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‘Un Trip through the Mind Jail’ still howling poetry

August 25, 2009

…found this over at Calaca Press while Googling Gregg Barrios

‘Un Trip through the Mind Jail’ still howling poetry

By Gregg Barrios
San Antonio Express-News Book Editor – 04/14/2001

Un Trip through the Mind Jail y Otras Excursions
By raulrsalinas
Arte Publico Press, paperback, $9.95

Los Many Mundos of raulrsalinas (CD)
Calaca Press/Red Salmon Press, $14

The republication of Raul Salinas’ “Un Trip through the Mind Jail” is welcome news.

I first read the title poem nearly 30 years ago during the nascent days of el movimiento Chicano. That poem – an evocative and lyrical paean in search of lost time and place – still rings true:

“Neighborhood of my youth / demolished, erased forever / from the universe. You live on / captive, in the lonely / cellblocks of my mind.”

I am perfectly aware that Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales’ “I Am Joaquin” is still considered the “epic” poem of el movimiento, yet today its strident tone and didactic bombast seem dated. This is not the case with Salinas’ poem. It is regarded by a growing number as our “Howl,” our “Song of Myself,” in a word, our “Trip.”

Amazingly, the education and spiritual liberation of Salinas occurred while he was incarcerated.

(He wrote “Trip” in 1969 in Leavenworth.) Pero esta colección es mucho más. It is also the history of la causa: from the birth of La Raza and the farmworkers struggle to the disproportionate number of young Latinos sent to Vietnam or to prison.

But there also are other things on his mind.

In “Lightning Steed Immaculate,” he champions Chicano novelist John Rechy (“Proud Mustang, you are free”) against a conniption J. Frank Dobie threw after the Texas Institute of Arts and Letters honored Rechy’s seminal novel, “City of Night.”

His jazzy rhymes also lament the deaths of Black Panther George Jackson (“News From San Quentin”) and Texas singer Janis Joplin (“No Tears for Pearl”): “Port Arthur’s puritans embarrassed / by the rhythm of the / siren’s song.”

In “Unity Vision,” Salinas forges the killing of Dallas teen-ager Santos Rodriguez by police with Pedro Bissonette’s similar fate at Wounded Knee into a spirited call for unity and justice for indigenous people.

On a personal level, he explores the generational gulf between his mother and himself. In “Trip,” his mother whispers the stoic mantra: “Sea por Dios” (God’s will) as her son is imprisoned. In “Austin, Tejas: Revisited,” a personal favorite, the mother and child – now turned man – reunion occurs after prison: “and all that you can say is / que te ofende mi greñota larga./ We bee’s talkin’ ’bout change, Mother!”

Salinas dedicates this collection to her: “Amá, whether you read / this or not; / Here’s hoping it makes up / for / the graduation picture (cap/gown/diploma) / that never graced / your class-confusing / cuarto de sala.”

The language of his poetry moves with ease from English, to prison argot, to Spanglish, to Spanish, and back. However, the rich nuances and word play that are integral to Salinas’ sensibility may elude the monolingual reader.

This handsome edition – edited by UTSA professor Louis Mendoza, and supplemented with drawings, photographs and essays – would have been better served by the inclusion of a glossary or better yet a bilingual edition.

In the spoken word CD of his recent work, he opens (naturally) with his mother chiding him as he heads for Chiapas, Mexico, to open a dialogue with the Zapatistas. Tell them, she says, that you come from a fine family – not the corrupt Salinas dynasty of Mexico. An added pleasure is how his voice imbues each poem with greater accessibility, this is especially evident in “Reel Absurdity,” his ode for Norma Jean, aka Marilyn Monroe.

In Chicano caló (patois): Salinas is a cool vato, un poeta de aquellas.

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