Larissa Hernandez


Book Review 


Bio of the reviewer/interviewer:

Larissa Hernandez is a writer born in Eagle Pass, Texas and raised in southeastern Arizona. Larissa writes creative nonfiction that reflects her experience as a borderlands transplant, a mother, and a classic car enthusiast. Her scholarship includes thirdspace theory and reggaeton as a new discursive space within music. She holds a master’s degree in Literature, Creative Writing, and Social Justice from Our Lady of the Lake University. She has served as a staff editor for Eleven Rivers Review and The Thing Itself. She is currently a creative writing editor at The Journal of Latina Critical Feminism. Larissa currently lives in San Antonio, Texas with her son, dog, and pet rooster.

Editors' bios:

M.R. “Chibbi” Orduña is a Mexican-born, Texas-raised queer poet and actor, the founder of Laredo BorderSlam, a founding member of Write About Now, Executive Director and co-host of the Words and Sh*t virtual talk show and podcast, and 2-time San Antonio Slam Champion, winning 3rd place at the 2017 National Poetry Slam Group Piece Competition. He has self-published 2 books and was the co-editor of the anthology Contra: Texas Poets Speak Out (Flowersong Press, 2020). He’s toured across the country performing his work and is published in Defunkt Magazine, OutSmart Magazine, The Latino Book Review Magazine, The Journal of Latina Critical Feminism, and featured online on We Are Mitu, George Takei, SlamFind, Poetry Slam Inc, Button Poetry, and Write About Now. You can learn more at and follow him on IG @gemineyes and Twitter @gemineyespoetry.

Christopher "Rooster" Martinez is a writer and spoken word poet from San Antonio, Texas. he earned a MA/MFA from the Creative Writing, Literature and Social Justice program at Our Lady of the Lake University. In 2011, Rooster co-founded the Blah Poetry Spot, a local poetry open mic and community organization. He is a 2-time San Antonio Slam Champion, and part of the team that took 3rd place at the 2017 National Poetry Slam Group Piece Competition. His work has appeared in such publications as Write About Now Poetry, Button Poetry, The Huffington Post Latino Voices, Pilgrimage Press, and The Acentos Review. He has two books, A Saint for Lost Things, from Alabrava Press, and As it is in Heaven, from Kissing Dynamite Poetry Press. You can find him on IG and Twitter @roostmtz.

Contra: Texas Poets Speak Out

Edited by Christopher Martinez and Manuel Roberto Orduña

Flowersong Press, 2020.


Opening the entire anthology, Alexandra van de Kamp writes, “November is giving me the finger today/ but delicately.” Created out of an urgency to respond to a national crisis fueled by a deadly pandemic, racial injustices, and an administration intent on spreading lies before an impending election, Contra: Texas Poets Speak Out is an anthology that does not claim to offer answers but one that shouts out the rallying cries of an entire state that teeters on many different borders.


Comprised of over 70 poems by 40 different poets from around Texas, Contra unites in four sections: We Muse, We Disdain, We Riot, We Dream. Editors Christopher “Rooster” Martinez and Manuel Roberto “Chibbi” Orduña bring together established and new poets from the page and the spoken word stage in an effort to motivate audiences to register to vote in time for the most consequential election of our lifetime. The voices of Texas poets in Contra are alive and angered by lapses in government leadership and by the blatant disregard for human life at the hands of the very systems created to protect them. They reminisce about music television shows and voting power. They decry machismo and shout entire stanzas defending the inherent power of mujeres. In a state well known within the boundaries of preconceptions of its citizens, these poets transcend Texas stereotypes with bold words they use to ignite bonfires of rage, of pride, and of an unrelenting call to action with the eloquence and fierceness of a Texas Mockingbird. Contra calls for an entire nation to begin to hold itself accountable.


In the final section, We Dream, Tova Charles writes, “Thank you/ For making me funny/ Thank you for helping me keep all the rage inside of a laugh/ Thank you that laughter was the cure/ Thank you for making my tongue as sharp as my nails/ Thank you for making sure my words keep me alive… for now/ Amen.” While hope is typically a heartening way to bring an end to things, Contra poets do not shy away from the reality that this nation still has much work to do for communities of color, for black lives, for human rights, for immigrants, and for love in all its forms.


An interview with editors Chibbi Orduña and Rooster Martinez:


What motivated the creation of this anthology?

