Senegal Taxi


“I wish I could find the words to tell you the story of our village after you were killed.” So begins Senegal Taxi, the new work by one of contemporary poetry’s most vibrant voices, Juan Felipe Herrera. Known for his activism and writings that bring attention to oppression and injustice, Herrera turns to stories of genocide and hope in Sudan. Senegal Taxi offers the voices of three children escaping the horrors of war in Africa.

Unflinching in its honesty, brutality, and ...

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“I wish I could find the words to tell you the story of our village after you were killed.” So begins Senegal Taxi, the new work by one of contemporary poetry’s most vibrant voices, Juan Felipe Herrera. Known for his activism and writings that bring attention to oppression and injustice, Herrera turns to stories of genocide and hope in Sudan. Senegal Taxi offers the voices of three children escaping the horrors of war in Africa.

Unflinching in its honesty, brutality, and beauty, the collection fiercely addresses conflict and childhood, inviting readers to engage in complex and often challenging issues. Senegal Taxi weaves together verse, dialogue, and visual art created by Herrera specifically for the book. Stylistically genre-leaping, these many layers are part of the collection’s innovation. Phantom-like televisions, mud drawings, witness testimonies, insects, and weaponry are all storytellers that join the siblings for a theatrical crescendo. Each poem is told from a different point of view, which Herrera calls “mud drawings,” referring to the evocative symbols of hope the children create as they hide in a cave on their way to Senegal, where they plan to catch a boat to the United States.

This collection signals a poignant shift for Herrera as he continues to use his craft to focus attention on global concerns. In so doing, he offers an acknowledgment that the suffering of some is the suffering of all.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Herrera (Half the World in Light) has become nationally famous for his many ambitious, jagged, nonlinear, sometimes performance-based poems and scenes from Mexican-American life: his profile spiked when he became, in 2012, poet laureate of California. This first volume since then shows his fierce and innovative spirit, his sense of global responsibility, and his attention to voice and character; its frightening prose blocks, fictional interview transcripts, anguished verse recollections, puzzling concrete poems (“one one one one one”) and gestural visual art follow the child refugees and tormented former soldiers of Darfur in the years of the Janjaweed and their attempts at genocide, on its way to the birth of the new nation South Sudan. One of its “ghost children” tries to “raise a classroom with sticks... Set the table with mud”; some children escape Darfur in the eponymous taxi, finding their way to Brooklyn. “Kalash,” the Kalashnikov rifle, becomes both a symbol and a menacing character; a former militiaman baffles an obtuse American as he tries to account for his dreams. The sequence exists on the border between creative nonfiction and expressionistic response to catastrophe. It may not add much to what journalists have already shown Americans about this conflict, and yet it adds, to the poetry of international witness, Herrera’s compelling and quick-witted voice. (Mar.)
From the Publisher

"It's rare that a book of this kind is so moving and immediate. Herrera has the unusual capacity to write convincing political poems that are as personally felt as poems can be."—Craig Morgan Teicher, NPR

“While reporters can give you the what, when, and where of a war, a poet with the enormous gifts of Juan Herrera can give you its soul. He does this by giving us the voices of both sides. The Janjaweed, who boast about their horrible deeds, and those who are their victims. Among them children with no father, no mother, no food, and no water.”—Ishmael Reed

“Poem, story, mirage, and ritual—this book is steeped in the heat and sand, oil and blood, families and warriors that inspired it. Senegal Taxi grabs your heart as Herrera artfully writes with honesty, grace, clarity, a pulse on justice, and an understanding of the paradoxes contained in the act of being human amidst the struggles, tragedy, dreams, and survival which bleed from modern Sudan.”—Devorah Major, author of Black Bleeds into Green

"The lesson is clear: one must endure. There is hope even for those that seem to be too small to resist." – Lauro Flores, author of The Floating Borderlands: Twenty-Five Years of U.S. Hispanic Literature

Three children, two insects, two weapons and a TV -- these voices take us to the deathworld of Darfur in this masterful new work by California poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera.  With the Popol Vuh on his tongue, the author of Maya Drifter stretches out to a present day inferno of  murder, dismemberment, underworld gods, where only the trickster lives to tell the tale. A beautiful and moving book. --Mary Louise Pratt, author of Critical Passions: Selected Essays

"It's an incredibly politically conscious project that situates the African tragedy back at the center of activist art, reminding readers that there's still work to be done to contribute to the healing since, by participating in the apathy, we all contributed to the damage." – Rigoberto González, author of Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa

"The meter is on! Once again, Juan Felipe Herrera takes his readers on a double-yellow line crossing, edge of your seat journey that defies boundaries, borders or any travel map."--Michele Serros, author of Chicana Falsa: And Other Stories of Death, Identity and Oxnard

Library Journal
National Book Critics Circle winner Herrera (Half the World in Light) has always written passionately about human rights issues. Here he expands his purview to encompass genocide in Darfur, offering a book-length poem that takes in the voices of three children who have survived a Janjaweed attack on their village, a U.S. TV news anchor who interviews a former Janjaweed, an ant that offers a ground-level perspective on slaughter, a Kalashnikov AK-47 used in the killing ("I came down the mountain in full gallop/ With my sister Mortar"), and others. Most affecting are the voices of the children: one-eyed Abdullah, the village girl Sahel, and Ibrahim, who relates part of the story from the taxi he now drives in New York ("I learn inside this taxi, Ms. You tell me your story. I tell you story too"). Throughout, Herrera's voice is urgent and his imagery as sharp-edged as the sun. Formal devices—strings of unpunctuated words suggesting desperation, typescript for the TV interview, the poems labeled "mud drawings" that relate the time the children spent hiding in a cave—add immediacy and interest. VERDICT Beautifully wrought and wholly persuasive; highly recommended.—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780816530151
  • Publisher: University of Arizona Press
  • Publication date: 3/21/2013
  • Series: Camino del Sol Series
  • Pages: 128
  • Sales rank: 962,255
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Juan Felipe Herrera is a noted writer, poet, and playwright. He is a professor of creative writing in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside. In 2012 he was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown as California’s Poet Laureate, and he is the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry. He has published twenty-eight books, including Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems, winner of a National Book Critics Circle Award.
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