Tuesday, July 21, 2009


OVER A HUNDRED AND FIFTY PEOPLE COLLABORATED to write, illustrate, and create this book, among them singers, seers, witchwives, washer women, sugar beer brewers, conjurers, native bearers, prayer makers, soothsayers, sorceresses, dyers, diviners, hired mourners, spinners, shepherdesses, babysitters, millers, maids, bookbinders, spellbinders, cornharvesters, great-grandmothers, sharecroppers, necromancers, exorcists, coffee pickers, potters, crazy women, midwives, planters, woodlanders, bonesetters, troublemakers, spiritualists, mothers-in-law, peddlers, gravediggers, fireworks makers, drinkers, hags, beggars, bakers, basket weavers, shamanesses, liars, computers, comagres, sculptresses, muses, and even men. We have made this book “as we make our children,” in the words of Petú Xantis, “with the strength of our flesh and the birds of our heart.”

In the land of Som Chi, the Eloquent Conjurer,
In the land of Som Chi, Spinner of Incantations.

—Ritual de los Bacabes
So Ambar Past begins her essay "Notes on the Creators" in the anthology INCANTATIONS: SONGS, SPELLS AND IMAGES BY MAYAN WOMEN. Below, in this video, Ambar and
Maruch Méndes Péres celebrate the book, making offering to the Gods, with candles, poetry and a reading.

[NOTES: Ambar's daughter, the videographer Tila Rodriguez Past filmed, edited and produced this video. It was originally published on the web on Blip TV here. By the way, if you're on facebook reading this, you might not be able to watch the video in the blognote. It will, however, be posted on facebook in videos and on the wall separately.]

Maruch is a shepherdess and poet. This is what she chants to the Gods:


The Tzotzil Maya of the Chiapas Highlands say that the Gods need to have poetry in order to survive and so they created humans to make that poetry, that feast. Thus, Maruch and Ambar are celebrating the publication of our U.S. edition of INCANTATIONS. Maruch chants poetry and lights the candles for the altar and later in the video Ambar reads a poem. This magical book--edited and curated by Ambar--was originally created by el Taller Leñateros (Woodlanders Workshop), a self-governing collective of mostly Mayan women. A member of the taller, Maruch was one of the book’s creators.

In her essay "Notes on the Creators,"Ambar tells this story about Maruch--

Shepherdess Maruch Méndes Péres is the author of Songs of the Drunken Woman. Maruch is not much of a drinker, however, and claims she never married because she can’t stand drunks. She lives in Catixtik, Chamula with two little girls she adopted, Xvel and Marta Méndes. Now it seems that Maruch has also adopted Xvel and Marta’s three siblings and also their birth mother, Dominga. All of them have changed their last names to Méndes. The Leñateros were trying to get in touch with Maruch last year to pay her royalties from the sales of the Spanish version of this book, but were told that she had died, and would be buried that very day. All of us from the Workshop piled into a hired van packed full of flowers and we headed off sadly to Maruch’s hamlet. There were hundreds of people in mourning outside of her house, including Maruch herself, who was so overjoyed to witness our arrival at the funeral that she forgot for a moment her sadness over the death of her elder sister—also named Maruch Méndes.

Here, then, is a couple of Maruch's incantations:


Saint Mother,
Godmother, I am drunk.

I caught the drops that fall from your roof
I drank your shadow.

Now I am getting drunk.
Anyway, my Saint Mother,
anyway, my Godmother,

look after me
so I won’t trip over something.

I am drunk; I have drunk,
my Saint Mother, my Godmother,
Saint Maruch, Niña Maruch.

I want all your pretty ones to overwhelm me.
I want to sing,

Virgin Maruch,
Niña Maruch.

I am a drinker of drink.
I drank your wine.

It has gone to my head.
My heart is spinning

I know how to drink.
I know how to drink everything.

—Maruch Méndes Péres


I step and walk
on your flowering face,

Holy Mother, Holy Wildwood,
Sacred Earth, Sacred Ground.

Show me the way, Mother,
put me on the right track.

Rise up, Holy Rock!
Rise up, Holy Tree!

Come with me on the way up.
Be with me on the way down.

Sacred Mother,
Holy Breast,

Holy Kaxail,
Sacred Earth,

Holy Ground,
Holy Soil,

Sacred Ahau,
Holy Snake,

Holy Thunderbolt:
Protect me with your shadow.

—Maruch Méndes Péres

Thursday, July 9, 2009


In September Cinco Puntos Press will release LAST NIGHT I SANG TO THE MONSTER, a Young Adult novel by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Really, it's not just a young adult novel, but a novel for all of us. The narrator is Zach, an eighteen year old man. He is bright and articulate. He’s also an alcoholic, and he’s is in rehab instead of high school, but he doesn’t remember how he got there. He’s not sure he wants to remember. Something bad must have happened. Something really, really bad. Remembering sucks and being alive—well, what’s up with that?

