This Old Poem #23:
Sandra Cisneros’ Old Maids
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 9/15/02

  Sandra Cisneros is a novelist, & poet who decries stereotypes even as she perpetuates them. She is an attractive woman who, for some reason, feels a need to play up the Hot Latina stereotype. She was poetry’s J. Lo before Jennifer Lopez: San Ro. Unfortunately, there is not a touch of irony in any of San Ro’s work. Nor is there a self-awareness in her attempts at humor. In other words- she bitches & moans, & does little else. Most of her ‘poetry’ is dependent upon her performance of it- & she ain’t bad at doing it. Although she does nothing to stand out from the 1000s of capable spoken wordists out there. But, hey, the Macarena went out years ago, honey- get with the times.
The, again, that would obviate her very raison d’etre. Here are some typical online snippets that explain/excuse San Ro’s artistic flaws, + my comments:

-Sandra Cisneros was born in Chicago in 1954, to a Mexican father and a Chicana mother; she has six brothers and is the only daughter in the family. She moved frequently during her childhood and visited Mexico often, to visit her paternal grandmother. Like Esperanza, the main character in The House on Mango Street, Cisneros recalls these moves as painful experiences: "'Because we moved so much, and always in neighborhoods that appeared like France after World War II--empty lots and burned-out-buildings--I retreated inside myself'"
  Boy, San Ro really sets herself apart from other poets with this bombshell.

-She earned a BA in English from Loyola University of Chicago in 1976. However, it wasn't until working on her master's degree at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop in the late 1970's that she says she found her particular voice, as a working-class, Mexican-American woman with an independent sexuality. The experience of recognizing her difference from other students at Iowa eventually led to the writing of The House on Mango Street....
  This is the attempt to convey the apotheosis of San Ro from babe on the loose to goddess of wisdom. The supposed ‘independence’ of San Ro is interesting to note, for as we shall see her work is wholly generic.

-In the introduction to Alfred A. Knopf's 1994, ten-year anniversary reprinting of her House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros recalls what initially inspired the now internationally acclaimed novel. As a graduate student in the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, Cisneros felt alienated by discussion of Gaston Bachelard's Poetics of Space. She says, "What was this guy talking about when he mentioned the familiar and comforting 'house of memory'? It was obvious he never had to clean one or pay the landlord rent for one like ours".
  This is the attempt to show how even the most inoffensive things can be oppressive to 1 who is ‘different’.

-Cisneros has in many ways become the representative Chicana in the reconstruction of the canon....
  Of course, San Ro rejects her anointment. In fact, she rails against it- but not for the right reasons- that it’s further stereotyping, but because it took so long- both for her, & Latinas in general!

-Cisneros says adamantly that she is determined not to sell out: "'I mean to raise hell, and I think my stories do. I'm very curious to see how they will be understood or misunderstood. The people they're really for are the Latinos. They'll get the subtext'"
  Boy, another Rimbaudian- who’d’a thunk it? At least she admits her ‘art’ lacks artistic aims- it’s merely political rhetoric. No? What do you think this really means: ‘The people they're really for are the Latinos’?

-In March 1991, Publishers Weekly ran an interview with Cisneros devoting significant space to discussion of My Wicked, Wicked Ways and her "bad girl" sexual politics. Cisneros "poetically unravels" gender stereotypes, says the author, and quotes Cisneros: "'I'm the mouse who puts a thorn in the lion's paw,' she says, with an arch smile reminiscent of the red-lippedsonrisa on the cover of My Wicked Wicked Ways . . . a collection of poetry celebrating the 'bad girl' with her 'lopsided symmetry of sin and virtue'"
  Again- she’s BAD! Got it?