Chibbi: It may have been a feeling of stagnation: RGB had just died, 45 was spreading lies about voter fraud, the pandemic and lack of action, democracy crumbling, all of it. And as a writer, as an artist, unable to go out and do said art, we felt like we needed to find a way to merge our art and activism. We got to talking and knew that something needed to be done, at the very least so we showcase the voices of our state—and dare I say, this nation. We also felt like we weren’t alone in this feeling, but we had no way to be sure unless we took the first step.

Rooster: I had very unsettled feelings about the 2020 election. As if 4 years of a perpetual disgust, disappointment, anger, riot, depression cycle wasn’t enough, the unforgivable COVID-19 response, by the Trump administration, ruined life on every conceivable level. I’d thought back on my favorite musicians and poets who’d fostered the activist and rebellious spirit in me when I was much younger. I thought about how much the United States’ consciousness comes from bards, poets, and artists like Tupac, Bob Dylan, Nikki Giovanni, Amiri Baraka, Chuck D., Jimmy Santiago Baca, and countless others. I thought that’s who we need leading us in this moment of crisis. But on second thought, I realized they’ve already done that work; it’s our turn. We are responsible for the revolutions in this country now, be they physical, social, mental, spiritual, economic. So, I reached out to Chibbi and floated the idea of an anthology of writers with work that spoke to this moment in time, right now.


What was the brainstorming phase like?

Chibbi: Rooster came to me with the idea: an anthology of Texas poets talking their shit about the shit. We thought 10-15 poets, a chapbook of sorts. The end goal was not just the book, but the initiative to drive up voter registration and voter turnout, and the deadline for voter registration in Texas just over 2 weeks away. Knowing the time constraints, we assumed a lot of the folks we’d reach out to wouldn’t be able to submit in time for our deadline, so we cast a wide net. Combining my 15 years of involvement in the slam poetry scene and Rooster’s knowledge of Texas page poets we reached out to about 50 writers we thought had a foot in the subject matter, might already have something in the vein of what we were looking for, and knew were extremely talented. We were very conscious of making sure we had a blend of stage and page, as well as writers at every level of their craft, from the hobbyist, the professional, the undergrad, the educators, the published and unpublished: we wanted to make sure we showcased the diversity of Texas poetry. What originally had set out to be a small chapbook turned into a full-fledged book with over 70 poems.

Rooster: It happened so fast that the brainstorming phase materialized as we created. We sent out invitations to participate, made lists of potential poets to ask, and considered who we could collaborate with while considering what to call the book, the tone we’d like to see, who could create a cover, layouts, and such. Once we decided to do it, we had no time to sit too long with an idea. Chibbi and I had to really lean into creative instincts and the energy of writers who’d agreed to participate in the project to guide where it ended up.


You collaborated with Write Art Out, Flowersong Press, and Gemini Ink. What did you consider when deciding on who to partner with?

Chibbi: We wanted to keep it in the family. San Antonio and South Texas are a close-knit community. San Antonio is also one of the 10 largest cities in the country, but for some reason lacks the reputation of a hub of talented artists and writers. This was going to be homegrown and grassroots to its core. This also influenced our choice to make MOVE Texas the recipient of all the proceeds of the first printing of this book. We wanted an organization that was green and growing, out in the streets doing the work to motivate and uplift.

Rooster: Chibbi and I knew we didn’t have the time to sell people on the idea of the anthology. We needed concrete “yes” or “no” answers, fast. Flowersong was crucial to getting the ball rolling in that regard. I knew Edward Vidaurre fairly well and am a great admirer of his commitment to vision in regard to Flowersong and the Rio Grande Valley. I felt confident that we had a project on our hands that people would find interesting but not necessarily one that people would, almost blindly, jump in considering the quick turn-around involved. So, we reached out, and we were excited when Edward immediately agreed on participating in the project. Gemini Ink has a great network of writers and readers who we wanted to inform and get the word out to. Alexandra van de Kamp, much like Edward, agreed and was willing to help however we needed.


What was the process like reaching out to the different poets featured in this work?

Chibbi: It was an overall and resounding yes from everyone we reached out to. Given our history in the field, the majority were writers we personally knew, but we definitely shot a couple of Hail Mary’s that paid out. We wanted writers we admired, no matter their background or publication history, and that had some tie to Texas whether current or past residents. And most importantly, we wanted writers that had something to say. It is by no means an exhaustive list of all the poets we believe deserve to be featured in something like this, but the end result I think I can confidently say is a beautiful cross-section of Texas poetry. From award winners like Naomi Shihab Nye and Buddy Wakefield to past and present Poet Laureates to slam veterans to academically acclaimed to the next generation of upcoming writers like Aris Kian and Ayokunle Falomo, I think we captured the spirit of this nation’s writers.

