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.

 

 

 

El Paso Times Review of my book, Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal

http://www.elpasotimes.com/living/ci_27760627/through-grieving-process-step-by-step-and-poem

Through the grieving process, step by step and poem by poem

March 21, 2015

El Paso Times

Donna J. Snyder’s new work, “Poemas Ante El Catafalco: Grief and Renewal” (Chimbarazu Press), is a work about intimate desolation and poignant recovery.

The poems document Snyder’s travel through the hard processes of grieving after the passing of her beloved, the renowned El Paso artist Mario Colin.

Much as in her first collection, “I Am South,” Snyder uses straightforward imagery and unpretentious phrasing to drive her work from start to finish. It is the power of this simplicity and knack for a good turn of phrase that invites the reader to step inside her journey.

Snyder does not overwhelm, but rather coaxes one along with melodic wording, vivid imagery and religious symbolism.

In her poem “Lamentation”:

I am the stigmata in Jesus’ hands & feet,

Purple flesh a cup for putrefaction.

I am the green odor emanating from his god’s wounds.

Jesus has delivered his painful flesh and ravished spirit

Into the faithful arms of Morfeo.

Sleep is his only friend,

Oblivion his only love.

I am the despair that compels his hand

To mutilate his own flesh.

I am the mutilated flesh.

I am the sad blood singing him to sleep.

I am the sad blood.

I am the blood on Jesus’ hands.

I am the lonely earth

Beneath his feet.

In each poem, Snyder subtly shifts between the mystical and the commonplace, between the abstract and the detailed, between shifting moments of anxiety and rebirth, in what seems like an effortless and seamless flow.

In “We got married on Día de los Muertos,” Snyder superbly blends all her elements:

We got married on Day of the Dead,

We clung to each other like tattoos,

Calaveras dancing in wedding clothes.

Roses hung across the breast of death.

The smell of dampness dissipated.

Darkness became light.

Each poem is a complete work of art that can stand alone.

Snyder has also mastered the short poem, streaming her imageries, line by line, like counterpoint melodies playing off each other; very haiku-like. In “Green is a fine way”:

A mockingbird sings through the humid evening,

The smell of oleander dizzies the dancers into silence.

There is a magic door in a leaf-crept wall, green with portent.

Only the gravest ill can justify such anguish.

The way to the other side is through the ancient door.

Green is a fine way to end one’s days.

At times, “Grief and Renewal” reads like a poetic novella, bringing the reader, poem by poem, along a sequential journey of healing. Snyder’s new work is risky in its edginess with the use of such dark thematic material. Again, nothing is overplayed.

If poets, traditionally, have one, or perhaps even two, defining works, “Grief and Renewal” certainly ranks as a seminal work for Snyder. Her first work, “I Am South,” has an earthy quality and a professional feel to it. “I Am South” is a good and competent work. However, “Grief and Renewal” packs a hard punch and flirts with greatness.

After reading “Grief and Renewal,” well, count me as a fan.

Lawrence Barrett is an El Paso poet and musician.

Poemas ante el Catafalco:  Grief and Renewal Cover art is

Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal
Cover art is “Angel in Decline,” by Victor Hernández

Lawrence Barrett’s review of Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal

https://www.facebook.com/SlimGizzardz?fref=photo

Slim Gizzards Poetry Review

Review: Poemas Ante El Catafalco: Grief and Renewal; by Donna J. Snyder; Chimbarazu Press; NY; 2014; $16.00. Reviewed by Lawrence Barrett

Donna J. Snyder’s new work, Poemas Ante El Catafalco: Grief and Renewal, is a work about intimate desolation, and, poignant recovery. Snyder travels through the hard processes of grieving due to the passing of her beloved, Mario Colin, renowned El Paso artist and local legend. Much like her first work, I Am South, Snyder uses straightforward imagery and unpretentious phrasing to drive her work from start to finish. It is the power of this simplicity and a knack for a good turn of phrase that invites the reader to step inside her journey of Grief and Renewal and experience a sensitivity of expression that exists solely in the travail of somber aftermath. Snyder does not overwhelm but rather coaxes one along with melodic wording, vivid imagery and religious symbolism:
Lamentation
I am the stigmata in Jesus’ hands & feet,
Purple flesh a cup for putrefaction.
I am the green odor emanating from his god’s wounds.
Jesus has delivered his painful flesh and ravished spirit
Into the faithful arms of Morfeo.
Sleep is his only friend,
Oblivion his only love.

I am the despair that compels his hand
To mutilate his own flesh.
I am the mutilated flesh.
I am the sad blood singing him to sleep.
I am the sad blood.
I am the blood on Jesus’ hands.
I am the lonely earth
Beneath his feet.

