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Exploring The Unconventional


By Samantha Navas

Elena Minor challenges the basic format of poetry within her composed publication “Titulada,” exploring sound in poetry with themes of culture throughout the journals. One of the many up and coming 20th century modern poets, Elena Minor looks at the latinx movement within Los Angeles and various other places in California. Living in San Jose, Elena Minor is influenced by the things around her and her culture, like the modern Chicano movement, and many latino poetry movements that are rising during these years. In recent years, it is a time of strife with current political issues that involve these movements and Minor, the poems written in “Titulada” look at depth and hold different meanings to anyone who reads them, but always come back to the latina roots they hold.

Minor’s poems follow a central theme of exploring the ways poems can be constructed with Chicano influences, touching on various cultural aspects throughout the poem. Unlike traditional poets, Elena Minor uses — as she defines it as — “exploratory” ways of writing her poems, rather than it simply being experimental. What may appear to be a jumble of words on paper, hold hidden meaning within each word and each purposeful line drawn on the page. This is evident in a lot of the poetry that Minor writes, as “Titulada” is full of these poems in both English and Spanish. Being a female poet means that Minor looks at these themes from the perspective that a latina women can, and in many cases this is a very different perspective due to the nature of the latino culture. Throughout history, latino culture has put women in a place below men, predominantly as housewives and not people who embrace feminism. However, the Chicana feminist movement also challenges this, and this is called Xicanisma.

With language and culture, Elena Minor writes in a way to capture new methods of exploring poetry in a very unique style. Her poem, “Se Me Escapó,” is the pinnacle of this theme. Her poem begins with “esa — esa… cosa sembrada.” Cosa sembrada is bolded, signifying the importance of the first line and how it is the initial phrase that trickles down to all of the other words within the poem, like “dulce,” “infiel,” “amarga,” and other descriptive words. Minor’s poem has boxes around certain words, like “transparente,” and lines through others, “sola sola,” signifying the role of these words within her poem, as well as looking at how the poem uses experimental methods in order to convey the bigger message to the audience, in a much more intricate fashion. To some, it may seem confusing. In fact, according to Minor, the poem itself isn’t supposed to be read aloud. The words are scattered, like roots in the soil, from something sembrada. In a book analyzing the experimentalism of women’s poetry in the modern century, the author, Lynn Keller speaks of the same structures and patterns. In regards to poetry of a similar matter, Keller refers to the poetry as “the artwork should be, like one’s immediate experience, ‘a complex intersection of intention and non-intention, pattern and surprise” (Keller 2). Along with the stylistic choices of how the poem is laid out, all of the words, in Spanish, have a feminine modifier to them, thus implying more meanings to the poem. When looking at words such as sembrada, that thing could potentially mean something to do with feminism. All of the modifiers are female, and the words are describing something. Furthermore, when Minor refers to the something as “diosa,” it could be the acceptance in her own culture and roots. Minor goes back and forth with English and Spanish, and utilizing Spanish within this work could insinuate that by using this language, in which feminism is not a very common movement and is typically downplayed due to the misogynistic and very conservative nature of the latino culture, it is the gradual embracement and viewing of her feminism and femininity. Elena Minor’s poetry has been interpreted and looked at in different ways, one of them being by David Colón, a professor at Texas Christian University and writer for Jacket2. He writes that in Minor’s writing has depth in various ways, and her poems “contextualize the significance of a single word through very different cultural backgrounds.” And this is very evident throughout her writing and as mentioned in “Se Me Escapó” alone. Furthermore on the topic of femininity and structure of “Se Me Escapó,” he says Minor’s writing imitates a “pattern-bounded unpredictability,” in which “negotiation between purpose and chance, another instance of a feminist reconstitution of what many male counterparts had purported as unbridled linguistic play” (Colón 1). The words, although seeming simple, hold much more weight and power than they appear to on page.

In her English poems, she uses much more descriptive words and imagery to portray her themes and explore different methods of writing poetry. In poems like “When They Come,” Minor describes the parties and the glee, using the word they and only they to convey the feeling of otherness, and vagueness. Going between moods, her poem begins morose and despondent, “they never come / in the comfort night’s / sweet dark ‘n’ / possible.” However, this shifts dramatically in the fifth stanza, “...long light sass / wit’ crispy cackle / edges and they jazz.” Looking at the way Minor sets this up, it is reminiscent to Latino culture and times in Latino families. Latino families are typically characterized by the vibrancy and the loudness, which is easily noted in the crispy cackle and colors blaring in the next few lines. The poem is characterized by the celebratory, dancing, musical tone it sets, although the beginning being in a much more emotional register. However, it is still evident of the Chicana and latino influences on this poem, as Elena still in her English poems utilizes Spanish, with words such as “más” and “allá.” These influences and moments in her poems, are very important to the structure and the way her poem feels on the paper. Similarly, Colón writes that “her ‘transformative moldings’ of these tactics gain substance with her slippage between English and Spanish, as in her pairing [in poems] and other plays hinging on alliteration, consonance, and assonance — what Jakobson called paronomasia” (Colón). To expand on his point, paronomasia is essentially a play on words, and this is shown how she puts in Spanish words with “beyond::más,” exhibiting how she uses the word after beyond, perhaps indicating that the semicolons extend the meaning of beyond even more, pushing the limits farther. Her poems explore an intimate experience with her own culture, and in “When They Come,” this is very evident. At the end of “When They Come,” Minor writes the finish as:

