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First review of Everyday Chica

January 20, 2011

First review of Everyday Chica and I love it.  Read directly on Fiddler Crab Review or below and tell me what YOU think. I am a very happy chica.

18 January 2011

Everyday Chica

Everyday Chica
poems by Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés
Longleaf Press at Methodist University, 2010
28 pages, $8

Reviewed by Emily Scudder

Everyday Chica is confident. Everyday Chica is bold.  The cover design energizes, and the poems inside deliver the anticipated charge. Everyday Chica is the perfect storm –  poetry, person, and culture all colliding in free verse –  and Cuban-American poet Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés is in complete control.  She establishes her presence in the opening series of 5 autobiographical poems (below) that make up the entirety of chapbook’s first of three sections, titled Back When:

Back when I was Cuban
Back when I was a Jersey Girl
Back when I was an Exile
Back when I was a Quinceañera
Back when I was a Disco Queen

There is never a question of who is leading whom in this chapbook.  A disco queen’s lands are immense/She must dance with all her subjects – Milanés’ last lines of poem “Back when I was a Disco Queen” stopped me in my tracks.  Is it possible that the reader is one of her subjects as well?  Milanés  moves us from Cuba to New Jersey to Miami. She navigates us through her quinceañera, crosses cultures, weaves in Spanish with English, and grieves in full view, as in a stanza from her poem “Dónde está tu abuela?” 
Dónde estás? Did you leave me anything but the
            wild seed of your imagination? The desire
            to recover you? The ability to recreate you?

Rhythm is always underfoot, beating in poem titles, such as “Hombre, Hambre, Hembra,” or in lines like Ni los tipos on the corner/Ni las church ladies/Not sweet tías nor doting tios.  Ricky Ricardo and babalú mean music, while limón, mangoes, guanábana, and plátanos are a cultivated list of sounds. You first hear the “singing” in the opening poem, “Back when I was Cuban”:
Back when I was Cuban
            With no language but my mother’s and father’s tongue
A Cuban baby
            without words
            only a language that murmured and sighed
            a singing, a festive system of signs

There is never a lull, no valley of dullness, or poem that leaves you wondering What exactly does she mean?  Milanés  mixes it up, varies her line length, indents with ease, and make interesting use of the visual poem on the page. She writes the way she wants, about what she wants, and it works.  Everyday Chica is about an Everyday Girl, an Every Girl, a Cuban American Girl, and it is no surprise to read her dedication – “For all las Chicas and in memory of Lucille Clifton
So how does it end? With a Cuban American Manifesto! 

Cuban American Manifesto
(para Guillermo Portabales)

I want to write a Cubanische poem
full of rhumba, conga y chachacha
con azucar   sazon  café  tabaco  y salsa
a Cuban poem for those over there
a Cuban American poem for those over here
I want to celebrate our richness and complexity
and I figure you saw Mambo Kings
and Buena Vista Social Club
so you know a little somethin’ – somethin’ about Cuban culture
even though Armand’s American, Antonio’s a Spaniard
and why is Celia singing in English?
and Desi Junior can’t even speak Spanish
but maybe I’m splitting hairs
and why should you care?

I admit, I am partial to a well-written poetic rant. Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés sharpens her tongue in this 7 page poem, teaches us (non Cuban/Cuban Americans ) a thing or two, and does it with tremendous heart.  Her final lines….and my soul, mi corazón is/not for sale could have been her first. 
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