Forgotten Race Saving Grace, a collection of lucid dream poetry, 2015
Hold Still Please, a collection of love poetry, 2012
Review by Douglas Magdalena Merchant, Linguist, Barefoot In Life
Like many another social movement, feminism is redefined by every generation and in every cultural milieu; even its most revered exponents seem unsure what the landscape of gender will look like in the end. In her widely overlooked album Night Ride Home, Joni Mitchell asks “who you gonna get to do the dirty work / when all the slaves are free?” This is the same question every revolution must eventually grapple with, however reluctantly; else the friction will slow it to a crawl.
Poets, both by nature and by profession, tend to be more comfortable dealing with contradictions than social theorists, and so you can often find them on the frontier. It's dangerous work, though, and Hold Still Please, a new volume of poetry by Tucson filmmaker-poet Tina Huerta, is a memoir of such scars. They say there's no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole; Huerta's poems ask what it means to be a feminist in love. “You never let me forget / that I am a woman,” she writes at one point, the degree of her irony wryly indeterminate. Elsewhere, the poet proudly subverts her lover's take on their encounters:
He gathered me up / in his whirlwind visit / to this dusty town,
I left him sleeping / undisturbed to my/ morning schedule.
If there really is a war between the sexes, Huerta seems intent on eking out a life in the demilitarized zone. Watchful, as one must be, but contemplative, even curious:
He's such a puzzle. / I'm so intrigued, / I've become immersed /
with his strategy.
Huerta is the daughter of former DES Director John Huerta, and comes from a prominent Tucson family; her grandparents, uncle, and cousin ran Tucson's La Fuente Restaurant for decades. In these poems, though, her heritage seems hardly distinct from that of any child of the 1970's. In “Finding Mr. Goodbar,” Huerta memorializes a “white skin, blue-eyed” man she calls “Crazy Vato:”
You wanna make milk carton airplanes/ with GI Joes parachuting out/
rescuing Barbie from the burning doll house/ in the hallway? / God I'm in love!
Visually, this is one of the more stimulating little tomes of poems I've come across. The lines tango over black-and-white photographs of nude, intermingled bodies: curves, crevasses, languid limbs. (Huerta herself posed for the pictures, and writes on her website that she insisted to the publisher, Tucson's Igloo Press, that her “stretch marks would remain.”) But this isn't pornography; photographer Will Turner stops a few inches short of explicit with every image. This aesthetic reflects that of the poetry itself, which never really crosses the line from erotic to graphic. “Ethereal Rein” is about as close as Huerta gets to describing coitus:
I open my eyes / with comforting vision / to see him rising/ from my abdomen
lagoon. / His sighing awe/ captures my life stream breath/ and I lose my mind /
to the continual circular stride.
Sex aside, Huerta's poetry is most affecting when it addresses the conflict between an artist's romantic drive and her spiritual/creative one, as in these great, evocative lines from the back-cover poem “A Rose”: “I hear the world / through your parapet / high in a meadow.” This tone is echoed in “Solution,” my favorite poem of the bunch. Huerta speaks of her “misconscrewed inflections / and confusing genuflections,” and then winds herself into a soft, plaintive plea:
Just tell me what you want/ in exchange for/ my crumpled sanity
Huerta describes Hold Still Please as “spiritual feminist sensual poems.” New Age phrases abound, and many titles sound like obscure Santana tracks (“Soul Twin,” “Scorpio Delight,” “Meta-Morphosis”). At times, I found this aspect of her work a little off-putting. But it's undeniable that Huerta's poems display a remarkable thematic consistency, considering that they were written over a period of twenty years. “That's the story of my life,” she seems to be saying, as each poem recapitulates its predecessor. Nonetheless, she discovers something new each time around. For Huerta, it seems, feminism and love both are flexible notions, amenable to experience.
Ultimately, Hold Still Please pries at the heart of a contradiction which has often plagued the feminist artist, from Diane di Prima to Ani Difranco. To wit: it just feels anti-feminist to idolize and romanticize men, the scions of the patriarchy. . . yet if men idolize and romanticize women, how can it be anti-feminist to assert the same prerogative? If you've ever asked yourself this question, and if you can hold still for the five minutes it takes to absorb a poem. . . well, you might just walk away a little more comfortable with your own contradictions.