Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Montoya--20 Years of Joda

Jose Montoya's poetry is not anthologized much in American Literature, according to Professor Bonilla. A reluctance to formally include him in the canon might seem a direct result of Montoya's multiplicity of language in his poetry, but this is the prime reason why it should be included--it reflects the multiplicity of culture so prominent in American culture, and it forces the reader to be engaged by confronting them with language. Other writers confront their audiences with obscene language and striking thematics, others with rhetoric, others with flowery and elevated use of language and epics, others with emotional and elegiac odes, and others with a clear break of tradition. A good writer confronts the reader with something, and forces a reaction--a good one, a negative one, a self-revealing reaction. The worst writers lack the ability to get a reaction from the reader.

One of the ways in which Jose Montoya engages the reader in his poems, is by including Spanish phrases untranslated. To the monolingual English speaker, the words seem like a foreign and exotic confrontation, and one is given the choice of remaining in the dark to admire, or to go look up the dictionary in an attempt to identify hidden meanings. The bilingual reader is able to revel in the immediacy of a secret, a private moment between him or herself and the author, who obviously share this shared knowledge of a shared culture, of a mixing of traditional and nontraditional to create something new.

Much like Ginsberg's Howl, Montoya's "El Louie" is indeed an elegy--that it goes through the traditional progression of lament, praise, and consolation--but gains its likeness with Ginsberg's work because it undercuts the established tradition of straightforward grief and praise poetry. For Montoya, the tradition is that of American literature to be based only on the English language--he is bringing something new to the table: unabashed and untranslated Spanish voices, mixed in with English voices, a combination that is so representative of his particular voice and community, of a people so American in that they are oppressed and repressed, that he grants them a form of expression through new forms of literature.

Mainstream American culture is so deeply rooted in the ideals of independence, freedom, high esteem for the individual, competition, and a struggle for identity apart from the group, which stem from the efforts of our forefathers who fought for independence from the English. These individualistic values are at odds then, with the more Mexican values that are based on family and collectivistic concerns, that serve the group more than the individual, as well as a way to prolong the strong history and pride of a people so closely tied to families. This mash-up of values and motivations is evident in Montoya's poetry; his work allows for his community to speak--the varied dialogues, different perspectives, family members and fellow Pachucos--both in English and in Spanish and yet all distinctly American and revealing of this particular time and place, of a people removed from mainstream society.

"El Louie" is funny. "Hoy entarraron a Louie/And San Pedro o san pinche/Are in for it". Right away, it undercuts most tragic elegies with a playful and mischievous quality that reveals a respect for Louie, but in a way that is not entirely elevated like other elegiac subject matter. Here, Louie is being remembered for his artistic endeavors, his creation of the Pachuco persona, of his heroism on and off the streets of California, of the great things that he was capable of, and of the shortcomings that spotted life and that made his downfall so tragic. It's not his death that is so sad, it's the way his life had deteriorated by the end of it. "The end was a cruel hoax/But his life had been/Remarkable!" Montoya's speaker laments the fact that El Louie did not die in "accion", and he attempts to console his grief by praising the earlier life of El Louie, and by elevating that character of the Pachuco. The word Montoya uses to describe his life is a consolation: "Remarkable!", meaning that it is "worthy of attention". I picture it being said with a genuinely happy, yet mournful and honorable smirk.

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