The Last Poet I Loved: Dolores Dorantes

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I was at a writer’s conference in San Miguel de Allende when a classmate first introduced me to the work of Mexican poet Dolores Dorantes. All month long my class had been required to introduce each other to new poetry being written in Mexico. We had a textbook and everything, Contemporary Mexican Poetry. Dorantes hadn’t been included in the bilingual textbook we’d been using, but she was the first Mexican poet that grabbed my attention and would not let it go.

My classmate had copied excerpts from Dorantes’s book sexoPUROsexoVELOZ (Pure Sex Swift Sex) and Septiembre, the edition published by Counterpath Press. The collection was actually books two and three in Dorantes’s collection titled Dolores Dorantes. I know that’s all a little confusing, but bear with me.

My classmate presented us each with a stapled copy of some of Dorantes’s poetry. After reading the document multiple times in class, I (rather desperately) asked my friend if I could borrow the actual book, just for a day or two. Discovering her work felt like an epiphany. Oddly enough, it was completely different from my own poetry which was primarily free-verse, lyrical, and (usually) narrative driven. I hadn’t been so consumed by someone else’s work since discovering the poetry of Ilya Kaminsky six months earlier.

The next twenty-four hours were a blur. I copied a lot of her poetry, feeling her words through my own hands; I sat around being entranced by her architecture as I let food go cold; I read her work aloud on sun-drenched terraces; I sat on park benches marvelling at her disjunctive moments. I was beyond in love.

First and foremost, Dorantes writes about her own experience (her book is called Dolores Dorantes, after all), but don’t confuse her with America’s brand of confessional poetry (Plath, Snodgrass) because her work is nothing like that. Her poetry (always surprising and provocative) infuses her life with air and weight, stripping away the debris and the generic to the hard core which cannot be reduced. Sometimes when I approach one of her poems I feel like I’ve landed in a clearing–or on the surface of the moon. At times abstract (and a little cryptic), her work struck me as being quiet, deftly crafted and above all, sharp as a knife. Take this excerpt from chapter two of her book, Septiembre:

They are washing themselves
the ash
your hands

(your hands
were hollows for grain for light)

The water is falling
in its abysses

(your hands:
pair of open stars)

The water

doesn’t ever finish falling

Sometimes when I reread her work I feel as though my body has already memorized her words. The initial rush has passed; instead, there’s a distant, steady admiration. Her book is now a sort of tattoo on my heart, serving as a funnel for every passing thing. I like to think that once we fall so heavily for the words of another, we can take that deep current of rapture back to our own work, to ride the current of what we find eternally delightful and begin to wield our pens once more, guided not by another, but by the emotional truth gleaned by tracing such love with fingers dizzy with pleasure.


Tasha Cotter's work has recently appeared in or is forthcoming in Salt Hill Journal, Booth, Contrary Magazine, and elsewhere. Her fiction was recently nominated for a storySouth Million Writers award, and she regularly blogs for Contrary Magazine. You can find her online at www.tashacotter.com. More from this author →