Review of The Tongue Has Its Secrets

Michael R. Wyatt’s review in the El Paso Times

BOOKS

Review: New poetry by Donna Snyder

Michael R. Wyatt, Special to the Times

“The Tongue Has Its Secrets” by Donna Snyder

 

El Paso performance poet and human rights activist Donna Snyder has published a new book of her poetry, “The Tongue Has Its Secrets” (NeoPoiesis Press).

The slender volume holds some very powerful imagery and might be thought of as setting forth Snyder’s ontological theory of poetry. After all, Snyder is a poet, and what is poetry but the deliberate revelation of secrets held by the tongue? And, closer to home, what proof is there that a poet exists, but for this revealed poetry, and what the poetry reveals?

The book contains 57 poems, equally divided between three parts. The first poem, “The tongue has its secrets,” precedes Part 1 and is in the nature of a foreword. In it,  Snyder begins to lay the foundation for the universe she later develops.

Her deity is conceptually female: “Praise Her in five songs.” Her creation myth begins with a thought, which requires the tongue to express it; until told, it is just a secret. And her existence of the self is mouthwateringly sexual: “The spurt of the mother / a creamy desecration of the dark.” And, as is true in most maternalistic ontologies, she expressly acknowledges the cycles of life: “Out of devastation new growth green as a jungle / A verdant blanket.”

To set forth such a vibrant and vivid world-view in a mere 30 lines of text on the first page of her new book demonstrates the power of Snyder’s mental and expressive capacity, as well as the tenacity of her work ethic.Snyder, a lawyer by profession, an activist by inclination and a poet by compulsion, has an extensive list of published work to her credit, including “Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal” (2014 Chimbarazu Press), a lamentation in three parts commemorating the lives, and untimely deaths, of three men central to her life. The three parts of her new book are not as clearly delineated, although one can sense a flowing movement from themes of Nature to Voice to Prayer. Throughout each movement, the Tongue, as a necessary component of the voice that guards the Secrets, and as a sexual organ, provides a constant point of reference.

In the first movement, Snyder introduces the Corn Maiden, one of numerous mother-gods she invokes, and draws out for the reader an explicit connection between Nature, sexuality, and the thoughtful, deliberate act of creation. In “Masa on the tongue,” she writes:

I want to feed on Corn Maiden’s flesh

caramelized in the embrace of mother earth

let it melt on the tongue like agave nectar

rain in the mouth of years to come

Other goddesses featured in this work include Dea Tacita, Ixchel, Mother Crow, Epona and Oshun. The reader may be excused for an occasional Wikipedia break.

This also holds true for Snyder’s references to her non-deified muses, which include various fauna of the Southwest (mariposa, colibri, jaguar, eagle, coyote, deer, bear, serpent); a couple literary lights (Walt Whitman, Gertrude Stein); and a deep well of half-hidden languages women have invented to share their secrets in plain sight (Lingua Ignota, Nu Shu poets and the so-called “Venus of Willendorf”). In each case, the poet invokes the muse to give voice to the secrets of the tongue, and thereby creates her world.

Snyder’s keen social awareness also requires her to express alarm. Somebody has killed the muse of Juárez, severed the tongues, silenced the girls, left a dead stone: “Nothing but the sound of blackbirds cawing, / crying out in grief.” And her concern reaches beyond the femicides of Juárez to the planet herself. This collection contains a series of contemplations on the environmental degradation man has wrought, which include “Bitter poison of history denied”; “Earth Day”; “The Sunday news”; and “Agua de mi sierra madre(TM).”

But the poet remains sanguine, both in spirit and flesh tone. In “Struggling with fragile” she expresses her conviction, in a most personal fashion, that spilled blood signifies life to come: “bones of the broken moon turn verdant / flesh and sinew become roaming beasts / spilled blood becomes life. …” The moon “quivers / calls forth the waters to flood and surge / makes the blood rush forth between the legs / the fragile moon / her body broken / her bones and body become life.”

