Poems by Juan Felipe Herrera
(City Lights Books)
La Botella: 100 proof mata perro, street-killdog./100 proof skull in the toilet bowl, the glass, I mean/excuse me. 100 proof/devil on my left shoulder, the spice./100 proof, Mr. Chicago Club/conch-eyed sombrero Good-Bar/100 proof gypsy sequence film, the Venus de Milo/praying over the body, in a Yoga position, except/drowned, beneath the sugary signs, the capital T/the erect Q, the one you can't see, sticking you/with its deep-cupped crazy tongue.
In this palm-sized book, printmaker Artemio Rodríguez and poet Juan Felipe Herrera collaborate with each other, and also with tradition. Images and poems are based on the lotería, a Mexican game of chance that uses cards that are like bingo cards but far more fancifully illustrated and called out through poetry. The roots of the contemporary version of this game, still popular in Mexico, are linked to an Aztec game, patolli, blended with European and colonial influences of the lotería.
Knowing the history of the images offers an additional mode of appreciating the material, but the book works on an immediate level, without the historical understanding, too. Rodriguez's wood cuts are energetic, comical, and dark. The poems are jagged and associative, dancing on the page.