pre-order my new book As Meaningful as any Other!

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As Meaningful As Any Other, Gutter Snob Books’ new publication of Donna Snyder’s fourth collection of poems and fragmentary prose, has been called a surrealist poetic memoir. Divided into five parts, Part One, Roots, is made of personal mythology, both actual and imagined. The second part, called Auguries, is mostly set in Twitty, the tiny rural hamlet in the North Texas Panhandle Snyder lived in as child, and shows the unexpected and incongruous impact visual art and classical music had on her development. Part Three, Flight, describes her escape from hometown and rural culture and the development of a political awareness, again often shown through her response to visual art. Part Four is called Awakening and is passionate. Part Five, Crossroads, addresses magic and both the losses and personal transcendence that can come with age, again using myth and art as pathways into Snyder’s psyche. Main repeated elements throughout the book are ekphrasis, theories of physics and time, and myth.

A longtime activist lawyer in New Mexico and Texas, Donna Snyder has represented indigenous people, people with disabilities, and immigrant workers. The legendary founder and director of the Tumblewords Project as well as an acclaimed poet, she now adds a fourth poetry collection As Meaningful As Any Other, to her body of work. “I walked in the Sandia foothills/ chilled by the first wintry wind,/ half moon in a dusky sky, arroyo/ luminous with profligate datura,” she writes, introducing us to her world in the American southwest. By turns somber and sanguine, troubled and troubling, puzzling and clairvoyant, this collection of prose and lyric poems is truly “a cloak of many colors” that envisions the Creator as a female at the heart of the Creation. Bravo, Donna!—Carlos Nicolás Flores, author of the novels Our House on Hueco and Sex as a Political Condition

From a powerful and driven perspective, Donna Snyder writes with a delicate intensity that will coil around your soul and swallow you whole. In her new book, As Meaningful As Any Other, Snyder will delight the reader with poetic form and fury, short and long. Her words are filled with revelry, intelligence and grace. Truly, this is not a book to be missed. —Jack Henry, author of driving w/ crazy living with madnessDonna

Snyder writes like I wish I could. As she says in her piece “Monstrous Angel,” (included here in As Meaningful As Any Other) “…Both unearthly and of this earth, she has a secret.” And indeed Ms. Snyder does have a secret. Her language brought to me images of Leslie Marmon Silko and Sandra Cisneros and of course a bit of Di Prima. Her words caress, her women are nurturing and beautiful and mystical. I want to read her work again and again. It belongs on my top shelf. —Nadia Bruce-Rawlings, author of Driving in the Rain and Scars

Donna Snyder’s poems are like the whisper of falling rain before a raging thunderstorm. They search for meaning in the random, chaotic mess of everyday life—infusing everything with beauty and pain. There is a sense of urgency behind every word. Let them seep into you. Let them change you.—David Dorado Romo, author of Ringside Seat to a Revolution

Donna Snyder’s compassionate and wise poetry is always a favorite. As Meaningful as Any Other is a balm for these difficult times. Another vivid and articulate treasure from Snyder, I highly recommend this beautiful collection.—Trista Hendren, Founder of Girl God Books

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A neon desert the only sea

A neon desert the only sea
1.
Awareness moves to the right
Electric asters line a green sky
Brake lights baffle the eyes
(Are you paying attention?)
Traffic moves to the right
Think of Louisiana—
Think of Japan—
People disappeared
Structures on stilts still
can’t out walk the waves
Fissured world shifts in its sleep
as sure as the earth beneath your feet
This may be the only world we know
Secrets and lies in camouflage
The stranger’s smile all teeth and eyes
Detainees in your back yard
herded like cattle into the corralón
Downtown old men still hide
numbers tattooed on their wrists
or nopales on the forehead
Catastrophe is our only home now
Dying cougars shot more dead
Unknown bodies beneath the ground
Spying soldiers spread across the sky
A neon desert the only sea
Even metals gone to driest dust
Hear the sound of air through shell
Scent of water glosses the lips of statues
Birds in tree tops sing departure
(There’s about to be an accident)
Our Mama on the wall wears green and blue

She stands on the moon
Blots out the sun
2.
Birds gather in tree tops praying
for all the people dead and gone
Dancers dance with feathers and shells
Mama’s starry cloak shelters her Son
with the nopal tattooed on his forehead
Pray for mercy
Pray for the woman who lives in a car
The detainees in our own back yard
Men with guns at every gate
People disappeared on the river edge
deprived of the solace of rivers and rocks
Our Mama damp with migrant workers’ sweat
Lights wander the other edge of darkness
Nothing sure but this earth beneath our feet
(Are you paying attention?)
Secrets and lies with teeth and eyes
This is your home now
Another day another catastrophe
It’s the only world we’ve ever known
Earthworks break into thunder claps
Random red lights baffle the eyes
Birds falling from the dying blue
Lost fish floating in the dying sea