In each poem Snyder subtly shifts between the mystical and the commonplace; between the abstract and the detailed; between shifting moments of anxiety and rebirth in what seems like an effortless and seamless flow. “We got married on Dia de los Muertos,” Snyder superbly blends all her elements:
We got married on Day of the Dead,
We clung to each other like tattoos,
Calaveras dancing in wedding clothes.
Roses hung across the breast of death.
The smell of dampness dissipated.
Darkness became light.

Each poem is a complete work of art that can stand alone. Snyder has also mastered the short poem, streaming her imageries, line by line, like counterpoint melodies playing off each other; very haiku-like.
Green is a fine way

A mockingbird sings through the humid evening,
The smell of oleander dizzies the dancers into silence.
There is a magic door in a leaf-crept wall, green with portent.

Only the gravest ill can justify such anguish.
The way to the other side is through the ancient door.
Green is a fine way to end one’s days.

At times Grief and Renewal reads like a poetic novella, bringing the reader, poem by poem, along a sequential journey of healing. Snyder’s new work is risky in its edginess with the use of such dark thematic material. Again, nothing is overplayed. If poets, traditionally, have one, or perhaps even two, defining works, Grief and Renewal certainly ranks as a seminal work for Snyder. Her first work, I Am South, has an earthy quality and a professional feel to it. I Am South a good and competent work. However, Grief and Renewal packs a hard punch and flirts with greatness. After reading Grief and Renewal, well, count me a fan.

Catafalco_Cove final

Belinda Subraman’s article at The Gypsy Art Show about Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal

Publisher and writer Belinda Subraman posted a write-up about my book Poemas ante el Catafalco:  Grief and Renewal on her longstanding site, The Gypsy Art Show.

http://www.gypsyartshow.com/2014/12/poemas-ante-el-catafalco-grief-and.html

Belinda Subraman's Gypsy Art Show

Belinda Subraman’s Gypsy Art Show

(Book review) Poemas Ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal by Donna J. Snyder, reviewed by Mary Saracino

“. . . she widens the circle of grief to encompass the universal, collective experiences of loss and outrage all share as citizens of planet Earth.”

Mary Saracino’s review of my Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal in Return to Mago.

(Book review) Poemas Ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal by Donna J. Snyder, reviewed by Mary Saracino.

Catafalco_Cove_final

Review by Constance Stadler

Review by Connie Stadler (unpublished)

In “Poemas Ante El Catafalco: Grief and Renewal” Donna Snyder takes us on a journey of profound interior discovery reminiscent of Baudelaire’s “Fleur du Mal.”  Each poem is a study of the infinity in emotional nuance that shades and inhabits the most profound of human loss and the depths to which the soul must travel to begin to find new groundings—the ineffable rationale for continuance.  While the impact of death is an arena that attracts many writers, few have explored its intimacies with such fierce courage and such exceptional artistry.

A quintessential poem in this collection is “To Titian’s Ariadne”, repeated here in its entirety.

My body twists and turns in naked sorrow,

my love gone on his strange and lonesome journey,

without me.

I am left exposed, undraped,

grasping scarves around my fleshiness,

silken shields red and blue.

Vulnerable to passion and dissolution.

Exposed alike to beasts and the naked sky.

My red hair is a noose about my neck.

I am eager for the grave.

The senses compel me

to lose my abandoned flesh to pleasure.

Oblivion lurks on cat feet in the wild dark.

From the very first line we are garroted by the confronting image, as we move through a composition with all the simple elegance of a Neruda ode, we enter a maelstrom of color, texture, frenzy and a desperation that will not be soothed.  Snyder’s cat carries the potency of Eliot’s scavenging marauder. It is there, an image as incontrovertible as the newly inhabited grave of the loved.

But what of the return? After immersion in the cadences to the very gods who have stolen beloved friends and a lifelong companion, we reach the final pages wondering – how will she bring us back?  Is there a way back? What is the path to the “riot of rebirth”?

As we go slowly through each work, we learn there are many tributaries; feasts of intellect; renewal accomplished cell by singularly stirred cell.  It is borne out of the deepest recesses of conscience and by every tremor that speaks to need and the slowly returning recognition that there is — whether we want it or not – a division between darkness and light.  The incandescence of passion takes us out of the beloved’s coffin with a screaming rage— demanding air, brutal light, all, all will not be stilled.

In one of her final poems of the collection, Snyder – known by many in art circles as “La Maestra” – opens a window into the soul of the survivor.

“I am a piece of tissue-people will use me until I disintegrate into nothingness. I am dirty dishes—I always need attention. I am un veterano—disordered by my post-traumatic sensibilities. I am Job—punished and tested beyond comprehension. I am King David because I am blessed by God. 

