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Posted by : cj on Sunday, September 21, 2008 - 07:12 PM
Chicago Poetry News: Click On Headlines .
Raw Silk Suture
by Lisa Alvarado
Floricanto Press
Release Reading at Decima Musa
Reviewed by CJ Laity

On the evening of Saturday, September 20, there was a book release reading in the big back room of Decima Musa, 1901 S. Loomis, for Lisa Alvarado's new book, Raw Silk Suture. Decima Musa may have a two and a half decade history, but this was the first time I had the pleasure of enjoying this venue. I have heard Alvarado read at California Clipper and at Printers Row Book Fair, and I quickly became one of her fans, so I simply couldn't resist trekking out to Pilsen to check her out. Although host Ellen Wadey referred to it as a "small" literary organization, we all know that the Guild Complex has the biggest shoulders of the poetry scene, but Wadey was right on the mark when she warned us that Alvarado's work would "open up your sense of the world."

Lisa Alvarado is truly old school, having personal mentors such as Luis Rodriguz, Maureen Seaton, Martin Espada, and others, although her style is closer to Ana Castillo or Sandra Cisneros. In the tradition of the Chicago style of saloon poetry, Alvarado relishes her performance of her work and puts all her soul into it, gracefully transferring her tone from enmity to tenderness without so much as a breath. She has a very full heart and the consequence of that is she can't keep it from spilling over, both onto the page and into the microphone. She read her poem "Reclamation" (which appears in the book in both English and Spanish) in a commanding but patient, often dreamy, always powerful voice; it is clear that she has created something to be read out loud.

Alvarado claims her identity with this poetry, claiming even as she constantly searches (for love, for her twin, for her soul mate, for her destiny); she expresses gratitude, even in her longing. She has a remarkable ability to put words to the most difficult of subjects, such as having lumps removed from a breast. Lisa shared an anecdote about how ten years ago she moved to Mexico and ended up being an English teacher, and then she read her timeless beat poem "Mexico: 90 Days and Counting". Through the vantage point of a witness, the poem tells a story that could as easily be happening today:

and taxis are
green and yellow beetles
carrying sour businessmen

As an added treat, her entire sold out chapbook The Housekeeper's Diary is included in this book. It takes a gifted writer to turn personal experiences into art, and Alvarado does just that. The Housekeeper poems are more narrative than the rest of the poems in the book, and they include fleshed out characters that are separate from Alvarado's psyche—unlike the characters in Alvarado's family poems, who exist as part of the poet. For example, when Alvarado writes about her mother, we get the sense that her mother is part of her, but when Alvarado writes about her employer, there seems to be a mile wide void between them. The sad irony of including the Housekeeper poems is, in this book, a rich, spoiled family hiring her to act as mother for several hours out of the day is the only fulfillment of Alvarado's longing to be one with her own mother. However, Alvarado isn't afraid to find her own joke within fate's twisted sense of humor:

I want to ask him who he thinks will be overthrown
when the Revolution comes.

(from "Sons Of The Very Rich")

During the recent memorial for Mark Perlberg at the Art Institute, Calvin Forbes gave a brief but insightful definition of what lyrical poetry is, and I couldn't help thinking Alvarado fits right into that category as she read her personal poems at Decima Musa. I give Raw Silk Suture two big quills up.

--CJ Laity

You can order a copy of Raw Silk Suture by clicking here.

You can learn more about the artist by clicking here.

Note: CJ Laity heads out to Pilsen to check out Lisa Alvarado's book release party at Decima Musa. Here is the story.

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