Julio Enriquez-Ornelas

Latinx Visual Poetry in Times of Crisis: Performing Disruption in Carlos Andrés Gómez’s Hijito (2019)

Review: Gómez, Carlos Andrés, and Martín Espada. Hijito. Platypus Press, 2019.



Julio Enriquez-Ornelas is a writer and critic. He received a B.A. in English and Spanish from Wabash College. After completing his Ph.D. from the University of California-Riverside in 20th to 21st century Latin American literature, he went on to be a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Millikin University where he was named a Coleman Foundation Fellow and James Millikin Estate-Professor in Education. His scholarly and creative work has appeared in Hispaniaournal of the Midwest Modern Language Association, J, Textos HíbridosAlchemy: Journal of Translation, , El BeisMan P, andaloma Revista. Twitter: @EnriquezOrnelas

Hijito (2019) is a poetry collection by Carlos Andrés Gómez. Hijito is divided into two sections and composed of fifteen poems. Visually each section mirrors the other in structure. In it, Carlos Andrés Gómez puts forth a collection of Latinx visual poems. Through the use of spacing, the poet performs a visual disruption. I interpret Carlos Andrés Gómez’s collection of poetry as the figurative representation of the current disruption experienced in Latinx communities. In the introduction of the collection of poetry, Martín Espada sustains we are in “[a] time when racial stereotypes—slandering those of Latin American origin or descent— influence social policy and public opinion in the U.S., […]” (Martín Espada, ix). Thus, Carlos Andrés Gómez’s visual poetry emerges out of a time of crisis and through performative visual poetry it seeks to make visible the violent disruptions in Latinx communities. 

The first poem in the first section titled, “Hijito” and “Mein Kampf has better reviews than One Hundred Years of Solitude” in the second section begin with undisrupted stanzas. In other words, the lines appear with a left indention and visually they can be seen as conventional representations of contemporary poems. In both sections, after the poems “Black Hair” (section 1) and “Race was not a factor,” (section 2), the visual representation of words in the poem shift; some of the lines are marked with spaces. These can be interpreted as extended pauses, silences, or separations.

The visual disruption on the page forces readers to consciously follow the lines, follow the spaces, which makes for a disrupted reading experience. For example, in the poem “Black Hair”:

I made a vow
         to join clustered
strands with these
         fingers, careful
as they are clumsy,
         submerged in this
delicate calculus. (Carlos Andrés Gómez, 13)

In content, the poetic voice reflects upon the act of braiding black hair, possibly for the first time.  Meanwhile, in the second section of the collection, this form of spacing emerges out of the poem titled, “Race was not a factor,”:

                  two legacies
ghost-stenciled into concrete, one shadow
sifted into ash. He sleeps at nigh—
regrets. His family as certain as the closed lid
of a coffin
they will be safe.
                           It happened, he says, it was
Unfortunate, It is
what It is.  
(Carlos Andrés Gómez, 32)

The shift in both sections takes places when the author’s poems begin to explore notions of race and ethnicity. When reading a poem in this style, the reader can opt to have a different reading experience, in other words, rather than reading from left to right, the reader can read from top to bottom almost jumping around the page or opt to read the lines that have been indented first, and then return to the rest of the poem. Also, the reader before initiating the reading experience might skim the page to become familiar with the unconventional form.

The brilliance in this style of writing, often considered visual poetry, is that the poems are an ocular representation of the current crisis and fragmentation faced by Latinx communities in the United States. For Martín Espada, “these poems are visceral, the stinging slap of memory jolting us awake” (ix), stemming out of “a time of crisis and fragmentation, seeking to reminds us all of “our common humanity” (ix). Indeed, Carlos Andrés Gómez’s poems imagine the present both from within and without. This sense of disruption in the poems intensifies by the last poem in both sections. In the first section, near the end of the last poem, “What Happened”. The reader encounters the following visual representation of language:

the same question   the              walks same in
the doorway                               question                                                   
flight           phone call   
                                                  his parents                      same
         question       the curtains           stayed drawn                   months
(Carlos Andrés Gómez, 20-21)

Similarly, in the second section, the final poem “Father” appears in the following form:

When her heart rate                  dropped by half               in less
than a minute,                           the population                         of our cramped
hospital room                           tripling                  in a handful of seconds,
I grasped for                             anything       that would keep me
Upright.                At first,        the wall:        cool and steady,
demanding my body                  ascend beyond                         what seemed
possible.                         Then,                   nothing,
(Carlos Andrés Gómez, 36)

This disruption from without, meaning our current political climate in which violence in every form—linguistic, political, fiscal, and sexual— seeks to tear apart Latinx communities is manifested in the form and content of Hijito.

The content echoes the very first spoken word poem I witnessed Carlos Andrés Gómez perform “What’s Genocide?” at Wabash College as an undergraduate student. I remember how for the first time, as a first generation Mexican American from the West Coast lost among the cornfields in Central Indiana, Carlos Andrés Gómez, spoke of the struggle and strife of my community, spoke of the rage and desperation brewing in me. Ever since his visit to Wabash College, I have followed all his work as a spoken word poet and as the author of Man Up: Reimagining Modern Manhood. With this memoir, I remember reading it as a graduate student in southern California and how it served as a blueprint on how to be in a modern world.

So, yet again Carlos Andrés Gómez’s writing deeply influenced the human I strive to be. Now, with Hijito in content and form his writing has reached a level of maturation, one in which the flow and rhythm of his spoken word poems as well as content and notions of masculinity found in his memoir make their way into his most recent collection of poetry, Hijito. Although none of the poems derive from this earlier work, it is clear that in it, Carlos Andrés Gómez continues to place the Latinx experience at the center, while always focusing on uplifting our community with thought provoking visual representations. Simultaneously, Carlos Andrés Gómez inserts himself in his poetry as a human striving to be a man and a father, all while never losing site of the current times in which racism and xenophobia are part of mainstream politics in the United States and around the world. 



© The Acentos Review 2019