Leticia Hernández Linares
introduced by ruben reyes, jr.
Sitting in the Salvadoran embassy in Washington D.C., I listened to Leticia Hernández-Linares perform her poetry out loud for the first time. With a dried pod of árbol de fuego seeds in hand, Hernández-Linares sang parts of her poems, the event oscillating between poetry reading and concert. The San Francisco-based author of Mucha Muchacha, Too Much Girl (Tia Chucha Press, 2015) is a multidisciplinary artists and performer, offering influences that run through her poetry. Hernández-Linares’ poetry often includes song lyrics, and the phrases she constructs are precise and musical. When she reads them outloud, it’s clear that she is a performer as much as she is a writer.
In every one of the selected poems, “Tragedilandia,” “On The First Day of War I’m Supposed to Teach Poetry,” and “#MeToo for Tlaloc,” there is musicality on the page. Through her alliteration, she makes the lines “holding pamphlets, blasting beliefs / into bullhorns—hurry up, save your souls” both urgent and rhythmic. She uses repetition, running “U.S. OUT OF…” throughout an entire poem, and it functions like a song’s refrain does. Readers can almost hear the Salvadoran women in the poems, saying “defiance es una malcriada, una / qué barbará, qué exagerada.” The poems ring in your ears.
And, of course, the three selected poems are acutely aware of the political moments they speak to. “Tragedilandia” outlines El Salvador’s struggles, satirically saying “Welcome to Tragelandia, we’ve got it all: / massacre, earthquake, hurricane, / civil war, massacre again.” The poem “On The First Day of War I’m Supposed to Teach Poetry” links the first day of war of the Iraq War with other histories of U.S. intervention abroad, as Hernández-Linares writes, “Countries stand single file down the page. Long list of wrong time / wrong place nations pushing and shoving for their recognition / on the blank of a t-shirt or button slogan.” And the most contemporary piece, “#MeToo for Tlaloc,” confronts misogyny head on through the Salvadoran folk legend of the Siguanaba. Leticia Hernández-Linares’ work confronts the political questions Salvadoreños must ask themselves, but she presents them in stanzas that sing, just like the poet herself did at the embassy last summer.