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Welcome, Violeta Orozco!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired over the past twelve months. Some of them, like the one we’re pleased to present today, came to us by way of Nomadic Press. Read more about our plans to welcome Nomadic Press titles to Black Lawrence Press here. Today we bring you Violeta Orozco, whose forthcoming book Songs Like Talismans will be published next spring.

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our June Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies), anthology proposals, and translations from German. 

 

 

The Author

An internationally renowned Latina author from Mexico City, Violeta Orozco is a bilingual poet, performer and fiction writer who has earned numerous accolades for her two poetry collections in English: The Broken Woman Diaries, published in Washington State by Andante Books 2022, winner of the Rising Stars Award at the International Latino Book Award; and Stillness in the Land of Speed, published by Jacar Press in 2023, winner of the New Voices Poetry Award and a Pushcart nomination. She has received an honorific mention by the Academy of American Poets, the Juan Felipe Herrera Gold Medal for the best book of poetry in English among other international literary prizes.

Her fiction has received support from the Macondo Writers Workshop in Texas and the writing residency of the Community of Writers of the High Sierra in California. She is a member of the board of Circulo de Poetas and Writers in California and has published individual poems in magazines such as A Gathering of the Tribes, Chicana/Latina Journal, The Journal of Latina Critical Feminism, Palabritas, Label me Latina, Cloud Women’s Quarterly Journal, Xinachtli Journal, Snarl Journal, IceFloe Press, among many others.

She is currently completing her Ph.D. researching and translating Chicano and Latin American Literature, with a concentration in Creative writing at University of Cincinnati. In Mexico, the national university of Mexico recently published her first non-fiction collection of travel essays in Spanish “Cómo recorrer una ciudad sin despertarla” (UNAM 2023) She is also the translator of Sonia Gutiérrez’ novel Dreaming with Mariposas into Spanish.

 

 

On Writing Songs Like Talismans

Songs Like Talismans is a book for diasporic, Latinx and Chicanx readers willing to reimagine our connection to our ancestral lands and to our deepest roots in the Americas. It is a book rising up from the earth, from the rocky realms of volcanoes and oceans, where seashells, corals, obsidian, basalt stones and cacti are still today sacred to many brown and black people in the Americas who seek to record our intimate attachment to this land. Like songs tying us to memory, these objects are talismans of power connecting us to the story of the ecosystems we have inhabited for centuries, the sacred sites where our origin stories are written on our skin. I wrote Songs Like Talismans to map the atlas of an ancient world that still lives in lakes and estuaries, among birds and trees, the world of our cosmic inheritance that for those of us who seek to acknowledge those who stand behind us, is also the direction of our future.

This poetry collection was written in its entirety in Cincinnati, prompted by a trip I made to Serpent Mound in the state of Ohio, one of the last Native American burial sites preserved in the United States. This trip reconnected me to the Xitle volcano in Mexico City, a volcano that buried the Copilco culture where the national university was built in the heart of Mexico City. On their remains, on top of the solidified magma, my alma mater stands. In a way, this book was conceived as an archeological project, where I wrote my own version of indigenous mesoamerican forms of spirituality as understood by a diasporic Mexicana/Chicana writer with roots in the Pacific coast. Each poem seeks to celebrate ancestral practices like song-making, dream-telling and storytelling.

 

 

Selections from Songs Like Talismans

 

CLIFF DIVERS / LOS CLAVADISTAS

 

Fuel is my hands

             recharged by wet, cold, sand

             bonfires on warm beaches at the Pacific shore

                         white crabs shimmer like lit-up ghosts

                         flicker under dark-pitched waves

 

tropical summer storms taunt lightning

             dip our electric bodies

             into shimmering water

 

the thrill of the forbidden arts

             of chasing death

             has the panting taste of life

                         as you scuttle across wet cliffs

                         nimble crustacean born to roam boulder-lands

 

jagged bluffs roar and puff in the thrashing water

             while we look down from the headland

             arms outstretched toward the foam

we pretended we would throw

             each other into the black sharp crags

             of La Punta Negra

             ocean infested with aguamalas and stingrays

 

you dreamed you would become a diver as brave

as the ones you saw jump off La Quebrada

             the great big gulch in Acapulco

             sheer cliff walls

                         gape at your soft breakable body

                         preparing itself for flight

 

churning waves wait

             like sharks

             for the signal of the first blood-

             curdling whistle of the race

                         the narrow space between rock walls

                         closes in on you

 

the surge of the water

rises to meet you in midair

             you somersault into the sky like a swallow

             chest puffed out, arms outstretched, head held high

your torso a blur of rock-colored limbs

             plunges as the sun sinks its last rays

             into the edge of the coast

 

blue-white currents

             sizzle between the rocks

             a turquoise rampage

                         where four children play

                         with the wild forces of the earth

 

their joy an invisible fuel shooting

             from their young arms, a lungful of laughter

             encompassing

                         the grace of the very first leap

                         of the child into the planet

 

                                     a fish out of water

                                     eyes closed to withstand

                                                 the full force of the atmosphere

                                                 rush into his bloodstream

                                                             like a newfound planet

                                                             streaming into our open pores.

 

 

 

 

HOW I CONTRIBUTED TO THE DESTRUCTION OF MARINE ECOSYSTEMS

 

Through my window

I watched a mother’s hand

steady her child as she

             balanced on the edge of the sidewalk

             as if she too had been trained in teetering.

 

Two times ten the wobbling girl traveled me in time

             my naked toes shifted their weight between

             wet barnacle-covered rocks on a rugged shoreline

 

a single false step might have harpooned my spine

             my head– a brittle shell– hovered above the surf.

             I trusted the sea would not betray me.

                         The coral reef knew me as well as I knew her

             so often I had tributed my blood

             to the reef’s rocks, stung by sea urchins,

             thick thorns thrusting living spears into my skin

 

central part of the reefing ritual

             skin schooled by jellyfish

             electric tentacles tangling their wires

             into my nerves, the ocean a network

                         of connecting cables

anemones dangling tentacles  

my fingers making contact

                         like an astronaut hesitant to leave her suit.

            A naked mollusk

I bared my unshelled body to the water

             skirted stingrays

             flaming fire corals, fierce puffer fish.

 

I knew

             I was not supposed to touch

 

but this nude hermit crab

             came out of my own shell

             crawled among rocks

             to find a new home for her growing body

                         shed fear of predators only for an instant

                                     pincers turned to fingers

                         prodded the seabed, feelers and eyes to find

                                     the direction of the ocean currents

                         tried to grip the edge of a changing shoreline

                                                                         where corals crumbled at a child’s touch

                                                               whole reef reeling like a single body

                                                                           suspended between earth and water