I am a poem because I incite with words and create images in your mind. I am a grocery list—nothing more than a collection of needs. I am like trouble—I never seem to disappear for good. I am like the internet—connected to sentient beings across the world. I am like my clients—I need peace with dignity and grace.”

In the wake of this shared time we are all veteranos; all embracing the search of needs; all seeking a scintilla of dignity and grace, and coming away with a renewed and beautifully hued appreciation for the path we each must travel.

connie stadler

Constance Stadler

Constance Stadler is a political anthropologist who has written and co-written six compilations of poetry. She has been recognized  as a two time finalist for the Pushcart Prize and has also been recognized as a finalist for the international Erbacce prize.  She has served as editor of a number of journals including Calliope Nerve and Eviscerator Heaven and teaches writing workshops across the country.

Allen Parmenter’s review of Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal in Red Fez

Allen Parmenter’s review of Poemas ante el Catafalco:  Grief and Renewal in Red Fez

“One reads of dyings and deaths, and feels all the world’s spoken, sung, and written speech has streamed into Spanglish, in time for Donna Snyder to respond to it all.”

El Paso Bar Journal review of Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal, written by Michael R. Wyatt

If you click on the image and zoom in, the print should resolve into legibility.

 

El Paso Bar Journal review

El Paso Bar Journal review

Jillian Parker’s review of Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal in Spectral Lyre

http://spectrallyre.wordpress.com/2014/08/24/fronteriza-a-review-of-donna-snyders-upcoming-book/

illustration used in Spectral Lyre review

Self Portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the United States by Frida Kahlo

Fronteriza (a review of Donna Snyder’s upcoming book)

Speak to me in Spanish. I’ll hear all vowels and no consonants. I’ll understand all nouns and no verbs, miss the plot but grasp the emotion.

To read a poem by Donna Snyder is to be transported to a variegated and vivid neighborhood of ideas.

This is a place which could not strictly be located within a geography text, because it has emerged within a community of languages, cultures, flavors, textures and creative expressions that exists along the border-lands between the United States and Mexico, and from the Celtic consciousness of a fiery red-head.

I first became acquainted with the work of Donna Snyder when she was known in online writing circles as “Fronteriza,” which seems a fitting way to describe a poet, advocate, and activist who has extended herself as a bridge between languages, cultures, and genders for many years. Her writing is populated by visionary imagery and thoughts that are bi-cultural at the very least.

Here is Donna in her own voice, in an excerpt from her latest book, Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal:

My two Diegos

There on the shelf beneath the blue glass bottles,
an altar to Santa Frida la dolorisima,
one of my special saints. She has left her mark on me,
imbued me with a certain mexicanidad.
She was rebel and rabble rouser, contraventional,
the surrealist in my woodshed.
Her blood runs in my veins,
her corazón visible and pierced
como San Sebastian, un venado espinado.
Her spirit is in me.

Having had the honor of a familiarity with Donna’s writing for a number of years, I can affirm that this is so. The spirit of Frida Kahlo lives on in the words of a woman who may very well be a living Sybil, while she is also a resident of El Paso, Texas.

In her latest collection, Donna brings us the fruits of a season of great sadness in her own life: she lost her husband, the painter Mario Colin, in 2013.

Hovering over my copy of Poemas ante el Catalfalco, I found myself deeply immersed in her emotional journey, and was struck by the potency of the words with which she mourns her losses, and yet embraces what may come. I provide some quotes below:

To Titian’s Ariadne

My body twists and turns in naked sorrow,
my love gone on his strange and lonesome journey,
without me.

 

Without purposeful intention

Now memory of red grows like weeds
between every thought. I learn to breathe,
and breathing learns my life.
It’s a vertical exposure
between here and the void.

According to Night Wing Publications,Donna Snyder publishes work in literary journals and anthologies throughout the United States and on-line, and has presented readings in Sitka, Alaska, Boston, New York City, Denver, and throughout New Mexico and Texas. In 2015, NeoPoiesis Press will publish her book, Three Sides of the Same Moon. She is currently working on a poetry collection for Slough Press. VirgoGray Press published her chapbook, I Am South, in 2010, due to be reissued in the coming year. Snyder is co-editor for poetry for Return to Mago, an international webzine. For Unlikely Books, she served as fiction editor of an anthology of international underground literature, Unlikely Stories of the Third Kind and edited I Can Sing Fire, a poetry chapbook by Anne Lombardo Ardolino. Snyder’s work as an activist lawyer advocating on behalf of indigenous people, immigrant workers, and people with disabilities has garnered widespread recognition.

Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal is scheduled to be released on September 18, 2014 by Chimbarazu Press.

Posted by Jillian Parker