“.stand just
……………….
wave dream shout jump a rise o
h h h h h …
bone breathe down.”

And she notes herself in an interview with Letras Latinas, that the poem mimics a lullaby. When viewing the words on the page, this can be taken in a soft voice, and the spacing and feeling grants a sensation of simplicity with emotion. In commentary of Avant-Garde in poetry, Elisabeth Frost writes that oftentimes, these types of poems “focus on a...personal experience, frequently grounded in identity politics and culture” (Frost). Within Minor’s poetry, this is an evident theme that is fulfilled with poems like “When They Come,” as she looks at culture between the lines of words written in avant-garde methods, exploring the areas of space on the page and filling them easily.

Elena Minor also explores the methods of looking at culture along with formatting of poetry. She writes her poem “Estimad@ Poeta” as an open letter to up and coming Latina poets, writing:

“I’ve been waiting for
you with
your curious words
your oblique constructions
o no
ellipses and secrets,”

Introducing her poem looking at potential poets who may write like her. Using phrases like oblique constructions, it easily implies the similarity in writing, as she too writes using “oblique constructions.” Furthermore, she writes “spaces where lost language / flies off the handle/s” indicating that multiple languages would ideally be used in this poet that she’s talking to. This could mean anything, from French to Spanish or Latin to Greek. This appeals directly to the theme of culture, as she talks about the various types of culture, and at the same time using very unique spacing and syntax. Further along in her poem, she writes:

“and knots in there tight,
curlicue measures,
—punchuations—
loaded and cymbols
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Andalé. Pour me some hot sliced coffee.”

In this, there’s an evident amount of stylization with syntax and diction, seeing as she writes certain words wrong on purpose. To her esteemed poet, she writes “punchuation” as “punch,” perhaps indicating the force poetry has and the impact it has on the readers. Along with that, loaded and cymbols (symbols) is written in a way to show syntax and the addition of it to the poem, giving it a much more fluid feeling that appears as cohesive to the rest of the writing. At the end, “Andalé. Pour me some hot sliced coffee,” is a blatant illustration of her Chicana roots, displaying her flow between languages. Furthermore, the reference of coffee, which is a very important drink to many Latinos because of the fact that coffee is most commonly grown in a lot of countries in Central and South America, as well as being a popularized drink for even young teens in these countries, these also tie into the cultural roots of Minor. The way the poem is read, however, is in a way of how one describes, “in an accent, a pachuca accent, a chola accent, something like that” (Colón). These poems hold meaning and value, and show the depth of the mind effortlessly spewed onto pages; they’re read in ways that provide intimate context and an inlook into the life of a Chicana embracing herself and her femininity, all the while looking back at her own life and culture in complex poems.

Avant-Garde poetry is a big part of Minor’s writing. It pushes the norm and the envelope of what classic poetry is known as. By doing this, Minor allows herself to explore her inner truths and Xicanisma, influenced by many past Latina poets before her. Her writing explores the “poetic means of refusing to choose, contrasts with theories of new forms poetry should take” (Frost), while entangling her own self within it. In this political turmoil and Latino movements, it is a kind of poetry that is needed, and celebrated.

Elena Minor is a modern day poet who writes how she feels unapologetically, even if at times it appears as though it may not make any sense to the strict eye. She explores themes of her culture and the space on the blank piece of paper before her, utilizing all kinds of language to depict avant-gardism within Latino culture and its writings. Constantly trying to find new ways of using language to portray a new message, Minor writes: “A writer’s work is many things, among them, trying to find his or her own language.” And when reading her book, “Titulada,” it is clearly evident that her message is shown in a way that is unique, and truly her own.

Works Cited

Colón, David. “Minor, Keller, explorations.” Minor, Keller, explorations | Jacket2, Jacket2, 31 Mar. 2016, jacket2.org/commentary/minor-keller-explorations.

Keller, Lynn. Thinking Poetry: Readings in Contemporary Women’s Exploratory Poetics. University of Iowa Press, 2010.

Frost, Elisabeth A. The Feminist Avant-Garde in American poetry. University of Iowa Press, 2005.

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