Hand-bound chapbook, 36 pages
Begin Here, a limited edition (1,000 copies) chapbook, is Texas Poet Laureate Rosemary Catacalos' first new book in three decades. Printed using environmentally friendly brown ink on partially recycled paper, it has been sewn by hand (by the hands of the publisher, the author, and some of San Antonio's best poets) into handmade paper covers. The cover stock was made by Beck Whitehead and printed by letterpress by Léo Lee at the School by the River Press, Southwest School of Art, San Antonio, Texas. The labyrinth image used on the cover and inside the book is based on a hand-appliquéd fabric piece, "Cretan Maze," by Yvonne Seyler Parks Lifshutz.
The first 26 copies have been signed and lettered A to Z by the author. A few of these copies are offered for sale at $50. Inquire by email about purchasing one of these copies.
Begin Here contains some of Catacalos' most well known works, including:
David Talamántez on the Last Day of Second GradeSan Antonio, Texas 1988
David Talamántez, whose mother is at work, leaves his mark everywhere in the schoolyard, tosses pages from a thick sheaf of lined paper high in the air one by one, watches them catch on the teachers' car bumpers, drift into the chalky narrow shade of the water fountain, One last batch, stapled together, he rolls tight into a makeshift horn through which he shouts David! and David, yes! before hurling it away hard and darting across Brazos Street against the light, the little sag of head and shoulders when, safe on the other side, he kicks a can in the gutter and wanders toward home. David Talamántez believes birds are warm blooded, the way they are quick in the air and give out long strings of complicated music, different all the time, not like cats and dogs. For this he was marked down in Science, and for putting his name in the wrong place, on the right with the date, not on the left with Science Questions, and for not skipping a line between his heading and his answers. The X's for wrong things are big, much bigger than David Talam´ntez's tiny writing. Write larger, his teacher has said in red ink across the tops of many pages. Messy! she says on others where he has erased and started over, erased and started over. Spelling, Language Expression, Sentences Using the Following Words. Neck. I have a neck name. No! 20's, 30's. Think again! He's good in Art, though, makes 70 on Reading Station Artist's Corner, where he's traced and colored an illustration from Henny Penny. A goose with red-and-white striped shirt, a hen in a turquoise dress. Points off for the birds, cloud and butterfly he's drawn in freehand. Not in the original picture! Twenty-five points off for writing nothing in the blank after This is my favorite scene in the book because.... There's a page called Rules. Listen! Always working! Stay in your seat! Raise your hand before you speak! No fighting! Be quiet! Rules copied from the board, no grade, only a giant red checkmark. Later there is a test on Rules. Listen! Alay ercng! Sast in ao snet! Rars aone bfo your spek! No finagn! Be cayt! He gets 70 on Rules, 10 on Spelling. An old man stoops to pick up a crumpled drawing of a large family crowded around a table, an apartment with bars on the windows in Alazán Courts, a huge sun in one corner saying, Too mush noys! The grade is 90. Nice details! And there's another mark, on this paper and all the others, the one in the doorway of La Rosa Beauty Shop, the one that blew under the pool table at La Tenampa, the ones older kids have wadded up like big spit balls, the ones run over by cars. On every single page David Talamántez has crossed out the teacher's red numbers and written in huge letters, blue ink, Yes! David, yes!
Poet laureate of Texas revives mythical worksSan Antonio Express-NewsSept. 20, 2013
Review by Roberto Bonazzi
The labyrinth appears as a dynamic image in Rosemary Catacalos' stunning poetry from Again for the First Time (Thirtieth Anniversary edition of the acclaimed first book) and Begin Here, a new chapbook, both just published by Wings Press.
Again for the First Time weaves the classic mythology of Catacalos' Greek heritage into the daily resonances of her Mexican ancestry. The first poem leaves childhood in "La Casa," where "All the mothers are inside,/lighting candles," down on their knees, "begging the Virgin's forgiveness/for having reeled us out/on such very weak string." (Like Ariadne's string for Theseus to escape the labyrinth after slaying the Minotaur).
The book's second part unpacks the dangerous luggage of heartbreak, yet her mythological narrators erase any sentimentality. "Psyche To Eros" exclaims: "I must have my myths, I tell you. And my games/that I would rather call ceremonies.//Confusion is only the smallest/price we pay for so much dream./Terror only the longest.//I want to grieve if I have to.//I want to stride/alive into the widest aisle of heaven/and call out the names of all our dead/and have them answer proudly."
The lyrics dance and sing, but often bleed. From "Demeter Speaks After a Long Silence": "Who are you, gardener?/You dig deeply into me,/into the dark home of the old/woman who is a childless worm,/an imperfect memory of grace.//The blood you bring out of me/is sweet, guileless, ready,/laid open to the sky/with amazing ease./I who have been angry for so long.//Under your hand I am again/the simplest of soils,/ clean, accepting of seed,/throwing up roses that are/thornless and unashamed." At last, the open labyrinth of healing rose petals.
Begin Here, evokes a similar narrative ferment, chiseled in long, elegantly looping lines. Alluding to artists rather than to Greek myths, the title of Begin Here, evokes a carnival maze. But this "labyrinth needs grout," declares "Double-fractured Sonnets from Subway and Ferry," offering a vocal map but without a crucial string: "When in doubt, be calm. Shout, and be calm." The intimate "Pumpkins by the Sea" contains a refrain of lamentation ("We wander, we choose."), which suggests navigating the experiential labyrinths of memory.
In the absolutely delightful "David Talmántez on the Last Day of Second Grade," the jubilant boy escapes the school maze for a few liberating moments, while crossing out the teacher's critical red marks on his papers, crafting airplanes that he sails around the barrio, proclaiming, "Yes, David, yes!"
"Memory in the Making: A Poetics"—a critique of "what some call, without irony, the American Century"—is dedicated to Lorna Dee Cervantes, who also resides "on the purple lip of the cañon, telling and telling, and/there's no such thing as going too near the sun." Both are labeled by the poetry establishment as Chicana or Latina, whereas Cervantes is Mexican-Native American and Catacalos wittily characterizes herself as "an east side Meskin Greek." Yet both poets eclipse all the stale dichotomies—major/minor, national/regional, male/female, white/other—by simply writing powerful poems.
Catacalos was a visiting scholar at Stanford's Institute for Research on Women and Gender and the executive director of San Francisco's Poetry and American Poetry Archives. For a decade she directed Gemini Ink, putting it on the national literary map. She has received Stegner, Dobie Paisano, and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships. Again for the First Time won the Texas Institute of Letters Poetry Award. Her work has been published in textbooks, literary magazines and anthologies, including in The Best American Poetry, and translated into Spanish, Greek and Italian. Begin Here, honors her election as the poet laureate of Texas for 2013.
The labyrinth as metaphor holds its classic shape, while being as supple as the intuitive leaps throughout Catacalos' graceful poetry.
Roberto Bonazzi's Poetic Diversity column on Texas poetry runs occasionally in the Express-News. His latest collection of poetry is The Scribbling Cure (Pecan Grove, 2012). Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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