Below Ben reads the first few pages of Last Night I Sang to the Monster. It's a remarkable beginning for a novel. Immediately the reader is in Zach's world. Here is a piece from this first section:
I have it in my head that when we’re born, God writes things down on our hearts. See, on some people’s hearts he writes Happy and on some people’s hearts he writes Sad and on some people’s hearts he writes Crazy on some people’s hearts he writes Genius and on some people’s hearts he writes Angry and on some people’s hearts he writes Winner and on some people’s hearts he writes Loser. It’s all like a game to him. Him. God. And it’s all pretty much random. He takes out his pen and starts writing on our blank hearts. When it came to my turn, he wrote Sad. I don’t like God very much. Apparently he doesn’t like me very much either.
[PLEASE NOTE: If you are reading this on FACEBOOK, the Facebook software strips youtube video from blogs. You can watch the video at the Cinco Puntos Blogspot and we will upload the video into our videos on facebook.]

We're really honored to be publishing Ben's Last Night I Sang to the Monster. We think it's an important novel, and working with Ben--a close friend who lives here in El Paso and who we get to visit with all the time--is a great pleasure. It's so much fun to see a novel evolve from its first draft to its final production. And this process is what makes promoting the book such a pleasure. In sending out review copies John Byrd wrote the following in his letter of introduction:

I’ve read Last Night I Sang to the Monster a number of times in the editing process. Even after these repeated readings, I am surprised at the sense of calm that comes as I read this book. I’m surprised because this isn’t an easy book. Last Night tells the story of Zach, an alcoholic, a senior in high school. Only he’s not in high school, he’s in a rehab center and he doesn’t remember how he got there. He is pretty sure that he doesn’t want to be there. He doesn’t know if he has anywhere else to go. And the thing that he is being asked to remember is so horrible, he’s afraid it will kill him if he so much as tries, so he doesn’t try. He doesn’t want to remember, ever. It’s the sort of story that you wish wasn’t possible, had never happened.
But it does happen. Benjamin’s book won’t change that. But his compassion creates a road to a place where recovery and healing can take place. That’s when Zach is finally able to sing to the monster.
Last Night I Sang to the Monster is Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s third book for young adults. His first book—Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood (Cinco Puntos Press, 2005)—was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. The American Library Association chose it as one of the Top Ten Books for Young Adults that same year. His second YA title, He Forgot to Say Goodbye (Simon & Schuster) won the Tomás Rivera Award.

And of course we are soon releasing Ben's new bilingual picture book--THE DOG WHO LOVED TORTILLAS / LA PERRITA QUE LE ENCANTABAN LAS TORTILLAS. He's once again teamed up artist and graphic designer Geronimo Garcia. This wonderful duo of paseños are the same guys who produced one of our all-time best sellers, A Gift from Papa Diego / Un Regalo de Papa Diego.

But that's for another blog entry. Please enjoy Ben's reading.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Youme Landowne, Anthony Horton, Nura Qureshi

Youme Landowne
, Anthony Horton and Nura Qureshi--John Byrd took this great photo of the three collaborators of the graphic memoir PITCH BLACK, DON'T BE SKERD (Nura, a photographer currently working in Cambodia and Germany, took the powerful portrait). The occasion was the Book Exposition of America held this year at the beginning of June at the Javits Center in New York City. The BEA is the BIG event of the publishing years--acres and acres of books and thousands of trade people wandering the aisles and talking the talk. The first time you go, especially if you are a small independent publisher, it can be overwhelming. But now, especially because we're in the Consortium aisle with a bunch of really great publishers and colleagues, it's fun and rewarding. So Youme, Anthony and Noury came by to promote Pitch Black. Thanks to each of them!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Incantations & Jerome Rothenberg, with photos of el Taller Leñateros

Poet, essayist and anthologist Jerome Rothenberg has included a portion of Ambar Past's essay She of Great Writing, She of the Glyphs on his influential blog Poems and Poetics. For those of you who already don't know, Jerry--besides being one of the most influential of American poets over the last 50 years--is a pioneer in the study of ethnopoetics, a term he himself coined in 1968. These definitions of "ethnopoetics" are from wikipedia:
On one hand, it refers to non-Western poetry, often that of indigenous people (although it could apply to the study of all-kind/source folk poetry), and on the other hand, it is poetry showing such influence and written in manner to manifest the qualities of indigeneousity; ethnopoetics also refers to the study within the field of linguistics of poetic structures particular to specific culture. Dennis Tedlock, who collaborated with Rothenberg back in the day, defined ethnopoetics as "a decentered poetics, an attempt to hear and read the poetries of distant others, outside the Western tradition as we know it now."
Rothenberg has been kind enough to say this about Incantations: “There has to my mind never been a project quite like this: a collective body of poetry--and women’s poetry at that--coming directly out of an indigenous culture and gathered as a deliberate work of poetry and art by the women themselves. The poems, created and spoken in Mayan Tzotzil by individual poets, then translated by Ambar Past into faithful and readable Spanish and English versions, show how deeply rooted language traditions can transform into vehicles of personal as well as collective expression. Incantations represents a major contribution to poetry in general and to ethnopoetics in particular.”

Below are some photographs of the Taller Leñateros--the artisans and their workshop. The Taller is paper-making collective who joined together with Ambar to create the conditions to earn their livelihood while at the same time celebrating their language and culture. Together they conceived of, and created, the hand-crafted edition of INCANTATIONS. It is from their work of art that Cinco Puntos was able to create a trade edition so that readers here would have access to their important work.