Naomi Ayala’s Calling Home: Praise Songs and Incantations intrigued me. Being partly from Puerto Rican descent myself, I appreciate the opportunity to read something written by someone who shares my cultural background. I also appreciate learning what I can about a culture that I know so little about.
Calling Home has been published as one of 55p poems by Arizona State University’s ‘Canto Cosas’ poetry series — a series designed to “give further exposure to Latina and Latina poets who have achieved significant level of recognition” (more on Bilingual Review Press). Ayala is known for receiving numerous awards, including: the Connecticut Latinas in Leadership Award, the 2000 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy of Environmental Justice Award, and the 2001 Larry Neal Writers Award for Poetry from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
Coming Home is 85 pages long and is full of tasteful fury that speaks of experience untold. The book is divided in three sections, with each section dedicating space for poems of strength, cultural praise, and moments of heritage and history.
“Abuela” touches on Puerto Rican’s Native American heritage to the Taino — an Arawak people who inhabited most of Cuba, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Puerto Rico in the late 15th century—the time of European contact.
Quick Back Story
When Christopher Columbus first reached what he termed “the new world” in 1492, the Taino people were the first to have contact with him — which resulted in death by disease, raids, or by other harsh means. Needless to say, the Taino people as a whole became dispersed and eventually died out. Only 62% of Puerto Ricans are said to have mitochondrial lineage to the indigenous Tainos, according to a study conducted in 2003.*
“At the Woman’s Jingle Dress dance / she points to my cheekbones, / asks am I Native American. / Taíno, I say, afraid someone / might be listening.” “Abuela”
Loss, Reflection, History
Each poem appears to reflect a sense of loss and transformation, a sense of struggle, hardship, and frustration. “Abuela” for instance, had an underlying feeling of loss and of memories past. I could understand that in “Abuela,” her face, her cheekbones, were the markers of what had been lost.
Dividing each section were poems, phrases, and quotes by well-known writers, and served as space to reflect on the previous passages before entering the new section. It also served as a point of reflection on language itself, since most of them were written in Spanish. Needless to say, each division introduced a “theme” of sorts for the poems yet to come. I enjoyed them immensely.
Calling Home is a great book full of history, sentimentality, and reflections on what it means to be home.
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About The Author
Born in Puerto Rico, Naomi Ayala moved to the United States in her teens, eventually earning an MFA from the Bennington College Writing Seminars. Writing in both Spanish and English, she is author of the poetry collections Wild Animals on the Moon (1997), chosen by the New York City Public Library as a 1999 Book for the Teen Age, and This Side of Early (2008). Her poems have appeared in the anthologies Boriquén to Diasporican: Puerto Rican Poetry from Aboriginal Times to the New Millennium (2007), Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature (2006), and First Flight: 24 Latino Poets (2006). | Poetry Foundation | Bilingual Review Press
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