DRIVE: THE FIRST QUARTET by LORNA DEE CERVANTESWILLIAM ALLEGREZZA reviews
Drive: The First Quartet by Lorna Dee Cervantes
(Wings Press, San Antonio, Texas, 2006)
Sometimes literary works strike so deeply that it’s hard to say much about them except “Look!” Lorna Dee Cervantes’ Drive: The First Quartet is one of those works, but it is even more than that since it contains five smaller books in one, all full of energy, knowledge, excitement, growth, and anger—emotion itself. Just flip through, open this book randomly, and prepare to be awed by the beauty of the words. Take, for example, this excerpt from “Indigenous:”
Indigenous eyes, the hardness
of shale. Indigenous sky,
colorless. Wind wakes
the wanting of the weeds.
Fire frees the founding of the fence.
The sea slays the slicing
of the seasons. Rock
rocks the rocking of rage
into stone. Let it turn you
to salt. Let it lick you into
rapids. Make it see you
In this piece, there is no mistaking Cervantes’ mastery of language. She uses her skill with consonance and line breaks to present us with elements transformed, charged, so that they seem full of meaning or knowing, like the simple lines “Wind wakes / the wanting of the weeds.” The weeds and the wind have volition and react to each other, and the poem puts the reader, the you, into a larger charged community than we usually find ourselves. In this piece, as in many in the work, we find out something about ourselves that we already know but have not verbalized.
Moreover, this poet does not stray from conflict; in fact, she’s at the head of the line, like Neruda or Cardenal, rallying the wronged to action. Some of the poems from the beginning section, “‘How Far’s the War?’”, even have similarities with poems in Neruda’s Canto general. For example, Cervantes explores the rape of the people and the land in her poem “Coffee.” Here’s a small bit of it:
In Guatemala the black buzzard
has replaced the quetzal
as the national bird. The shadow
of a man glides across the countryside,
over the deforested plantations; a death
cross burnishes history into myth
as it scours the medicinal land into coffee.
These lines are beautiful, but they evoke action and memory as witness and battle call. One can almost hear Neruda whispering over Cervantes’ shoulder, “I have always preferred a poetry where the fingerprints show. A poetry of loam, where water can sing” (Trans. Margaret Peden). In Cervantes’ work the fingerprints show full of the life that animates them. In the first section alone, she explores besides coffee and banana production, American imperialism, 9/11, and other equally important events. She shows herself to have an ear to the ground, but for her the ground is speaking.
Since Cervantes’ last book of poems, many years have passed, and this book, widely anticipated, was worth the wait. The themes, while ranging wide, strike accurately at the American pulse, and the language itself is symphonic, mesmerizing in its sheer elegance. Cervantes in the “Author’s Note” at the end mentions that she bound the books together in one so that it would be easy “for carrying with you.” That is exactly the type of work this is, one that you want to carry with you into nature, through the season, as a companion and guide.
William Allegrezza teaches and writes from his base in Chicago. His poems, articles, and reviews have been published in several countries, including the U.S., Holland, Finland, the Czech Republic, and Australia, and are available in many online journals. Also, he is the editor of moria, a journal dedicated to experimental poetry and poetics, and the editor-in-chief of Cracked Slab Books. His books include The Vicious Bunny Translations, covering over, Temporal Nomads, Lingo, and Ladders in July.