by Francisco X. Alarcón
For beloved writer and mentor Francisco X. Alarcón, the collection Snake Poems: An Aztec Invocation was a poetic quest to reclaim a birthright. Originally published in 1992, the book propelled Alarcón to the forefront of contemporary Chicano letters.
Alarcón was a stalwart student, researcher, and specialist on the lost teachings of his Indigenous ancestors. He first found their wisdom in the words of his Mexica (Aztec) grandmother and then by culling through historical texts. During a Fulbright fellowship to Mexico, Alarcón uncovered the writings of zealously religious Mexican priest Hernando Ruiz de Alarcón (1587-1646), who collected (often using extreme measures), translated, and interpreted Nahuatl spells and invocations.
In Snake Poems Francisco Alarcón offered his own poetic responses, reclaiming the colonial manuscript and making it new. This special edition is a tender tribute to Alarcón, who passed away in 2016, and includes Nahuatl, Spanish, and English renditions of the 104 poems based on Nahuatl invocations and spells that have survived more than three centuries. The book opens with remembrances and testimonials about Alarcón’s impact as a writer, colleague, activist, and friend from former poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera and poet and activist Odilia Galván Rodríguez, who writes, “This book is another one of those doors that [Francisco] opened and invited us to enter. Here we get to visit a snapshot in time of an ancient place of Nahuatl-speaking ancestors, and Francisco’s poetic response to what he saw through their eyes.”