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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

15. Poetry of Liberation

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Activities: Author Activities

Lorna Dee Cervantes - Author Questions

Back Back to Lorna Dee Cervantes Activities
  1. Comprehension: How do you interpret the uncle's dream in "Uncle's First Rabbit"? What is the effect of his first hunting experience? What is the tone of this poem?

  2. Comprehension: In "For Virginia Chavez," Cervantes alludes to a string of famous poets, including Lord Byron, the Romantic poet, John Donne, the seventeenth-century poet, and popular Victorian poets Robert and Elizabeth Browning. Why would an author like Cervantes refer to canonical British writers? How is she continuing or transforming the work of those earlier authors?

  3. Comprehension: In "Visions of Mexico While at a Writing Symposium in Port Townsend, Washington," Cervantes divides the poem into two parts, titled "Mexico" and "Washington." What is the speaker's attitude towards each place? What is the tone of the poem? Does it change? What images are associated with each place? What does that tell us about the speaker's state of mind? What is the effect of the long title?

  4. Context: The theme of migration appears often in Cervantes's poetry, and is frequently connected to the prominence of migration within Latino history. This theme might also be seen as a reflection of Cervantes's personal migration between Mexican and American cultures. Trace Cervantes's use of migration, as both symbol and theme, in the poems in this unit. (You might look specifically at "Uncle's First Rabbit," "Visions of Mexico While at a Writing Symposium in Port Townsend, Washington," and "Emplumada.") What generalizations can you make about her treatment of this theme? How is it represented in each of the poems?

  5. Context: The Black Arts movement is defined by a commitment to bringing the arts and community together, raising consciousness about black experience, using art to gain political and social equality for black Americans, and building a sense of pride and awareness of history in the black community. After reading Cervantes's work, think about what a Chicano aesthetic might look like. What goals might it share with the Black Arts movement?

  6. Exploration: Like Cervantes, the Beats draw on ideas related to travel in their work. You might look specifically at Kerouac's On the Road and Snyder's "The Blue Sky." How does Cervantes's use of the concept of the "journey" differ from that of the Beats? What do her poems about migration have in common with works by the Beats, as well as by transcendent poets?

  7. Exploration: Birds are a common poetic symbol for the soul, in part because of their ability to move between the sky and the earth. In other poems, birds, usually songbirds, are symbols of the poet. Some important poems that use this trope are Paul Laurence Dunbar's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," Sylvia Plath's "Lady Lazarus," and John Keats's "Ode to a Nightingale." Images of birds appear throughout Cervantes's work. How do you interpret this? How do these images change in different poems? What kinds of birds appear? What specific cultural dimension do these birds have?

  8. Exploration: Many of the poets in this unit have a keen sense of place; particular places and landscapes figure prominently in their poetry. Ginsberg, for example, writes about San Francisco and large urban areas, Harjo writes about landscapes central to Native American lore, and Wright's poems are often about rural Ohio. Similarly, Cervantes envisions the landscapes of Mexico and America in her work. Why does the land seem so important to all these poets? Are there particular historical or cultural reasons that might make them feel tied to the land? How might an interest in the land relate to ideas of transcendence and liberation?

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