tranquility of a natural moment entwines with the emotion of the human experience. Silence allies with color and feeling in some of the pieces. I tried hard to capture this kind of intimacy framed in the calmness of nature. I felt at ease actually while doing it, embraced by a tranquil lack of pressure and more of an aura of appreciation and spirituality.