 

From my book Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal (Chimbarazu Press, New York 2014)

Previously published in I Am Not a Silent Poet

 

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

Loring Wirbel’s review of The Tongue Has Its Secrets

Red Fez review of The Tongue Has Its Secrets

Perhaps a Southwestern state of mind is a prerequisite for a full appreciation of the Sandia Mountains and Chaco Canyon landscapes that populate Donna Snyder’s latest collection of poems, The Tongue Has Its Secrets. Yet a stranger to these parts can approximate a high-desert way of knowing, in the same way that a male reader may discern, if only as a tourist, the invocation of ghosts from a woman’s way of seeing, the subject at the heart of Snyder’s latest work.

Dea tacita  

Lara’s tongue severed by the sky for indiscretion

Love led her on a spiral path deep into the laurel

She gave birth to little gods but was forever silent

 

She lingers at cross roads

Tends the dead

 

What is evident from the first poems is that Snyder avoids the fear of modern vernacular that seems to occupy many poets who visit natural sites, hoping to evoke ancient gods. We could all be judicious with our language while trying for the perfect Mary Oliver setting, but any ancient god worth a prayer won’t mind the occasional reference to a pop song or video game. Snyder’s language is at once formal and casual, giving works like ‘Prepare to Ululate’ surprising depth.

 

Blue norther’

In the North Texas Panhandle, southbound truckers 

blast down Hwy 83, headed to where the wind’s not

from the north and not called blue.

Winds and storm outside become Valkyries,

the concrete septic tank a magic stone.  Women 

warriors ride like furies across the frozen plain.

An Irish woman outruns a chariot,

gives birth to twins, 

lays a curse.

 

The wind takes my spirit in its arms and flees.

Mama lights the candle, locks the door. 

 

There are plenty of two-lane highway odes in this world paying homage to modern gods of transport, and plenty of chants that attempt to revive Anasazi imagery, but Snyder is rare in being able to meld the two. Poems such as ‘Blue Norther’ and ‘My Heart Makes Chorus with the Coyotes’ successfully bring the two worlds together with an impressive degree of success.

 

Snyder obviously takes the most time with the multi-stanza works spanning two or three pages that attempt to disentangle layers of spirituality. Sometimes, the longer poems are not as effective as the shorter, more direct works. ‘Bear Who Loves a Woman’ is an obvious exception to this rule, a complex and interwoven longer work that is one of the book’s highlights.

 

The collection ends with the tight and disciplined ‘Supplication,’ which seeks to call upon the right panoply of gods without a wasted syllable. Many of Snyder’s fans may find the poem a perfect summation and distillation of the entire collection. But even those of us more secularly grounded in cynicism will find the pair of poems near the book’s end, ‘The Truth of Vikings’ and ‘Aqua de mi sierra madreTM ‘ to provide just the right mix of breathless voice and raised eyebrow. In short, there’s a brand of salvation in The Tongue Has Its Secrets appropriate for just about any seeker.

 

The truth of Vikings

The music in her head makes her scared,

as if Vikings still brandished their blades 

from the decks of ships fierce as dragons.

Afloat in an ageless river, 

the leaves are chill flames.

Cold rains obscure the water’s source,

hiding it away like the secret of a woman’s 

aging body, rain, a woman’s sluggish heat.

She is apples and pears ripened 

in her own sweet skin.

Only the moon can match 

the luster of her opalescent belly.

Her mouth makes shadows. Her hair 

a burning bush. 

Her fingers a doorway,

iconic as a religious artifact.  She is on route

to the end of being on the back of a red swan,

on the way to nothingness made tolerable 

by ritual and fire.

 

Through the wind, she hears the shriek

of disconsolate women who no longer 

believe love will save them from sorrow.

There is no home now, they wail.

There is no safe place.

Death tastes like winter flowers.

She knows this because she knows 

things she is not supposed to know.

She stands so close she can hear 

warriors tell each other secrets.

The truth is that neither love nor death 

diminishes you.  The way to truth 

is a life suffered, a drunken waltz.

She stands so close her howl is lost 

in the roar of music inside her head.

She is wordless before the fact of Vikings,

 

truth found in a harsh yellow light.

 

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.