Esta página no está disponible en español.

The Santa Fe New Mexican

Two Writers: One Pays Homage To Wigged Lions, Crying Crocodiles & Gossiping Parrots; The Other, To The Great Poet-Nun Of Mexico

Flor de Mara Oliva

February 3, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The Santa Fe New Mexican. All rights reserved. 

The love of reading and poetry is an integral part of the lives of these two poets who have established their home in New Mexico. One has written many books; the other has written her first one.
Excerpts from the books

'A Library for Juana'

Hear me with eyes alone,

Since ears are out of hearing's farthest reach,

Hear how my pen, with moans,

Echoes separation's bitterest pangs

And, since you cannot catch my raucous tune,

Hear me unhearing, hear a pain gone mute.

Considered one of the most outstanding writers of Latin America, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, satiated her hunger for learning with books. She learned to read at an early age and did her best to study everything she could - from Latin to math and astronomy.

In A Library for Juana, Mora re-creates Juana's life, from her childhood to her dramatic years as a nun, during which she mingled with the most erudite of her time and bequeathed to the world unique literary treasures.

'Foam bath'

Poems are not fond of bathing

Neither with water nor soap,

They just play and bubble up

In the foam of dreams and fun

- From Poetry Zoo

In Poetry Zoo, Margarita Montalvo sings for the children with words of familiar, evocative and attractive images - a crying crocodile, a lion with a wig, a gossiping parrot and others - all illustrated with beautiful watercolor paintings and written in English and Spanish.

At the end of her book, Montalvo offers a study guide for parents and teachers, complete with a bilingual glossary. Her introduction is most clever, with a schedule to visit the zoo - the book - and rules for the visitors - children of all ages.

Pat Mora, 61, born in El Paso, Texas, has published an extensive collection of poetry and prose books for adults and children, in English and Spanish.

Margarita Montalvo, 64, born in Puerto Rico, published on her own, in English and Spanish, her first poetry book for children, in May.

Both Mora and Montalvo speak with fervor and passion about their careers and both remember a childhood enriched with books and poems.

"When I was a little girl, my mom used to take us to the library. We always had books at home. I've always liked reading," Mora said. "I think that's the firm basis that lead me in that journey (of writing)."

She says she keeps a list of 10 to 15 books that she would like to write. Last year, the prolific author who recently moved along with her husband to Santa Fe, where she would visit frequently in the past, published a book about Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, a 16th century Mexican poet.

"I was fascinated with the personality of this woman, who since her childhood had such a strong personality that whenever she made up her mind about something, she would do it", said Mora of Sor Juana, whose poetry also fascinates her.

"When I read her poetry, so baroque, so complex, I read a very complex mind, but also (a mind that) knows how to play with words. That's very attractive to me," comments Mora who has also been playing with words for about 20 years.

After raising her three children and graduating from college, Mora published her first book in 1984 - Chants - a book of poetry for adults. From then on, she has written about many subjects, including her family life, a life enriched by a combination of cultures.

Of Mexican parents, Mora grew up in a bicultural environment. Although she says that at home they used to speak both English and Spanish, English was the language of her formal education and she picked up Spanish as a family and social language.

Montalvo has also been playing with words for many years. She came to the United States 43 years ago and has primarily worked as a translator and interpreter. She speaks four languages, and says that right now she is tempted to study Japanese. "To study a new language, even if one cannot master it, is like a ray of sunshine in the darkness," she said.

Reading is a favorite pastime for Montalvo, who says that one of her most cherished memories related to literature took place when she was 14. She met Juan Ramn Jimenez, the Spanish writer, and recited a poem and also read for him a chapter of Platero and I, his well-known book published in 1967.

Her book, Zoolgico de Poemas/Poetry Zoo, came to light almost unexpectedly. Montalvo says that in January 2000, she was suddenly overcome with inspiration and wrote about 90 poems of all kinds in four days. In an interview published in October 2001, Montalvo said that those four days were exactly the same during which the poetry and drama teacher of her youth had been in a comma after suffering a stroke.

Inspiration came to Montalvo in Spanish, her native language, and then she translated her poems into English and painted, with watercolors, the illustrations for her book. She also paints, but she says that she had never used that technique just as she had never written poetry before. But that's not surprising, she admits, because she is prone to act suddenly and obsessively.

However, Montalvo seems to be as persistent as Sor Juana and Mora, because when she decides to do something she goes through with it. That's how she said she was going to paint 30 paintings - she finished 29 - and, likewise, she wanted to publish her poems and did it herself.

Montalvo's poetry reflects Puerto Rican images, personal but at the same time universal, touching children and adults alike. In the prologue of her book, the late University of New Mexico Professor Sabine Ulibarri called her "The Peter Pan and Hamelin Flautist from magic and fantasy times." Her verses also contain educational messages.

Mora's most recent book is a window to the fascinating world of Sor Juana, precursor of these creative and daring women, inspired by their love of reading and words.

Self-Determination Legislation | Puerto Rico Herald Home
Newsstand | Puerto Rico | U.S. Government | Archives
Search | Mailing List | Contact Us | Feedback