-Cisneros now does have a house of her own--a bright purple house, no less, in San Antonio. In July of 1998, The New York Times featured an article describing the furor raised by her neighbors--belonging to the the King William neighborhood association--who declared that the color is "historically incorrect." Arguing that purple is indeed historically correct--that it is a pre-Columbian color celebrating pride in Mexican heritage, Cisneros has refused to concede anything to the Victorians....
  More oppression & a need to be different. That the woman is nearing 50 & still feels a need to do the high school deal of coloring something brightly to say ‘Hey, what about me?’ says it all. & when will gringos leave her be?

-True to the biography included in the 1991 edition of House on Mango Street, she is still "nobody's mother and nobody's wife."
  Call the chiseler at the headstone company, please!

  So, San Ro has- since 1954- been setting the world on fire- according to San Ro. Like other poets, it took her years to find her own voice: ‘I rejected what was at hand and emulated the voices of the poets I admired in books: big male voices like James Wright and Richard Hugo and Theodore Roethke, all wrong for me.’ This is when she vowed to do the opposite of everyone else- please remember these vows when we hit the poem. She then embarked on the typical MFA’s political crusades. Wonderful.
  Guess what she loves to write about more than anything else? Recall- she’s hot & Latin. You got it. Well, take it- the poem, I mean:

Old Maids

My cousins and I, 
we don't marry.  
We're too old
by Mexican standards.  

And the relatives 
have long suspected 
we can't anymore 
in white.  

My cousins and I, 
we're all old 
maids at thirty.  


Who won't dress children, 
and never saints-- 
though we undress them.


The aunts, 
they've given up on us.  
No longer nudge--You're next.  


What happened in your childhood?    
What left you all mean teens?    
Who hurt you, honey?  


But we've studied 
marriages too long—


Aunt Ariadne, 
Tia Vashti,
Comadre Penelope,  
querida Malintzin,  
Senora Pumpkin Shell--  


lessons that served us well. 


  Boy, what an iconoclast! Let’s see- the poem is a complaint & lamentation. With this title we get the very expected- she tweaks sex & religion, mores & family- BUT ALL IN PREDICTABLE & GENERIC WAYS! There is nothing that individuates this from any other poet’s lament on a similar topic. No, the forced bilingualism does not do that- it’s just ‘token Spanish’- as is the mention of the poet’s ethnicity. Is anything done with these things to set them apart from a French or Inuit woman’s existence? No. Bilingualism (or polylingualism) works in poetry only when it seems to flow spontaneously out of a speaker’s persona or the narrative situation. Tell me, did you not see el Español coming a mile away? But, then, after all that- we end with an abominable cliché: lessons that served us well. Ugh!
  San Ro’s not a poet really. She’s a Latina Karen Finley, save for smearing herself in shit & chocolate. Then, again, at least KF has real vivacity. San Ro is all talk & no action. Let’s try to rescue her dreck.


Old Maids

My cousins and I, 
we don't marry.     

The relatives have long suspected
we can't anymore in white.  



The aunts, they've given up on us.  
No longer nudge- You're next.  


What happened in your childhood?
Who hurt you, honey?  


But we've studied marriages-


Aunt Ariadne, Tia Vashti, Comadre Penelope,  
querida Malintzin, Senora Pumpkin Shell-  




  You’ve read enough TOPs by now for me to not have to always point out the obvious structural flaws in the original. In the rework I have axed the redundancies & some clichés, & lessened the bilingualism by not having it start a series of lines. Does it flow naturally? No. But it is more natural than before. The end cliché has been trimmed. Still, the poem is predictable. But, I’m merely out to improve what’s there. Were I to really rewrite this poem I would be no better than old Cortés- who brutalized her ancestors &….Oh, wait a minute. Old Cortés was her ancestor- scratch that. It seems to be a losing proposition to insistently need to ‘rewrite’ history. Poems, yes. History, no. I doubt San Ro will heed that. Then again- she’s a hot, sexy Latina. Meow!!!!

Final Score: (1-100):

Sandra Cisneros’s Old Maids: 58
TOP’s Old Maids: 68

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