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Elegies in Blue

To write well about your life, you need to have a life worth writing about. On that score, Saenz, a son of the Rio Grande border, hits pay dirt. At that border, poverty meets wealth more starkly than anywhere else except, perhaps, at Israel’s fences between Jews and Palestinians. When a writer there speaks of himself, he can speak of his people and how the border defines them. That Saenz does in verse and prose poems distinguished by simple mellifluousness, clear imagery, and effortless balancing of the oracular and the personal voices.

He writes of a boy asking important questions, loving the names in books, and figuring out why his father quit drinking (for love, though love makes nothing easy), and that boy is more imaginably him than the first-person speaker in other poems, an “I” that includes every border native who knows why the subjects of the book’s many elegies—figures ranging from Denise Levertov to Cesar Chavez to Maria de Guadalupe Cenizeros, “citizen of Smeltertown”—are important to their identity.
Luis J. Rodriguez, author of Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.
“Elegies in Blue” again establishes Benjamin Saenz as the “must-read” poet of our times: a man who sings truths, often clothed in discomfort, but nonetheless what we need to save us. Large and full, these poems arrest our hearts and rouse us to act. Poems that can do that belong among the best.
Norma Cantú
These poems, bold and brave, are full of crisp and clean words. Mestizo words. They vibrate with the language of the border, that code-switching linguistic juggling that we who speak that language engage in unconsciously and without excuse.
The Midwest Book Review
ELEGIES IN BLUE is a remarkable selection of free-verse poetry that transcribes the author's life experience of learning, absorbing history, growing, experiencing joy, and suffering terrible loss. Creating poetry akin to elegies in that it praises the lives of those who helped the author find the right words, ELEGIES IN BLUE is a book of memorable, dynamic verse.
Library Journal
To date, Sáenz has split his literary career almost in half between prose and poetry. The latest addition to his corpus melds the two genres into two dozen poems largely composed in prose. Liberally expanding the application of the term elegy, Sáenz casts a tone of lament, sometimes subtly and sometimes overtly, over most of the subject matter—childhood, innocence, family, life, death. This mood culminates in the ubi sunt (“where are”) motif in the poem “At the Grave of the Twentieth Century,” which pays homage at the graves of the likes of Karl Marx, JFK, the poet’s father-in-law, and his grandfather.

Thematically perpetuating his preoccupation with politics and ardently defending the Mexican American border community of which he is an integral part, these poems are drenched in much firmer reality and overlaid with more indignation than his recent novel Carry Me Like Water. Recommended especially for public libraries serving Mexican American populations, who will relate to the themes of restlessness and alienation.
Las Cruces Sun News

Wordsmiths with local roots weave engaging works

Two new books by former Las Crucens offer moving and poetic views of life.
Both books offer treats for those who love words ... and writers who can
skillfully put them to use to explore the mysteries and meanings of life¹s
In ³Elegies in blue: Poems² (by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Cinco Puntos Press,
paperback, $13.95, distributed by Consortium Books, 1-800-283-3572), Las
Cruces native Sáenz writes eloquently about everything from coming of age to
life¹s profound passages and the psychic battle scars of war.
Sáenz, who won the American Book Award for his first collection of poems
³Calendar of Dust,² is a former Catholic priest and is currently an English
professor at UTEP.
In the poems and essays of ³Elegies,² he roams through memories of Border
life and major historical events like a kind of poetic archaeologist.
³I wander the ground of this decaying earth. Like a historian, I am not
another tourist. But what is a historian if not a tourist who gathers graves
and facts and orders them,² he asks in ³The Rags of Times on Rio Vista Farm
(or A Short History of Clothes).²
³At the Graves of the Twentieth Century² offers a series of ruminations at
the graves of Karl Marx, John F. Kennedy, Pancho Villa, David Macias, and
³Grandpo² Juan Lucero Sáenz, ending with dark ruminations at the grave of
the century itself: ³... they might have buried you, here, in El
Paso/Juárez, dumping ground of the Americas. Not that you would have known
any rest here. Peace is not in great abundance on the border.²
His children¹s request for a family history inspired ³From a Cocoon of Love
and Poverty² (by Thad Box, Xlibris, paperback $19.54 plus $4.48 shipping,
1-888-7-954-2747 or
Box rose from an impoverished Texas Depression-era childhood to a
distinguished career in academics, research, writing and education, serving
as dean of Utah State Uiversity¹s College of Natural Resources. During the
1990s, he was a Mesilla Town Trustee and a natural resources professor at
A ³fill-in-the-blank outline for an autobiography² was abandoned in favor of
writings that led to a book of poetry, ³Me ¹N Alvin,² and this ³companion
book² which Box said he wrote ³primarily for my nine grandkids ... but I
have been pleasantly surprised that some local folks are reading and
discussing it ‹ even using it as a reading for community building seminars.²
The book explores one man¹s life with frankness and emotion.
Of his life with wife Jenny, he writes: ³Marriage was the most significant
learning experience in my life ... What I could not have imagined was the
spiritual experience of marriage, Love, sex, becoming one with another is
more spiritual than physical. Even after all these years I marvel at how
two people become one, but to have a good marriage, 2 must become 3. Each
person must stay an individual; but together they become a spiritual entity
.. the trinity in marriage is what allows us to grow as individual and as a
He writes about the death of their first child and subsequent miscarriages,
and finally of academic adventures, triumphs and battles and of travels
throughout the world. The family joined for a fellowship to Australia, and
Box has also taught in Mexico, Argentina, Kenya and China.
In the book¹s epilogue he touches on plans for future writing projects. ³The
birth and young lives of my grandchildren are the building blocks of eternal
life. The melding of ancestors, children, grandchildren into a memoir of
genes and memes ... (³what evolutionary ecologist Richard Dawkins calls the
units of cultural transmission²) ... is worthwhile.²
He notes that he still wants to write ³about life in retirement ... my time
in an endowed chair at NMSU,² and "how an old adobe house taught me to view
my life in historical perspective.² Box feels that ³how and why I became
involved in local government in the Town of Mesilla could be a book in

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