"Chicano writers from El Paso are the most progressive, open-minded, far-reaching, and inclusive writers of them all."

Octavio Romano

Friday, July 30, 2010

Crazy Gypsy by Luis Omar Salinas - a fortune telling of good poetry to come by poet -- The Fresno School of Poetry

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We continue our look at the “zero” years and here's our review of Luis Omar Salinas' Crazy Gypsy.

Collection Shows the 
Seeds of Great Poetry to Come 
from Iconic Chicano Poet

by Raymundo Eli Rojas

Crazy Gypsy is one of the classics of Chicano Poetry. Published in 1970, it was one of the first collections of poetry by a Chicano in the Chicano Renaissance.

Like Tigre Perez' collection Free, Free at Last published the same year, Crazy Gypsy reflects its time.

The book has poems dedicated to Ernesto "Che" Guevara, poems on the Viet Nam War, and are mostly English-language poems with two poems in Spanish.

The title poem starts off the collection:

I am Omar
the crazy gypsy
nimble footed
and carefree

I write poems
on walls
that sleep
and go away

I meet fearless girls
who tell me
their troubles
my loneliness
bottled up in their

Crazy Gypsy also present us one of the first collections of poetry by a Chicano (at least in the Renaissance era) who “studied” poetry. I am not exactly sure when Salinas began attending Fresno State University (then Fresno State College), but Crazy Gypsy is introduced by Robert Mezey, who taught at Fresno State University.

Because of this, I assume Salinas was already there by 1970. 

However, Salinas had already published individual poems before 1970, and Crazy Gypsy includes a segment called “Early Poems, 1964-1967.” We know that before Salinas got to FSU, he studied poetry under Henri Coulette at California State University Los Angeles.

Salinas, though leaving Robstown, Texas in his mid-teens, the town remains in Salinas' mind as he describes the prejudices of this small-Texas town. 

In the poem “Robstown,” Salinas reminiscences a 1947 event (Salinas would have been 10 years old):

Mother why do they look
at us like


Anitas brother
has a Congressional
and they
serve him
at Texas

Salinas personifies a river in the poem “The River”:

After a year
the river became
it was a friend
and great comforter.

Focus on segregation, Chicanos being killed in Viet Nam, among other topics, the book is divided into several sections: Early Poems; Guavara 1967-1968; 1968; an unnamed section that has poems on Robstown, Mexico and Viet Nam; and another unnamed section which begins with the poem “Novembver 1969”:

Poems stolen from the stomach of stars
written under decadent trees
and whimsical women

In that last section, one poems has a rallying cry for Fresno State: “Fresno State/stand up and/fight. Poets/defend your lives.”

The last two poems in the book are the only in Spanish. “Otono” shows the level of mastery Salinas had in verse by 1970:


Silencioso diciembre
pasas como nube
dentro del alma
acobijada de ilusiones
llenas de almidon
mi sangre
y come saldada
te marchas
y entras dentro
de misteriosas

Though most readers and scholars have concentrated on Salinas' English-language poems, Salinas shows excellence in both languages in Crazy Gypsy.

Like some reviewers have mentioned, there are some typos in the manuscript -- at least in the first edition. The book was published by Origenes Publication, which seems to have been associated with La Raza Studies at Frenso State. I am not one to concentrate on typos, especially in early Chicano Renaissance books that were mostly self-published, or published on recently-born Chicano presses and/or university series. 

When this collection was put together, there was only one known Chicano poetry collection, and that was Lalo Delgado's (1969), so read Crazy Gypsy remembering the time it was written in.

Also, poets and scholars should not ignore this book. While I was reading it, I pulled down from the shelf my copy of Elegy for Desire (University of Arizona Press, 2005) by Salinas. 

It is amazing what 35-45 years does to a poet. The maturity. The growth. The consciousness. One can see the evolution Salinas' poetry has gone through.

I must admit, when I was first introduced to Salinas, it was Prelude to Darkness (which goes for $300 on Amazon.com by the way) and Darkness Under the Trees/Walking Behind the Spanish and I did not sit well with me. 

However, I blame myself. Sometimes one is not ready to absorb stuff and when you go back and read stuff after the years have passed, you find you're a different reader.

Nearly 15 years later, I am a different reader, furthermore, and I can show more appreciation for this great poet -- and this is appreciation that other readers will also discover.

Notes on Luis Omar Salinas

Above, Luis Omar Salinas. Photo courtesy of
Karen (Harlow) McClintock

 Luis Omar Salinas died in 2008 and he was greatly eulogized by his colleagues. The “Uprights Against the Savage Heaven” blog has a short interview with Salinas written on the occasion of Salinas' passing: Click here to read it.