And even though life is but a long wait to die (in “Carmine”), the poet concludes with a prayer (“Supplication”) in which she asks that particular “great and beneficient energy flow” to cleanse her soul, heal and protect her, and restore her vitality.

In the morning, feed me honey with fresh yogurt,

and mint or sage tea at noon.

In the evening, stroke me

with the peacock feathers

of your benevolence.

In the afternoon, love evokes remembrance, and in “Minnow slip of the finger” the artist’s sexuality drips from the page: “humidity sudden in the desert heat / monsoon season of the wet country …,” where “a beard of thorns waits to be trimmed / the ruby flash of tuna / anticipation of eager teeth / dripping sweet.”

In the end, she is prepared to ululate! The reader may be forgiven for discerning a secret meaning from the text, and for allowing the Tongue to suss it out.

Michael R. Wyatt is an assistant El Paso County attorney and has practiced law in El Paso for 28 years.

 

Make plans

What: Poet Donna Snyder will read from “The Tongue Has Its Secrets” during a BorderSenses-sponsored book release event. The event also will include an all-ages open mic.

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: The Rock House Cafe and Gallery, 400 W. Overland.

How much: No cover charge.

Information: Snyder, 328-5484 or donnajosnyder@gmail.com, or Richie D. Marrufo, facebook.com/BWOMS.

 

 

 

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Focus on Kandinsky’s white dot

 

                    dedicated to Trayvon Martin

 

focus on Kandinsky’s white dot
let the banality of real disappear
the colors like musical chords
the drama of primary
the black on white of keys

the white dot
it makes everything else black
dark holes envelope the whole
the emptiness of space stretching
from your there to my here

artificial constructs of time and space
memories of colors red and yellow
the impact of light on matter
what matter gives up to the eye
what it keeps for itself is black

black the color of all colors
the white dot in the dark whole
the sound of breath inside your head
imagines you are more than a dream
but your there is only a dream

my here nothing but a dreaM
forget the rules of the academy
there are no rules
forget theory of the iconoclasts
remember Einstein was wrong

there is no theory of everything
everything does not exist
the there and the here
the other there’s and other here’s
this earth spinning in a black void

energy moving through void to place
a truck leaves full of blue Buddhas
music born of an inner necessity
the disappearance of self and other
the meaninglessness of there and here
a white dot in the dark whole

published in BorderSenses 19, 2013

kandinsky's white dot

Information on my new book

 

 

NeoPoiesis Press link to various distributors in the world

 Amazo

 Barnes and Noble

 Abe Books

or for an autographed copy, buy it directly from the author   donnajosnyder@gmail.com

 

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The back of the book. . . Susan Hawthorne

Susan Hawthorne’s comment on the back of The Tongue Has Its Secrets

“Here is a poet who tongues the language of birds, delves into the minds of sybils, explores connections with animals. She tests the boundaries of nothingness and somethingness. Donna Snyder’s poems are like Nüshu: secrets cast skywards like a cipher for those who know, to read.”

– Susan Hawthorne, poet and author of Lupa and Lamb

 

cover art

The back of the book . . . Amalio Madueño

Amalio Madueño’s comment on the back of The Tongue Has Its Secrets

“Donna Snyder’s The Tongue Has Its Secrets celebrates the feminine principle in all manifestations– from its dark root in the earth, the blood & sacrifice & song of mother & daughter, up to the chariot moon ridden by the fertile goddess through skies resplendent with her constellations.”

Amalio Madueño, Poet and Impresario

 

amalio's book

The back of the book . . . Xánath Caraza

The back of the book:

“Jaguar sent me a lover…” says aloud Donna Snyder in The Tongue Has Its Secrets. Powerful images, passion between lines, revisiting female mythological figures, and questioning violence against women are crucial in these poems. Donna reinvents herself through these stanzas, and raises her voice in each of the polychromatic verses full of Latino as well as north European myths, full of words as vaporous signs. Let’s walk along her side and discover the secrets of the tongue.
Xánath Caraza, recipient of the 2015 International Book Award for Poetry

Thank you, Professor Caraza.

Cover of What the Tide Brings