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As child I remember singing, “This land is your land, this land is my land. From California to the New York Island [...] This land was made for you and me.” Like Woody Guthrie’s famous song, the Amerarcana brilliantly encompasses a broad spectrum of voices that represents the collective identity of American poets from coast to coast. The Amerarcana is a rich steaming stew of folklore, language, and cultural identity. Piping hot and savory too! Each poem is a tantalizing slice of western spirit.

I enjoyed the southwest flavor of Carla Badillo Coronado’s poem “Pertenencias/Belongings”:

Por mas que uno diga
que es de todas partes
—o de ninguna—
ciudadano del mundo
auto exiliado
que se yo

The language was beautiful to read (though I could not understand a word) and benefited from the wonderful English translations of her poems on the following page. Other spicy highlights from this edition were Joj Kastra (George Castera), Neeli Cherkovski, Benjamin Morris, and Maggie Cleveland. Walker Brents’s narrative poem is a smorgasbord of Native American tradition, spirituality, and folklore:

The name “Laughing Fox” was probably a name he just dreamed up for himself in the presence of whomsoever. He did, though, look like a fox who laughed, especially in the firelight of a llano estsacado night. Part Comanche, part Pawnee, or so he said. To me, all medicine man.

Another delectable gem was Maryam Monalisa Gharavi’s “English Lesson.” I relished the deep and complex social commentary that this poem encompassed. The speaker is stigmatized on her first day of school for not having an accent. “Where is your accent? // The first day of schooling / An unaccented girl of no significance.” For immigrants and non-immigrants alike this poem is food for thought, as it brings into question the validity of prejudice and stereotypes. For those born outside of the U.S there is always a tug-of-war between assimilation and preserving one’s unique identity, and I enjoyed that each poet in the Amerarcana preserved their own unique voice.

I also appreciated the fun and playful format of Marina Lazzara, Nathaniel Mackey, and Michel McClure. Their impressive line breaks and groovy form is a savory blend of artistic quality and style. From Michel McClure’s “Votive Bouquet”:

it’s all going to be o.k.
Bruce is on his way
to where the roots
are from
and where the sun heads

Each poem in the Amerarcana is a unique thread that makes up the fabric of American identity, and in writing I am proud to be a part of that fabric; an intricate stitch and dazzling work of art.

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Review Posted on January 14, 2011

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