A musical voice


Naomi Ayala’s observations of marginal lives reveal sadness and stillness, yet through poetry gain optimism


This Side of Early
Naomi Ayala
2008, Curbstone Press
63 pages

Reviewed by Georgina Jiménez

NAOMI AYALA’S poetry seems to come from the heart, in her case, that of a Puerto Rican woman looking at life in an emotionally distant land.

From her resurrection of past voices in “You in the Me of I”, her observations of marginal lives reveal sadness and stillness yet through poetry gain a glimpse of optimism, peace, and even musicality.

“Ironing” is a flat, narrative depiction of the 25-cents-a-piece chore of earning a living from doing the clothing, but has a rhythm that belies and rises above the mundane subject matter.

I was happy to coast
the heavy steamless iron
across the white
cotton of Social Fridays…

Ayala’s “In Adams Morgan, Two Years of Neighbourhood-Wide Reconstruction Come to a Halt for the Night” explores the impact of development on ordinary people:

We should be glad –
some people tell us –
life is precious, move on.
Other say poverty
is redemption: leave.
And waiting to wake
we stir all night. We pray.
Our father, god
of the cupboard and the ladle,
redeem us.

In the series called “Saved”, Ayala’s curiosity progresses to a more universal and spiritual perspective, which is crowned by the verses in the “Perfection” chapter, influenced by an earthy cosmology. In “Walking”, she writes:

I woke up a Bodhisattva
in the rain today –
meant to return to places
I have left screaming.

A good example of Ayala’s implicit solidarity with her own gender – no matter what the barriers of culture and language – is “Interiors”. She writes:

A woman dreams a dream,
not her life,
but often lives there.

But this empathy is not exclusive, and her eyes also come to rest on children as victims of war, and nature and life in the city as victims of urbanization.

Ayala’s lyricism exhibits a revelatory range of voices sharing a harmonious and gilded quality.

But one might say that her life is more poetic than this book, as her commitment to Hispanic education centred on self-reliance is a lifelong passion.

Until recently she co-ordinated the curriculum and instruction at the National Council of La Raza’s Center for Community Educational Excellence, and was programme director for Celebra la Ciencia: The Hispanic Community Science Festivals Project of the Self Reliance Foundation and the Hispanic Radio Network. Ayala is also a member of the board of directors of Teaching for Change, and is an adviser on its Teaching for Equity panel.

Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies around the US and has featured in the award-winning Beltway Poetry Quarterly of Washington, DC.

Georgina Jiménez is a freelance Mexican writer

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