Poetry Friday: Talking with Mother Earth/Hablando con Madre Tierra – poems by Jorge Argueta, illustrated by Lucía Angela Pérez
Mother Earth is not only a source of life in Talking with Mother Earth/Hablando con Madre Tierra, a profound collection of poems by renowned Salvadoran poet Jorge Argueta (Groundwood Books/Libros Tigrillo, 2006), but she also provides the young native boy Tetl, in whose voice the poems are written, with joy, a connection with his land and heritage, and, most importantly, a comforting stability in the face of racist jeering from his peers.
Argueta’s poems are written in succinct free verse, presented in both Spanish and English with smatterings of Nahuatl, the language of the Nahua people passed down from the Aztecs and that Argueta grew up with. From the first poem in which Tetl presents Mother Earth, or “Ne Nunan Tal” in Nahuatl, readers are welcomed into Tetl’s life. His joy in the creations of Mother Nature is contagious, from poems such as “Walking and Whistling”, “The Wind” and “Water”; and I love the wordplay in both languages in “Suenos Días/Gourd Morning.”
These poems alone would represent a lively collection that provides insight into Nahuatl culture – and this impression is enhanced by Lucía Angela Pérez’ vibrant illustrations that leap out from the pages. What makes this book outstanding, however, is the way it draws young readers in to think about how they themselves might have behaved, whether deliberately or thoughtlessly, towards their peers from a different cultural background. The first indication that Tetl has to deal with such abuse comes in the fiercely upright poem “Yo/I”:
[…] Sometimes I feel like yelling
From my toes to my head.
Yes, I am a Pipil Nahua Indian.
I wear feathers of beautiful birds to protect me
from the bad words and the looks
that come my way from some people
because I am Indian.
Immediately after “Yo/I”, the poem “Tetl” rings with the boy’s name, Tetl: “It is the name my grandmother gave me”. The name Tetl runs in counterpoint to “But everybody knows me as Jorge” – a clue to the autobiographical nature of the poems.
A little further on, the poem “Indio/Indian” addresses the verbal abuse head on: and the illustration shows Tetl rising above it, proud of his identity, even if some people don’t understand or respect it. Indeed, what makes this collection work so well, and makes it an excellent resource for young children discussing issues of racism and bullying, is that it presents a complete view of Tetl’s life so that the cruel behaviour of his peers towards him fails to define him.
To find out more, read our PaperTigers review of this beautiful book. When I first opened it, I was expecting to be transported to another culture. I got that and so much more.