Francisco X. Alarcón (1954-2016)
Francisco Alarcòn was a Chicano poet, who gained success in both the U.S. and Spanish-speaking nations, even though he wrote primarily in Spanish. Alarcòn was born in California but lived in Guadalajara, Mexico from the age of 6 until he returned to California at age 18. After working in California restaurants and as a migrant farm worker, Alarcòn graduated from California State University, Long Beach with a B.A. in Spanish and History. At Stanford University, he studied contemporary Latin American literature. While studying at Stanford, Alarcòn became part of the area literary community and began doing poetry readings. In 1985, he published his first book of poems, Tattoos. Studying on a Fulbright scholarship in Mexico City, he discovered Aztec incantations, which became the basis for his third volume of poetry, Snake Poems: An Aztec Invocation.
In 1985, Alarcòn also became one of the founders of Las Cuarto Espinas, the first gay Chicano poets collective, which published the collection Ya Vas Carnal. Alarcòn taught Spanish at UC-Davis and co-authored the textbook Mundo 21, still a popular text, published by Cengage. Alarcòn published poems in three languages: Spanish, English, and Nahuatl. His style is considered minimalist, though lyrical, with short lines and stanzas. According to the website for the Academy of American Poets, the poems “explore mestizo culture and identity, American identity, sexuality, Mesoamerican history, and mythology.” Alarcòn won the 1993 American Book Award, Carlos Pellicer-Robert Frost Poetry Honor Award, Chicano Literary Prize, Fred Cody Lifetime Achievement Award, and the 1993 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award. At the time of his death, in January 2016, Alarcòn was lecturer of Spanish and director of the Spanish for Native Speakers program at UC-Davis.
“To Those Who Have Lost Everything” (2002), “Prayer” (2002), and “‘Mexican’ is not a Noun” (2002) were published in Alarcòn’s 2002 collection The Other Side of Night [Del otro lado de la noche]. All are characteristic of Alarcòn’s style, written as a series of brief, unpunctuated verses with little capitalization. Each of the three poems also focuses on an aspect of Chicano culture: the experience of crossing the border into the United States, discrimination faced by Mexican-Americans, and efforts to protest unfair treatment.
Consider while reading:
- Identify the speaker in each poem—what is the tone of the poem? What emotion is the speaker expressing?
- Although these poems are brief, Alarcòn uses poetic techniques and figurative language. Identify the crafted elements you notice.
- What political or social statements does Alarcòn make in these three poems?
Written by Anita Turlington