Rant. Chant. Chisme.
by Amalia Ortiz
Paperback, 128 pages
Winner of the Writers' League of Texas 2015 DISCOVERY PRIZE. Named by NBC News as one of 2015's "Top Ten Latino Titles."
Rant. Chant. Chisme. is the debut collection of poetry by south Texas native Amalia Ortiz, featuring writing from the first decade of her career. This is Tex-Mex life on the border from the perspective of a young Chicana struggling to write herself into existence. These poems introduce a unique transcultural feminist viewpoint. The award-winning performance poet known for her dynamic delivery style relinquishes control of her writing to the reader, but not without first imparting the theatrical stage directions stated in the book's title — Rant. Chant. Chisme. — which commands readers to recite these poems aloud in a spoken word celebration exploring culture, music, and place while encouraging the reader to embrace diversity and find their own storytelling voice. This work is a powerful call to social and political change along the borderlands.
- Rant, chant, and chisme (gossip): three types of expression that might seem mutually exclusive. In these poems by Amalia Ortiz, they are anything but. This brilliant performance poet weaves her second- and third-generation experience with a deep understanding of her parents' first-generation struggles and the sharp edge her own adds. More and more, our great performance poets are leaving their words on the page as well as in the moment. It's a good thing, because this is where those of us not privileged to hear Ortiz in person can read and reread them. I will remember Ortiz' cotton-picking hands, her lullaby for an immigrant ocelot, her dangerous love and girl-strolling-down-Nogalitos Street for years to come. This is a book worth having!
— Margaret Randall, author of As If the Empty Chair: Poems for the disappeared / Como si la silla vacía: Poemas para los desaparecidos and The Rhizome as a Field of Broken Bones
- This whole book stands up and dances off the page! It sings, it chants, it howls, it performs. You're MINE, Ortiz says, You're helpless against my song. It will entrance you and alter your state of mind! And the musicality of poems like "me acuerdo," "These Hands which Have Never Picked Cotton," "tu love es no good," and "I'm Gonna Buy me a Gun" will not be confined to the page but re-defines the essence of poetry as song, as human voice, as story. This performance poetry is not planned or blocked on a stage; it is a human cry dancing out its genius. It comes off the page and rants, chants, and chismoleas all around our hearts and in our faces. If it is possible to put performance poetry on a flat page and have it reincarnate itself the minute someone reads it — as a five-dimensional opera that struts and saunters and syncopates and sings, Amalia Ortiz has done it!
— Carmen Tafolla, 2015 Poet Laureate of Texas; author of Curandera, Rebozos, Sonnets and Salsa, and This River Here
Wings Press passionate about poetry by womenSan Antonio Express-NewsNov. 21, 2015
Reviewed by Yvette Benavides
... Rant, Chant, Chisme is another recent Wings Press offering. National slam poetry phenom Amalia Ortiz proves that the improvisational jazz and rap riffs of the slam stage can in fact translate to the page in unapologetic, electric and rich poetry.
Hailing from the Rio Grande Valley in La Feria, Texas, Ortiz might best be known for her turns on the HBO "Def Poetry" show. She's the first Latina poet ever to reach the final round at the National Poetry Slam.
This robust volume features forty poems in four movements. The voices are bold; they rail against social and political injustice in the borderlands.
Many of the poems are long, but it's easy to hear Ortiz, her characteristic sonorous voice imparting wisdom, describing a barrio, decrying the sorrows or celebrating the hard-won triumphs of her gente.
Ortiz is a storyteller, and there is no use in attempting a differentiation between slam poetry and the poems in this volume. For Ortiz, the criteria are the same — legitimate and beyond the reproach of purists.
The number 40 is not without its many diverse associations. How significant that Wings Press has withstood the slings and arrows of what has afflicted small presses that are no longer with us. With publications like Transcendental Train Yard and Rant, Chant, Chisme, there is no doubt that Wings Press will continue to soar.
Yvette Benavides is a professor of English at Our Lady of the Lake University. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Renaissance TejanaTexas ObserverOct. 1, 2015
Reviewed by Tony Diaz in the [Texas Observer]
This is a powerful time to be a Chicano writer — for good and bad reasons.
On the one hand, students in Arizona are still struggling to overturn the state's ban on Mexican-American studies in public schools; the legislation was aimed at dismantling the curriculum in Tucson, even though it was credited with improving student achievement. Effectively, Arizona is trying to repress Chicano literature, but its writers — as well as those Tucson students — just won't let that happen. The writers are entering a kind of renaissance, achieving great literary feats recognized at the state and national level.
This year, Juan Felipe Herrera, a Californian born to parents who migrated from Mexico, became the first Latino U.S. poet laureate in history. Here in Texas, San Antonio's Carmen Tafolla became the second Chicana to be named Texas poet laureate. To bring things full circle, Tafolla's collection Curandera formed part of the outlawed Mexican-American studies curriculum.
This mix of literary achievement and political suppression is the stage for Amalia Ortiz's new book of poems, Rant. Chant. Chisme. The DNA of the collection is conveyed in the title: Her chants employ traditional forms with aesthetic flourishes. Her rants would bring the house down at a poetry slam. And chisme — though it just means gossip when literally translated — for Mexican Americans has rich significance: our inside jokes, fantasies, shame, glory, historia, foibles and gifts. All are reflected in Ortiz's poems, including one of my favorites, "these hands which have never picked cotton," which describes a seminal moment for Mexican Americans, when we take stock of our station in life and consider what and who got us there.
Rant. Chant. Chisme. is suited for the tumult of our time. Ortiz both honors great Tejano writers of the past and forges her own style. An activist, actor and writer, she's compiled many of the pieces that she's performed and perfected on different stages — from academic conferences to San Antonio poetry slams to HBO's Def Poetry Jam.
Of course, it's always a challenge to keep performance pieces still enough for the printed page. To do so, Ortiz calls on the poetic forms of Tafolla and Tejano legend Raul Salinas. She breaks new ground by covering topics from Elvis to Coltrane to eight-liner slot machines.
Ortiz also cultivates a powerful voice for women from a Latina perspective. Another of my favorites in the collection, "La Matadora," is a brilliant example. The mere act of translating the title demonstrates the irony of the Chicano condition: Literally, it means "female bullfighter," clunky and lacking poetry because of the addition of a word to signify gender. And while our sport of choice, soccer, is underappreciated in the United States, bullfighting is completely misunderstood. But all of that is needed to create the context and nuance for the best translation of the word: "killer." The poem was inspired by Carmen Bermúdez, a Mexican bullfighter who later became a successful businesswoman.
Readers will appreciate this and other of Ortiz's tributes to women who have cut their own paths. However, it is the location of "La Matadora" in the book that has the most powerful cultural implications. Ortiz places it in a section with "The Women of Juárez," a poem about the unexplained disappearance of hundreds of women along the U.S.-Mexico border — news that's been lost in the frenzy of media cycles.
Like the matadora, Ortiz practices her craft while a stampede rages around her. This is what she will be known for. The soul of her collection rises out of just a handful of lines:
"but la matadora deaf to the wild crescendo / hears only her own heartbeat / slows it and steadies the hand / silences fears and directs the blade home."
Tony Diaz leads the librotraficante movement to defy Arizona's ban of Mexican-American studies in public schools, and he founded Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say. He also directs intercultural initiatives at Lone Star College-North Harris.
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