Eric Murphy Selinger’s Guide to Latino Poetry on a Critical Budget


holy hanukkah!

have you read the essay at LPR titled “Gringo with a Baedeker, Cortez in Kevlar” by Eric Murphy Selinger?

javier beat me to the punch. (dont you just love javier’s perfectly pitched prose, even when he’s writing critically! you will forgive my bad english sentences after reading his post).

so all this week, i will be blogtiquing for 30 minutes a day selinger’s essay. dont forget to comment to encourage me (even if it’s just “hey mr blogger man, play your blog for me”)


First, close your pretty rhetorical eyes. Imagine that the DePaul University Research Council gave you money to purchase books, read, and write an essay on Latino Poetry. Who would not consider such an opportunity the greatest privilege? Who would not consider the responsibility that comes with such a privilege?

Selinger (Call him Nalgas de Vaca) thinks he’s funny: “I find myself hoofing it across terrain I’d planned to rule. I still hanker to hoist the flag of reading for pleasure–the Castle with Bookmark Rampant–over Hispanic American poetry. But the time I’ve spent with a coastal shelf of anthologies and collections has left me feeling less the conquistador and more the castaway.”


“Gringo with a Baedeker” is a funny way to introduce his essay: “For gringos of a certain age […] it can be hard to navigate the traditions we loosely group as ‘Latino poetry’ without some sort of Baedeker.” His essay poses as a Baedeker, but he also searches for various Baedekers, particularly in the introductions to various anthologies and collections.

Alas, he is disappointed in the shoddy, salsa-stained maps he finds: To some readers, those floricanto blossoms and their roots will seem as familiar as salsa—the music or the condiment, as you prefer. Alas, the introductions you’ll find in the collections themselves often seem written for aspiring pedants (“ideologemes,” anyone?), or, worse, for hipsters decked out in dancing shoes and revolutionary berets. Must we really attend to “the beat of the heat in this volume, stabbing-quick, so quick you can feel the blood come down the skin,” as Juan Felipe Herrera urges in the overwrought foreword to an otherwise excellent anthology, The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry? If we don’t, are we doomed to “the sterility of Anglo culture,” that “land of weirdos, electric freaks” who, as Cruz once scoffed in an essay, “sit mesmerized in front of screens and buttons…barking about having the freedom to do whatever nauseous things their lifestyles call for”? Spare me, gentlemen. There are poems to read, and grown-ups to read them. Where should we begin?”


First, Mr. Nalgas de Vaca, you can begin by giving proper respect to Herrera. fine if you want to bark back at Cruz for his scoff, but no need to infantalize Herrera’s sentiment.

Second, you can begin by growing up. “Cortez in Kevlar” is not funny. “Anonymous Poet of Pick-Your-Native-Nation” is not funny.

Third, you can rename your essay: “The Unbearable Whiteness of Reading”


TIME’S UP (i write slow)! more tomorrow if i am inspired by your comments.


4 thoughts on “Eric Murphy Selinger’s Guide to Latino Poetry on a Critical Budget

  1. I don’t have much to say, except that Javier’s post is one of the most intelligent and rigorously eloquent posts I’ve read in a long time. Really magnificent use of that most unwieldy thing: the modern critical apparatus.

    Thanks deeply for the link Mr. P.

    Apart from that: comment for comment’s sake!

  2. Thanks, Nicholas.


    I was thinking that maybe the main problem with Selinger’s essay is his failed attempt at humor. Being funny, clever is a natural talent. Some have it; some don’t. So I was thinking that the essay wouldn’t be so bad if his humor were successful. I wouldn’t mind the offensive nature of it, if it were funny.

    But you’re right. That “research” money comes with a responsibility.

  3. thanks for your l’comment pour l’comment. you give me strength to go.

    hey javier, yeah if it was actually funny, it might have been more enjoyable.

    tho i do feel there were other failings of the essay having to do with its overall structure as well as its readings of certain works (what i’ve teasing as his “limited critical budget”). also, i think the way the essay ends is entirely problematic.

    i was gonna blog about all this in more detail, but i’m worried because it seems that people are finding my email addy from somewhere online and i certainly dont need the bother–especially since i’m not so confident that i can be respectful at this point.

    see you soon,c

  4. Just came across your post, C– I had no idea the piece was up live yet.

    Anyway, for what it’s worth, “The Unbearable Whiteness of Reading” would have been a damned good title–I’m sorry I didn’t think of it myself. And you can bust my matzo balls all you want; seriously, I started this piece bone ignorant, and if I ended up skin-and-bone ignorant, making a fool of myself in the process, it wouldn’t be the first time.

    So–about the piece. Oy. I gather the humor fell flat. (Does it sound to you like someone joking about finding the final solution to the problem of Jewish American poetry might to me? I hadn’t thought it would, but I’m beginning to think I may be a world class idiot.) In any case, the “pick your native nation” thing was a jab at the false “inclusiveness” of anthologies that throw some Native poems in without any sense of the diversity of nations and traditions they come from, and the Kevlar–well, that was Sarah Cortez, who has an Ode to Body armor featuring the stuff.

    Damn. I hate not being funny. Getting old, folks. Getting old.

    Anyway, I could probably say as much about the problematic nature of the ending as anyone, but I’ll save that excoriation for my own blog, or my response at the LPR. Feel free to call me on anything you like, though, as Javier did. I actually appreciate being read & taken seriously. It doesn’t happen often.

    Until then!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s