| Microreviews |
Javier O. Huerta. American Copia: An Immigrant Epic. Arte Publico Press, 2012, 96 pages.
Reviewed by SG Huerta
I encountered Javier O. Huerta’s American Copia: An Immigrant Epic by chance last fall, having read few writers sharing my name. This hybrid collection documents the experiences of immigrants, people of color, and other marginalized groups through the setting of the grocery store.
American Copia opens by explaining the book’s catalyst: Huerta’s naturalization interview to become a U.S. citizen. He describes being given the task to write the sentence, “Today I’m going to the grocery store.” Underwhelmed, he scans the line, as if it were a poem, and tells the agent, “I will write an epic starting with that line.” This promise becomes a guiding force for American Copia’s composition.
Huerta trusts his reader to follow his meandering sequence, wandering in and out of the aisles of a grocery store. Sections titled “American Copia” come to life with hyper-specifics: street names, going to H-E-B with a partner, texts exchanged. American Copia also includes short stories, nonfiction, a play, and poems in English, Spanish, and Spanglish.
The grocery store is an apt vehicle to interrogate issues of machismo, food security and access, farmworker rights, race, and immigration. Huerta explores how oppressive ideals are permeated in U.S.-American culture to the point of finding them in grocery stores. One stanza reveals, “I learned early enough that there were two classes of people in Houston: those that shop at Randall’s and those that shop at Fiesta.”
Above all, American Copia is a delightful, smart reading experience. I often find myself returning to this collection; Huerta captures Latinx experiences lovingly, honestly, humorously. He celebrates the grocery store’s significance to his culture, relationships, and writing. In the face of acculturation, Huerta leans into community and its importance. American Copia begins and ends at the grocery store, but Huerta’s impact does not.
SG Huerta is a Chicane writer from Dallas. They are the author of the chapbooks The Things We Bring with Us (Headmistress Press 2021), and Last Stop (Defunkt Magazine 2023). Their work has appeared in Split Lip Magazine, Infrarrealista Review, and elsewhere. Find them at sghuertawriting.com or tweeting @sg_poetry
Leanne Dunic. One and Half of You. Talonbooks, 2021. 88 Pages.
Reviewed by Erin Kirsh
Leanne Dunic’s 2021 poetry collection One and Half of You from Talonbooks is an exploration of duality. The poems grapple with an imperfect belonging (or nonbelonging) stemming from being biracial and bisexual under white, heterosexual, and patriarchal systems. The sense of not quite fitting right and not quite being seen follows the speaker from year to year, country to country, relationship to relationship; both a bonding and alienating force.
Tonally, the pieces in this collection run the gamut. At times, the poems are lyric and meditative:
“I told him my affections sought tadpoles,
salamanders. I pointed to my bucket on the
………..amphi: of both kinds
………..bios: life” (p.51)
At times in-scene and dialogistic:
“<There’s no nose like yours in Asia—maybe
I’m half-Chinese, but the nose is Croatian.
. . . (Shakes head.)
<Germany?> ” (p.37)
And are at other times blunt and straight-spoken in the face of denials that are commonplace to systems of inequality.
“Modelling agencies in Japan reject me for
looking <too Asian>, desire blue
eyes, childlike features. I end up in
Singapore where I am called <model>
. . . Never beautiful, only
model.” (p. 36)
The variety in register mirrors the theme of possessing multitudes and creates a rhythm that dodges expectation.
One and Half of You further honors the content by fusing two of the author’s talents: writing and music. At the beginning of each of the book’s three sections, there’s a link to original music composed to accompany the text. Punchy in narrative, in word, and in voice, Dunic’s One and Half of You is an outstanding tour of bothness and otherdom.
Erin Kirsh is a writer from Toronto. Her work has appeared in The Malahat Review, Alma, EVENT, Arc Poetry Magazine, Barren Magazine, PRISM International, CV2, QWERTY, and more. Visit her at www.erinkirsh.com or follow her on twitter @kirshwords.