Bob Moore interviews poet Maya Angelou after the death of her friend, El Paso poet Ricardo Sánchez. This article ran September 26, 1995:
'A dove with a bomb in is claws'
Angelou says love filled poet whom festival honors
By Robert Moore
Much of Ricardo Sánchez's poetry lashes out at a society he believes is bent on crushing his culture, his realities, his very existence.
But where most readers see anger, Maya Angelou sees love.
“You have to love somebody or love a thing to really articulate your disappointment, ...If you didn't love it, you couldn't be that angry with it,” says Angelou, a longtime friend of Sánchez, the El Paso poet who died Sept. 3.
Angelou, widely hailed as one of the world's great living poets, calls Sánchez “a peace dove with a bomb in his claws.”
El Paso will focus on the work of Sánchez who grew up in the city's El Barrio del Diablo, in this weekend's Border Voices '95 celebration at the University of Texas at El Paso and the civic center.
Angelou, a professor of American studies at WakeForestUniversity in Winston Salem, N.C., recently shared her views of Sánchez's legacy during a phone interview from her home.
Question: When did you first become familiar with Sánchez's work?
Answer: I was in San Antonio, I can't tell you exactly when, but I know Henry Cisneros was mayor. (Sánchez) had a column in the newspaper, and it just blew me away. I was amused and amazed and stimulated by it. So I bought a book and again, it just so delighted me. He was so strong and forceful. His voice was so evident in his work. So I went to meet him. I introduced myself, and he knew my work, so we just became friends, immediately, and agreed to be brotherly and sisterly with each other.
Q: What were the primary themes that struck you in his work?
A: His love of himself. That is, not himself, Ricardo, but himself the Mexican, the Spanish-speaking; the Latino, himself, the Pachuco. He loved being who he was and coming from the family he came from, and the community he came from.
And it wasn't passive love.. If I were to describe Ricardo, I would call him a peace dove with a bomb in his claws. (Laughter)
Q: Did his poetry give you insight as a non-Chicano into what it means to be a Chicano?
A: Absolutely. Absolutely. Also, I learned through his poetry the invasion of the Anglo world into the Chicano world – the unwelcome invasion. That is, the presence of prejudice and ignorance in the Chicano world. He never, as we know went gently.
Q: Did his poetry allow you to draw connections between what it is to be a Chicano and what it is to be an African-American or a woman?
A: I feel those connections when I read anybody, anybody good. ... I see through his poetry that human beings are more alike than we are unalike.
Q: Do you consider Sánchez to be among the premiere post-war American poets?
A: Oh yes, absolutely.
Q: More than just one of the best Chicano poets?
A: You see, being a Chicano was what he was born into. But being a poet was what he was born to be. He would have been a poet if he had been a cowboy on the Brazos. He would have been a poet if he had been a Bostonian. He was born to be a poet.
Q: Do you feel the genre of Chicano literature has been properly recognized?
A: No. Never.
A: Ignorance largely, Chicano poetry has not been marketed, and I don't mean just in the commercial way. What I've learned is that power has never been known to give up any of itself on a simple request of it.
The Chicano poets have to thrust themselves more aggressively, not just into the larger world of media, but in the Chicano community. Because quite often people recognize poetry but they don't know that's what they're recognizing. That is to say, they love what they hear but they don't realize that that's poetry. And by the means of poetry they stay alive and survive and thrive.
I love to read the poetry in Spanish and in English. I love to see how the poet translated his or hr words. I have letters from (Sánchez) where he tarts off writing to me in English and just flows right into Spanish and out from Spanish back into English and ends with “abrazos” or embraces and “su brother.”
Q: If someone were to ask you, “Why should I read Ricardo Sánchez,” what would you say?
A: I would say for enjoyment fist and then to learn more about one's own self. I would never say read Ricardo because you'll know more about what it's like to be a Chicano. First the enjoyment, because he was and dared to love. ...Then the reader, her second sensation will be personal, and she will think ponder, consider herself, “I wonder, would I feel that way?" or “Yes I felt that way.” I think that the encouragement for the reader is to read Sánchez and enjoy yourself.
A: Isn't Sánchez's work most noted for the anger he expressed, particularly toward the dominant society?
A: That anger comes from love. You have to love somebody or love a thing to really articulate your disappointment. ...If you didn't love it, you couldn't be that angry with it. You love the potential, you love what you know it could be, and should be and must be. Otherwise you can't get really angry. You ignore it if you don't really care for it.
Q: Do you think 200 years from now, your successors as professors of literature will be teaching Sánchez's work?
A: Oh, absolutely, and it won't be 200 years from now. Poets go in an out of fashion, just as do musicians, composers, sculptors, actors and so forth. So after death, there's a mad rush for Edgar Allen Poe or William Blake. People go in fashion and then they go out again, and then something happens and suddenly James Baldwin is popular again, and taught again.
But nothing is lost. It's not lost. This is the main thing to remember, that when a poet dies, he is not lost. That work is there. And sooner or later that work will come up again, it will rise in a pendulemic kind of way, and people will see it and study it and argue it and recite it. And then it will go away, somebody else will come up.
I could and did weep at the passing of Ricardo, but Ricardo will never be gone. His work is here.