Christopher Buckley (UC Riverside) also wrote an elegy for the AWP which contains much more analysis of Salinas' poetry than I can give: Click here.

Hypertext.com also has very good bio on Salinas: Click here.

To the best of my knowledge, Ivan Arguelles and Salinas, are the only poets of Mexican extraction to be nominated for the Pudding House Publication's “Greatest Hits” series. The selection criteria for “Greatest Hits” is:

A poet must be nominated in order to have a POETS GREATEST HITS™ collection published. The Poets Greatest Hits™ national panel members may each choose 4 poets a year for this archive but the average inducted per year is approximately six in all. Panel members make hose selections with absolute authority and do not have to be approved by anyone else including each other or Pudding House Publications.

Additionally, every poet inducted is allowed one nomination in his/her lifetime. The poets nominated create a pool of candidates who are considered for selection. The project editorial management chooses some poets from that pool of candidates. Like other prestigious awards, it is an honor just to be nominated. Most nominees are not chosen.

No unsolicited manuscripts are acknowledged or appreciated. If a poet approaches the panel or Pudding House editors soliciting inclusion they could become ineligible in the future.


Luis Omar Salinas is associated with the so-called “Fresno School” of poets. Of Chicano poets in this group, Gary Soto, Ernesto Trejo, Juan Felipe Herrera, and Leonard Adame are included in this group.

The term “Fresno School,” according to Stephen Barile, comes from the book How Much Earth: The Fresno Poets, co-edited by Christopher Buckley. The book description states:

"In 1958, Philip Levine arrived at what is now known as California State University, Fresno, fresh from his studies with Yvor Winters at Stanford, and set out to build a poetry curriculum. Soon, he invited other talented poets to join him. What emerged over the next forty years became one of the most important regional American poetry movements of the second half of the twentieth century. Some of these writers were born or grew up in Fresno or the surrounding communities in the Central Valley. Some came to Fresno to study. Some were not students at all, but poets who were caught up in the excitement that spilled over to the community at large. Many have gone on to careers as poets, teachers, and editors influential in contemporary poetry"

The first colleagues Levine recruited were Robert Mezny and Peter Everwine. Juan Felipe Herrera also taught at FSU.

Later poets coming out of FSU (graduate and undergraduates) include Dixie Salazar, Roberto Vazquez, the late Andres Montoya, Daniel Chacon, Blas Manuel de Luna, David Dominguez, and Ana Garza among others.

Above, Dixie Salazar 
Stephen Barile posted a post to the FSU MFA blog:

== There is no "Fresno School of Poetry." This term came from the
introduction to "How Much Earth," an anthology of Fresno poets
published in 2000. Mark Jarman, who wrote the introduction, made
reference to something like a Fresno School of Poetry existing from the
community of Fresno poets. The editors, Buckley, Oliveira and Boston,
in some advance material when the book was published, reiterate the
vague reference of Jarman.

There is no "school" in the sense of the "New York School of Poetry,"
otherwise Fresno poets would be writing alike. And thank gawd, none of
the over 70 or so poets in the world with links to Fresno, write
alike. Even though, I think we'd all like to write like Larry Levis or
Phil Levine.

There is a school FOR Fresno poetry, and it has been Fresno State since
the arrival of Philip Levine in 1958, who put Fresno on the map for
poetry. But there is also the Fresno City College poetry-writing
program, of which DeWayne Rail was a part of, and is Lee Herrick and
others now teach. ==

The Fresno State effort was an undergraduate poetry-writing program
Levine started that grew with the arrival of Peter Everwine and Chuck
Hanzlicek. In 1992, the poetry-writing program became an "MFA"
graduate program. Connie was here by then, and Chuck was the director
after the MFA program started. Chuck retired in 2001, and Connie and
Liza took over. Now, in addition to Connie, we have Tim Skeen joining
the ranks and bringing his individual poetry-writing-style to the
community of Fresno poets, and for the benefits of the students.

I hope this provides some enlightenment about the notion of a Fresno
School of Poetry, it truly is the community of Fresno poets.

Stephen Barile

I'm not sure if the phrase "Fresno School of Poet" was first used in How Much Earth. At least for the Chicano poets, I'd agree with Barile that Soto, Trejo, Salinas, and do not write like each other, so the term “school” as used in the traditional sense in writing and music, may not fit.

However, doesn't it sound nice to say – “Fresno School of Poetry.”

For the FSU MFA Program, click here.


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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the post on Luis Omar Salinas, a wonderful poet.
Like Luis Omar, there is no other.

Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal