A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying by Laurie Ann Guerrero is an Andres Montoya Poetry Prize winning collection. Guerrero was born in San Antonio, Texas and received her BA from Smith College and her MFA from Drew University. She served on the faculty at The University of Texas, San Antonio, Incarnate Word, and Palo Alto College.
I discovered this collection while researching another. Recently I reviewed a collection for the post laureate of Derbyshire, England. I wondered if my city or even Texas had a poet laureate. As it turns out, Guerrero is the current poet laureate of Texas. I purchased this collection imagining that it would be stereotypical Texas. Guerrero surprised me.
Guerrero writes of Texas and San Antonio much in the way Hebert Selby Jr writes of New York City or Lou Reed sings of it. There is an opposite of privilege on her writing. South San Antonio isn’t the comfortable American suburbs. There is a grittiness and Hispanic tone throughout the writing, but those who have grown up on the poor side of town and moved on still look back with nostalgia on their childhood homes.
Family and tradition play an important role in the poems. The theme of Cortez and gold is also repeated through the collection. Simple food as turnips and tongue appear in the collection. Roosters also have a prominent role in this collection. The is also a darkness, that occasionally breaks, but haunts these poems. It is more than occasional sadness it is a grittiness that has stayed with the poet even as she moved up.
A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying is an excellent collection of poetry reflecting on what outsiders never think of when they think of Texas. There is a large layer of society that is often overlooked. It might be a hard life, but it is not without its virtues and rewards. For those of us from the wrong side of big cities in the north, this collection will reveal the commonality of minorities in southern big cities. Guerrero ends her collection with a fitting quote from Jane Austen, “One does not love a place the less for having suffered in it.” An excellent collection and commentary.
(This was read for personal enjoyment and not for review)