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Francisco X. Alarcón


Chicano poet and educator Francisco Xavier Alarcón was born in Wilmington, California, on February 21, 1954. During his childhood, Alarcón straddled the line between cultures, spending time living with his parents outside of Los Angeles and his other relatives in Guadalajara, Mexico. This diverse upbringing would significantly influence Alarcón’s work, leading him to become, as he says, a “binational, bicultural, and a bilingual writer.”

In Mexico, when Alarcón was about fifteen, he began transcribing his grandmother’s songs, which inspired him to start writing his first poems. Determined to be a writer, Alarcón soon moved to Los Angeles, where he earned his high school diploma at Cambria Adult School before enrolling at East Los Angeles College. After a year in East Los Angeles College, he transferred to California State University, Long Beach, where he earned his BA in Spanish and history in 1977. Shortly after, he attended Stanford University, where he studied contemporary Latin-American literature. While at Stanford, Alarcón joined literary circles in the San Francisco Bay area, gave poetry readings, and published his first book, Tattoos (Nomad Press, 1985).

Alarcón has published numerous poetry collections, including Canto hondo/Deep Song (University of Arizona Press, 2015), Borderless Butterflies: Earth Haikus and Other Poems/Mariposas sin fronteras: Haikus terrenales y otros poemas (Poetic Matrix Press, 2014), Ce Uno One: Poemas para el Nuevo Sol/Poems for the New Sun (Swan Scythe Press, 2010), and From the Other Side of Night/Del otro lado de la noche: New and Selected Poems (University of Arizona Press, 2002). An advocate of bilingual education and using poetry as a tool of empowerment, knowledge, and understanding, Alarcón has published several Spanish language instruction textbooks and written a number of award-winning, bilingual poetry books for children, including Animal Poems of the Iguazú/Animalario del Iguazú (Children’s Book Press, 2008); Poems to Dream Together/Poemas Para Soñar Juntos (Lee & Low Books, 2005), winner of a 2006 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award; Iguanas in the Snow and Other Winter Poems/Iguanas en la nieve y otros poemas de invierno (Children’s Book Press, 2001); and Angels Ride Bikes and Other Fall Poems/Los Ángeles Andan en Bicicleta y otros poemas de otoño (Scholastic Library Publishing, 1999).

Alarcón’s poems generally feature short lines and stanzas that explore mestizo culture and identity, American identity, sexuality, Mesoamerican history, and mythology. In his review of Canto hondo/Deep Song, Rigoberto González writes, “Over the span of his career in letters, Francisco X. Alarcón has regaled us with his celebratory, joyful verse borne out of his love and respect for nature, community, culture, and the every day moments in life worth singing about. With Canto hondo/Deep Song, he reminds us that when the heart aches, it too carries an impressive tune—urgent, far-reaching and devastatingly true.”  

His honors include the 1993 American Book Award, Carlos Pellicer-Robert Frost Poetry Honor Award, Chicano Literary Prize, Fred Cody Lifetime Achievement Award, and the 1993 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award.

Alarcón was a lecturer of Spanish and the director of the Spanish for Native Speakers program at the University of California, Davis. He died on January 15, 2016. 

Selected Bibliography

Canto hondo/Deep Song (University of Arizona Press, 2015)
Borderless Butterflies: Earth Haikus and Other Poems/Mariposas sin fronteras: Haikus terrenales y otros poemas (Poetic Matrix Press, 2014)
Ce Uno One: Poemas para el Nuevo Sol/Poems for the New Sun (Swan Scythe Press, 2010)
From the Other Side of Night/Del otro lado de la noche: New and Selected Poems (University of Arizona Press, 2002)
Sonetos a la locura y otras penas/Sonnets to Madness and Other Misfortunes (Creative Arts Book Company, 2001)
No Golden Gate for Us (Pennywhistle Press, 1993)
Snake Poems: An Aztec Invocation (Chronicle Books, 1992)
De amor oscuro/Of Dark Love (Moving Parts Press, 1991)
Body in Flames/Cuerpo en llamas (Chronicle Books, l990)
Loma Prieta (We Press, 1990)
Quake Poems (We Press, 1989)
Ya Vas, Carnal, with Rodrigo Reyes and Juan Pablo Gutiérrez (Humanizarte Publications, 1985)

Francisco X. Alarcon
Photograph by Christine Krikliwy, 2008, courtesy of the University of Arizona Poetry Center. Photograph copyright Arizona Board of Regents.

By This Poet


My Father

translated by Francisco Aragón

my father
and I greet
each other

as if

a truce
on a

we sit down
to eat like
two strangers

yet I know
beneath it all
he too

that affliction
that folly

that nightmare

Mi padre

mi padre
y yo nos

como si

una tregua
en un campo
de batalla

nos sentamos
a comer como
dos extraños

yo sé que
en el fondo
él también

ese mal
esa locura

esa pesadilla

Natural Criminal

translated by Francisco Aragón

I am
a nomad
in a country
of settlers

a drop
of oil
in a glass
of water

a cactus
where one
can’t and

I am
fresh and
living wound

my crime
has been being
what I’ve been
all my life

Naturaleza criminal

un nómada
en un país
de sedentarios

una gota
de aceite
en un vaso
de agua

un nopal
que florece
en donde
no se puede
ni se debe

una herida
todavía viva
de la historia

mi crimen
ha sido ser
lo que he sido
toda mi vida

Sonnets to Madness and Other Misfortunes, III

translated by Francisco Aragón

your eyes show me how to see again
like mirrors of water, understanding all,
there’s no mystery they can’t solve—
a single glance is more than enough

your eyes see, listen, touch, speak.
are beacons on the horizon
shedding light on shades of life
beyond the reach of words

so I start to read your body,
pausing at every mole, as if
they were commas or periods

how I love to scribble on your chest,
use the muscles on your back as lines—
you and I are both page and pen

Sonetos a la locura y otras penas, III

tus ojos me enseñan de nuevo a ver
como espejos de agua todo lo entienden,
no hay enigma que no puedan descifrar
pues le basta y sobra una mirada

tus ojos ven, escuchan, tocan, hablan,
son faros de luz que en el horizonte
alumbran la realidad de la vida
que queda más allá de las palabras

ahora me pongo a recorrer tu cuerpo,
le doy lectura a cada lunar tuyo
como signo de pausa y punctuación

cómo me gusta escribir en tu pecho,
tener por renglones a tus dorsales:
tú y yo somos tan pluma como página

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