Xanath Caraza, award-winning poet and professor at University of Missouri, Kansas City, (UMKC) stood reading poems from her book “Conjuro” to a room full of students repeating words and sounds in a verse that flowed in a rhythmic beat.
In a poem read out loud called, “Matra” students wrote down words and images that stood out from all the poems read as well as creating their own in a mixed word puzzle, writing exercise.
“Matra,” a poem called mother included mixed languages of English, Spanish and Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, and touched many students, who chose the word as their main topic of their poems.
One of the students in attendance, Nicole Blume, CSUN graduate studying to become an elementary teacher, came for the poetry and participated in reading her poem, she wrote.
“I chose the word, mother because I think women have had to endure so much and I see that in my own mother especially,” Blume said. “It blended in, because I was inspired by her poem, ‘Matra’ and because of what’s going on in my life right now I felt a resonance with that.”
“At one point, I just closed my eyes in the workshop and I was just experiencing a visualization,” Blume said. “I felt I could really see the storm of ‘camaras’ and the red mountain. Those strong, forceful images really came across to me.”
“Conjuro,” published by Mammoth Publications in 2012 and a finalist for multicultural fiction in the International Book Awards and International Latino Book Awards, is a book of short stories that starts with Spanish and translates into English and Nahuatl.
“Just because I use Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec is very important for me, because I don’t speak the language,” Caraza said. “But this is the language that my mother grew up in so it’s very important to recuperate that to show I am also part of that in spite of not speaking the language.”
A potluck with refreshments and food were available for students, who sat in a circle and ate rice rolls and Mexican food while listening to poetry at CSUN Jerome Richfield Hall in the Chicano Studies department Friday.
“Poetry is to me is very therapeutic and has a very healing quality and I really appreciate that aspect of her poetry, because I really feel like she can tap into a universal kind of human consciousness that is very difficult for us to normally access,” Blume said. “Her poetry provides a window into that sort of shared human consciousness that transcends many of the superficial elements in our society.”
Caraza said she started to write poetry, at age 6. Her writing derives from her awareness of indigenous thought with words that are tangible objects.
“Yanga, Yanga, Yanga,” Caraza, said.
Yanga, a slave, who traveled from Africa to Veracruz, was known as a community organizer led and created a free zone in the Americas in 1630 when African slavery already had existed in Mexico. Caraza, said she chose the poem to celebrate African languages. In Mexico, many indigenous African communities and Mexican communities are mixed in the region. The poem was read as a song would with melodies and included the background of African art and culture.
“The food, the culture reflects a great deal of African culture in Veracruz and in other parts of Mexico too. In the West Coast, there are lots of African influences,” Caraza said. “It’s all mixed so what I wanted to do was celebrate African roots and to celebrate ‘Yanga and to celebrate those words we use in Spanish in the cultures of Veracruz that are in the African language.”
She separated sounds and colors that represented a visual and gave a conscious imagery. Some of the colors and sounds presented in “Conjuro” come from experiences that took place in Veracruz, Mexico where she was born.
“I am a very visual person and learner so I learn through image and things that I see stuck in my mind and as a writer I have good memory. I suddenly record everything especially colors and it’s not conscious but when I sit down and write it, it just comes back.”
Lara Medina, professor of Chicano studies at CSUN, met Caraza at UMKC and invited her to host the creative writing workshop and introduced her as the speaker.
“I liked it, it seemed to inspire some of the students and, it was short but at least they got an idea of how a poet approaches their work and gets ideas about the writing process,” Medina said.
The workshop started with the theme of woman and historical figures. “Mujer” meaning woman in Spanish and was presented in awareness of International Women’s Day on March 8, to symbolize what women at the time were struggling with. “Ancestral strength,” which was about feminine strength in representation of the Aztec goddesses followed.
“I chose these poems in particular to present, because they show in essence what the book’s about and through the time that I have been presenting the book,” Caraza said. “I have been fortunate enough to be presenting all over the U.S. and this book has been adopted in many universities so I’ve seen that these are the poems that people enjoy the most when I read them out loud. I like them all, but people respond really well to ‘Yanga’ they just love ‘Yanga.’”