Ariana Vigil’s Book Review of Heart’s Journey by Nina Serrano
Here is Ariana’s Vigil‘s book review. She is a professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Dept. of Women and Gender Studies, as well as an author.
Nina Serrano’s Heart’s Journey: Selected Poems 1980– 1999 is an indispensable addition to contemporary U.S. poetry and a collection that is as artistically moving as it is politically engaged. The poems in this collection, as the title indicates, span two decades (1980 – 1999). This time period, however, covers world-wide change, and personal, artistic, and political developments in the life of Serrano and her compañeros. Poems touch on issues ranging from menstruation and menopause, to marriage, to love, and political upheaval in the U.S. and Latin America.
Having learned of Serrano and her poetry through her involvement with Nicaraguan solidarity during the Sandinista Revolution, I was most drawn to those works that touched on the latter issues. The section “This Place: Nicaragua Nicaragüita The Sandinista Revolutionary Project 1979 – 1989” offers readers the poet’s perspective on the revolutionary movement that toppled 40+ years of a U.S.-backed dictator. The poems present intimate knowledge that exhibit a true love and appreciation for “A new society that proclaims self-determination/even when surrounded/by a nuclear enemy navy on maneuvers” (43). Such poems reference U.S. aggression, Nicaraguan resistance, and U.S. solidarity. “A Song for Ben Linder” is a beautiful tribute to the young man who was murdered while he was working on a micro-hydro plant in the remote regions of Nicaragua. Those not familiar with Linder, the Sandinista Revolution, or the dozens of other important people and events referenced are guided by notes at the bottom of works which direct readers to web-links with more information. In this way, we can appreciate the beauty of the work and learn more about the people and events that inspired them.
Political poems contain both despair and hope. “fear…/It will all mean nothing” the speaker of “The End of Faith” declares, laying bare her sorrow at the 1989 Nicaraguan elections that marked the end of the revolutionary era. In “On the Assassination,” written in the wake of the murder of George Moscone and Harvey Milk, the poet wails “oh my city/oh my people.” “Ode to Spring” juxtaposes “Iraq soaked in blood” to “tiny shoots/unexpected pink and yellow” in Oakland. The enduring sentiment, however, is one of respect and admiration for those who have struggled and faith in what has been and will be accomplished. Referencing again the end of the Sandinista revolution, the speaker of “Blue Lullaby” writes “Don’t cry baby don’t cry/We lost but we did survive/we are still alive…/We live for the blossoming of victory/and the fruits of triumph” (47).
Many poems function as snapshots – of friendships, events, places. But the poetic voice is able to offer both a portrait of a person or moment as well as connections to larger ideas and processes. “Hendy Woods in Summer” is one such work. The speaker calls attention to her present physical and temporal location but then references her place in a larger family, society, and world. “I write on this tree product paper,” she writes, grounding readers in the redwoods of northern California. A few lines later she muses, “I am an urban woman born in a cement world/of a mother born in a cement world,” contextualizing herself within a lineage of women. But nothing is permanent the poem reminds us, ending with “This place has looked different/It will look different again.” These excerpts typify one aspect of Serrano’s poetic talent – the ability to move from specific to universal contexts, to pay close attention to that which is in front of us without losing sight of the ultimately ephemeral nature of life.
Those from the Bay Area will enjoy the many references to San Francisco, Oakland, and the surrounding environs that make up the section “This Place: USA.” “San Francisco Autumn Early Morning” and “Song for Oakland” will provoke homesickness in any northern Californian or the need to visit for anyone not familiar with the area.
Readers will also appreciate the poet’s perspectives on family and aging found in the sections “Death be Not Proud,” “Descendants,” and “Milestones.” Here we can appreciate Serrano’s tributes to the friends she has lost as well as her own deep love for her family.
The collection is enriched by Serrano’s original artwork – which adorns the cover and appears throughout the text.
Find out more about Serrano and her work here: https://ninaserrano.com/