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Review: 'Pandemia & Other Poems' By Edward Vidaurre

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Edward Vidaurre is the 2018-2019 City of McAllen, Texas Poet Laureate.  He is the author of "Pandemia & Other Poems" published by Aztlan Libre Press.
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Edward Vidaurre is the 2018-2019 City of McAllen, Texas Poet Laureate. He is the author of "Pandemia & Other Poems" published by Aztlan Libre Press.

The first thing you notice when you pick up this slim volume is the image on the cover featuring a young girl facing one way, standing on a shore by the water’s edge. In the foreground, a man wearing a mask walks in the other direction.

These masks are ubiquitous now, but they never fail to surprise a little — still — to push us back toward the heart-sinking knowledge of the COVID-19 pandemic — its threat on our lives and livelihoods, its global stranglehold and its more local and personal assaults.

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Many writers have told me over these many months that it’s difficult for them to write, to act like the new normal is anything but a cloud over their workspace — one that scatters their focus and reshapes it into anxiety that impedes their work.

Edward Vidaurre worked through those barriers somehow to create Pandemia & Other Poems.

Divided into four main sections,  and spanning a spectrum of form the poems address the pandemic directly or tangentially as another in the long line of crises we’ve endured as a community and a country. Vidaurre offers us an aesthetic of the dignity of survival in the small moments of the everyday life eclipsed now by the effects of the pandemic and other dramatic issues of our time.

In an interview recently from his home in McAllen, Texas where Vidaurre was named poet laureate in 2018, Vidaurre pointed to Sandy Hook — the school in Newtown, Connecticut where on Dec. 14, 2012, where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults. 

Vidaurre says that listening to the story on the news was for him a call to action, a message he heeded to begin to use his poetry to bear witness to the crises of our times.

He has been moved also by the crises along the border where asylum seekers remain in detention centers and children are still separated from their families and housed in cages.

Many of the poems in this volume are about moving through a kind of surrendering to the grief of these seemingly insurmountable issues that have dragged on for longer than Vidaurre feared they could. He intersperses poems about morning coffee and the more quotidian elements of life that keep the wheels of a new normalcy turning with poems about unrequited love, junior high school, generation gaps, a reverie inspired by two dogs playing.

Many of the poems are about sleeping and dreaming, no doubt influenced by the documented ways that the pandemic and other anxieties disrupt us even in slumber and subconsciousness.

In the poem, “Images” Vidaurre ends with “I’m afraid, yet I work through these ghostly streets of uncertainty.” No it seems that Edward Vidaurre does not have the same lament of others who have told me that their creativity is stalled for now. 

The cover of the book speaks to its contents.  One masked man is in motion, walking purposefully to a place he can see ahead.  The young girl, hands on her hips is constant motion, too, as her mind takes in the wide expanse of the ocean in front of her and considers its mysteries.

Vidaurre does this, too, thinking out loud for us in poetry the reflections on the nightmarish absurdities of our current world, but also evoking the small moments of faith inherent in creating — in writing down the words that approximate the universal hunger for the simpler times we didn’t know we missed quite so much.

Yvette Benavides can be reached at bookpublic@tpr.org.

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