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Raúl R. Salinas author's photo

Obituary

Pioneering Chicano poet Raúl Salinas, who sometimes called himself "the cockroach poet," died Wednesday (Feb 13) in Austin. Salinas had been ill for a few years. This week, complications from liver disease caused irreversible internal bleeding. "He had a lot of people who loved him," said his wife, Elida.

Although he published four collections, including the landmark "Un Trip Through The Mind Jail," Salinas was a Beat-tradition performance poet whose words were better heard than read.

He infused his work with jazz and hip-hop, recording two spoken-word CDs: Un Poetic Jazz Viaje con Friends ("A Poetic Jazz Trip with Friends") and "Beyond the BEATen Path."

Author Sandra Cisneros called Salinas a "bridge poet," linking artistic media and generations. "He was really about bringing poetry to communities that don't normally get poetry," she said.

A fierce fighter for human rights and social justice, Salinas was closely aligned with advocacy organizations for indigenous peoples. He tirelessly taught writing clinics for at-risk youths in juvenile detention facilities and community centers nationwide.

"He was loyal and trusting, and around the country he was outright beloved by many," said Bryce Milligan of San Antonio's Wings Press, which published Salinas' last collection, "Indio Trails," almost two years ago.

Born in San Antonio in 1934 —he would have turned 74 on March 17 —Salinas got into trouble with drugs as a young man and served 11 years of prison time from 1958 to 1972 at such tough institutions as Huntsville and Leavenworth.

Prison ignited both his social outrage and his literary ambitions. The jazz he heard growing up in a neighborhood northeast of downtown San Antonio would inform his prison poems and writings.

His collections include "Viaje/Trip," "East of the Freeway" and the aforementioned "Un Trip Through The Mind Jail." That poem, says San Antonio poet and playwright Gregg Barrios, "is our (Mexican Americans) 'Howl,' our 'Song of Myself.'"

"He was an icon who goes back to the beginning of the Chicano movement," said Ellen Riojas Clark, a professor in the division of bicultural bilingual studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Barrios speculated that Salinas spelled his name in lower case because he was "a poet of la plebe, the people."

For the past few decades, Salinas has nurtured writers of all ages and run a small book shop in Austin, La Resistencia, or Resistance Bookstore.

"He left us an amazing legacy of conviction," said Rosemary Catacalos, director of the San Antonio literary organization Gemini Ink.

— From the San Antonio Express-News, February 13, 2008




Xicanindio, raúlrsalinas, was born in San Antonio. His education was gained "in life and in various prisons from 1958 to 1972." Salinas began writing in prison and was widely published in literary magazines around the country. It was at this time that he became committed to peace, justice, and the defense of human rights, especially for Chicanos and Native Americans. He has been given many honorific titles  el poeta cucaracho, barrio bluesman, and Austin's version of Allen Ginsberg. If there is a Chicano "Howl," it is Salinas' "Un trip through the mind jail," a 30 year-old poem that still brings people to their feet. His first book, Un Trip through the Mind Jail y otras Excursions (Pocho Che, 1980) is a bona fide classic. The Austin Chronicle said of his most recent book East of the Freeway (Red Salmon Press, 1996), "Salinas lets loose with a fluidity and musicality that's only been hinted at in his earlier works.. East of the Freeway carves out a more definitive, all-encompassing space for Salinas as an observer of life from both sides of a variety of prison walls." Salinas is the owner of Resistencia Bookstore in Austin, and the publisher/editor of Red Salmon Books. He has also co-edited an anthology, Seeds of Struggle - Songs of Hope: Poetry of Emerging Youth y Sus Maestros Del Movimiento" (El Centro, 1998). His personal and literary archives are housed at Stanford University.

A highly regarded performer of his poems, he has released several CDs, including a recent colaboration with baritone saxophonist Fred Ho, Red Arc: A call for liberación con salsa y cool (Wings Press, 2005).

This poet, raúlrsalinas, with his iron-gray braids and his huge heart, is both a fighter and a pacifist. Working from his Resistencia Bookstore, he is a well known "street counselor," a man who has brokered peace treaties between gangs at both the local and national level, a veteran protester of injustices from Chiapas to Big Mountain to Pine Ridge to D.C. to Austin, Tejas. Mix equal parts Crazy Horse and Ernesto Cardenal and Jack Kerouac, and you've got the man. Stir up some Jazz licks, Chicano politics, indigenous mystics, and a hand-picked bouquet of ideosyncratic memories and you've got the book.

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