Poetry has the ability to challenge the status quo, to help its readers make sense of the world and their humanity, and ultimately, poetry changes the world we live in and how we view it. Latin American poets through the years have helped us understand our identities through their words and Latinx poets today are diversifying voices within Latinidad in the U.S. From Natalie Diaz to Carmen Giménez Smith to Janel Pineda, these Latinx poets are sharing their stories and amplifying Latinx stories in the process.
As poet, writer, and professor Sonia Sanchez once wrote: “All poets, all writers are political. They either maintain the status quo, or they say, ‘Something’s wrong, let’s change it for the better.'”
In honor of World Poetry Day, we’ve rounded various Latina voices who do just that — who challenge institutions and oppressive systems through their poetry while at the same time, exploring the nuances of our humanity and personal experiences. Check out the 7 poetry books by Latina authors you should be reading right now.
Los Angeles-bred Salvadoran poet and educator, Janel Pineda is a force to be reckoned with. Pineda has performed her poetry internationally and been published in LitHub, PANK, The BreakBeat Poets, Vol. 4: LatiNext, and The Wandering Song: Central American Writing in the U.S. — to name a few. Most recently, Pineda published her debut chapbook, Lineage of Rain.
Published and sold by Haymarket Books, Lineage of Rain “traces histories of Salvadoran migration and the U.S.-sponsored civil war to reimagine trauma as a site for transformation and healing.” But at its heart, the poetry book is an homage to strong women; it’s filled with love letters to mothers, sisters, and daughters.
A self-proclaimed Xicanx pocha, Sara Borjas is a Fresno poet based in Los Angeles. Her work can be found in Ploughshares, The Rumpus, Poem-a-Day by The Academy of American Poets, and The Offing. She was also named one of Poets & Writers 2019 Debut Poets and is the recipient of the 2014 Blue Mesa Poetry Prize.
Her debut collection of poetry, Heart Like a Window, Mouth Like a Cliff was published by Noemi Press in 2019 and received a 2020 American Book Award. Heart Like a Window, Mouth Like a Cliff explores the complicated line between cultural assimilation and the pressure to “act” Mexican.
Through her unique poems Borjas holds cultural traditions accountable and challenges the pressures and expectations that Chicanx women face within their families and in society.
Born and raised in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California, Natalie Diaz is a 2018 MacArthur Foundation Fellow, a Lannan Literary Fellow, and a Native Arts Council Foundation Artist Fellow. She currently teaches at the Arizona State University Creative Writing MFA program.
Her first poetry collection, When My Brother Was an Aztec, was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2012. Most recently, she authored Postcolonial Love Poem, published by Graywolf Press in 2020, and was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Poetry.
Postcolonial Love Poem explores the wounds inflicted by America onto an indigenous people and through these poems, these very wounds are allowed to “bloom pressure and tenderness.”
Carmen Giménez Smith
New York-bred, poet Carmen Giménez Smith is the daughter of South American immigrants. Smith writes lyric essays as well as poetry, and is the author of the poetry chapbook Casanova Variations, the full-length collection Odalisque in Pieces, the memoir Bring Down the Little Birds: On Mothering, Art, Work, and Everything Else. Her most recent collection published in 2020, Be Recorder was shortlisted for both the National Book Award and the PEN Open Book Award.
Through Be Recorder, Smith explores a range of subjects including capitalism, the exploitation of immigrant workers, and through her writing, demands renewal for a world made unrecognizable.
Natalie Scenters-Zapico is the author of Lima :: Limón published by Copper Canyon Press in 2019 and The Verging Cities publishing by Colorado State University in 2015. Zapico is also the recipient of various awards and fellowships from CantoMundo, the Lannan Foundation, and a Ruth Lily and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. She currently lives in Tampa, Florida, and teaches at the University of South Florida in the Department of English.
Zapico’s Lima :: Limón is a poetry collection that’ll stop you in your tracks and make you sit with each poem or line break for minutes at a time to fully process what you just read. From the book’s synopsis, the poetry collection’s poems are “set within the liminal geography of the poet’s hometown Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua and El Paso, Texas, Lima :: Limón fiercely questions machismo and marianismo, cultural norms that give way to gender violence and a blind eye turned to femicide.”
Melania Luisa Marte is a Black poet from New York living in the Dominican Republic. Her poetry explores many subjects including her Caribbean roots, Black feminism, and self-love.
Her work has been featured in Ain’t I Latina, The Root, Teen Vogue, Facebook, Telemundo, and many more. You might also recognize Marte’s voice from when she co-narrated Dominican poet and author Elizabeth Acevedo’s latest audiobook, Clap When You Land.
Erika L. Sánchez
You may know poet, novelist, and essayist Erika L. Sánchez as the author of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, but before that, she published a collection of poems, Lessons on Expulsion.
Published in 2017, Lessons on Expulsion tells her own story through her poems of a daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants and as part of a family steeped in faith, work, grief, and societal expectations. Her poems also explore sex, shame, race, and an America reckoning with xenophobia, violence, and laws of suspicion and suppression.