I just started reading this book last night, and wow! Something really happens when Juan Felipe Herrera gives himself very finite space in which to work and a super-focused writing project. Whereas the works of his I’ve previously read find political and/or historical sprawl contained in tight litany or, in the case of “Punk Half Panther,” in Border Crosser With a Lamborghini Dream, the formalistic sprawl is contained within Whitman-esque multitudes, there is no sprawl to speak of in Loteria Cards and Fortune Poems: A Book of Lives. And so the poems themselves pop. They are so crisp and rich, the music is so tight and lovely, not a word wasted. Even when he employs his usual address, “hey baby,” and all, the poems remain tight and oftentimes terse, and oftentimes, ironic, and really very funny. Still, Juan Felipe is able to leave these open ends for us, to leave more for us to think about than is apparent in the image. The images themselves, rendered by Artemio Rodriguez, are dense and complex, ominous, surprising, in contrast to the relatively straight forward, singular images on traditional loteria cards.
Very helpful introduction by Rupert Garcia, who provides us with some background information and history on the loteria, how it’s played, how poetry, wordplay, and social commentary are involved in the game, and a Mesoamerican indigenous game from which the loteria (may be?) based. Finally, Garcia likens Rodriguez’s woodcut style to Jose Guadalupe Posada‘s engravings and prints (lots of skeleton images), blendings of traditional and modern, spiritual and secular.