Rooster: Collecting the poets for this anthology was a mad dash. We created an early list of who we wanted, thinking that most would probably not be interested. However, the poets were interested. They were glad that something was happening like this project. Poets begat more poets, and soon the list was tremendous.


This is a collection of Texas poets. Do you think there is something unique to be observed in being a poet from Texas?

Chibbi: For sure! I know all the other states hate our Texan pride, but I definitely think Texas is the most American state in the nation. It’s definitely one of the most diverse with metropolitan areas like Houston, DFW, San Anto, and Austin, has the richness of a time before colonization, and a vast and thriving rural area. And as we’ve seen in the past few years, it’s becoming a solidly purple state on a political spectrum. There’s a connection to the land and bond of the people. And I think especially an appreciation of intersectionality: it’s hard to go anywhere in Texas that isn’t defined in some way by two or more cultures coming together, even if you can’t see it at surface level.

Rooster: I believe so, for all the same reasons that Chibbi stated. In my own life, I’ve traveled throughout Texas and seen how unique each part of it is. Many formative years of mine were in the Central Texas, Killeen/Copperas Cove/Fort Hood area; I often visited Austin and had fun there; I have family and many friends in Houston and East Texas and spent a fair amount of time out there. Poetry also took me to other parts of Texas I’d never been and all that provided a unique sense of things that I’d might not have had if I’d only grown up in San Antonio. There is so much to love and discover here, and I believe the rest of the country is starting to come around to that.


Is there some insight you hope a Texan or non-Texan audience will gain from having read this anthology?

Chibbi: We’re not all cowboys? I think the totality of the poems do an incredible job of capturing the humanity of the moment. Yes, these were all Texas poets in some sense, but before that we are human. Ideally, it’s a book that can bridge divides. It’s no secret that the book leans left, but the sentiments expressed are not political but humanitarian. That’s what’s missing in today’s political discord: we polarize each side into caricatures of a platform instead of seeing them for the real people living with real issues that they are.

Rooster: I feel as though, in the minds of the rest of the country, to be a Texas writer means you speak—a lot of times—to the total experience or spirit of Texas. And in artistic and literary circles that spirit is often seen as: white, cowboy, Red State, gun toting, conservative, Christian, and problematic. On a certain level, I believe Contra highlights the vastness of this state in terms of space, voice, experience, history, diversity, perspective, etc. New York writers delineate themselves by boroughs; California writers are distinctive based on region and ethnicities; my hope is that scholars and audiences will accept Texas in similar, non-monolithic ways.


Included in this anthology’s mission is the use of art “in direct Opposition to fascism and anti-democracy.” What role do you think artist and poets have in promoting activism?

Chibbi: The difference between journalism and poetry is that journalists write about the facts; poets write about the emotion of the moment. This is what humanizes the political climate. Poets more than anything—I think—are charged with being the historians that contextualize the why behind the what.

Rooster: I think, in the context of this moment—the anthology, the election, and Trump, being pro-democracy was still very much rooted in survival and not necessarily pro-politics or pro-“the systems as they currently stand”. I think artists have an obligation to that idea of survival—survival of the human spirit, nature, beauty, each other, love, humankind, family, country, history, themselves; whatever the case may be. The poems in Contra speak to all those themes.


What hopes do you have for this anthology and the future of Texas and Texas voters?

Chibbi: Humanizing the other. Bridging divides. Dissolving delusional conceptions of American exceptionalism. Realizing that real change only happens if you make it happen. As you can see, I have lofty ideas as to the power of poetry. Naïve and idealist? Maybe. But we gotta start somewhere. I want the anthology to inspire people to do the work. We were very strategic in the layout and order of the poems so that, hopefully, if you read it cover to cover you’ve had a moment to reflect, react, rebel, and are ready for the next steps.

Rooster: Truthfully, I hope this anthology lands in the hands of young readers, young college students, inside and outside of Texas. I think poetry is an often-misrepresented art, and I’d like this book to change that. Contra has so many diverse voices, poems and personalities that it can be read and understood in a variety of ways. I think that is how we grow as a state—both within ourselves and in the eyes of others in this country. We have grown beyond the longstanding myth of Texas and come to be appreciated for who we are today.

© The Acentos Review 2021