Brenda Cárdenas held her final event as Milwaukee Poet Laureate at the Milwaukee Public Library recently, promoting the work of five Latino poets.
In recent years, Latino literature and poetry have gained attention in Milwaukee with the help of Cárdenas, whose main job as laureate is to promote poetry in the community. Cárdenas has been poet laureate since 2010.
Entitled Cantos Latinos, the event featured poets Francisco Aragón, Xánath Caraza, Maurice Kilwein Guevara, Roberto Harrison and Emma Trelles, who read their work and spoke about their culture, background and what it means to them to be a Latino poet.
“I’m thrilled to be identified as a Latino poet and as a woman poet and as just a poet,” Trelles said.
Cárdenas said she chose the poets to reflect the diversity of Latinos in the United States and because she knew they were good performers.
“I’m a Latina poet and a Chicana poet. I feel that my work has been revealed and embraced by a lot of different kinds of people but especially Latinos,” Cárdenas said. “I wanted to give that support back to other Latino writers that they gave to me.
“I feel that literature and poetry is really growing and blossoming right now and I wanted to give it that exposure,” she continued.
A Milwaukee native, Cárdenas teaches English at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and has published four books including Boomerang, a bilingual full-length book of poetry published in November 2009. At the event, she said that she enjoys writing in both Spanish and English because it shows multiple sides of her personality.
The poets on the panel share Cárdenas’ passion for the Latino community and said they are excited about the growing popularity of Latino poetry.
“Although our poetry, historically since the 1960s, is born out of political and social struggle, perhaps now we have more freedom to write,” said Aragón. “The thing I’m excited about is that those of us who are Latino writers can write anything we want and not feel guilty for it.”
Audience member Jackie Reid Dettloff said she was struck by the poetry and the variety of voices on the panel.
Dettloff said she attended the event to connect more with her Latin roots.
“My mother’s family is Mexican and all my life I’ve been looking at and dealing with race and class,” Dettloff said.
“I have this longing—this yearning to connect with this legacy that is mine,” she continued.
Cárdenas said she was proud to end her laureateship with an event that brought exposure to the growth of Latino poetry, and now she is looking forward to the future.
“It’s been wonderful to meet all the people I’ve met and do readings and presentations all over the country,” Cárdenas said. “I’m looking forward now to being able to spend the summer writing another book of poems.”
Every two years the Friends of Milwaukee Public library chooses a local poet to serve as poet laureate. The new laureate has not yet been chosen.