Herrera's New Loteria
This elegant book of 104 poems and linocuts re-imagines an ancient tradition. Loteria is a popular traditional Mexican game, with roots going back to the Aztecs. As in bingo, players attempt to match their game cards to the loteria announcer's picks, but using a deck of cards illustrated with traditional characters (The Sun, a Flag, a Heart, the Devil and so on) instead of letters and numbers. The announcer often accompanies his calling with a line of traditional or extemporaneous verse.
Together, Mexican artist Rodriguez and Chicano poet Herrera explore and explode this tradition. As opposed to the flat images of the cards still being used in contemporary Mexico and the United States, Rodriguez's images are detailed, surreal, often pointedly political. They comment on Mexican history and culture as well as the history of art. He also adds to the cannon of cards with such new images as "The Zapitista," or a gaunt "Mojado" (wetback) on one card being chased by a gruesome man/machine/spider combination of "La Migra" on the card immediately following it.
Herrera's poems replace the brief couplets or sayings associated with the traditional loteria images. Usually limiting himself to twelve to fifteen lines, the poems are beautiful vignettes, either addressed to the image on the card or inhabiting its thoughts. Herrera's Snake claims "no ones' got me right," His Star's "five pointed heart / rotates out of late-night miseries." And he sings to The Mermaid "I stalked her for centuries. / My apologies."
At times Herrera seems overwhelmed by Rodriguez' images, and he feels compelled to mention of every detail of Rodriguez's linocut in his poem, turning some into little more than an image list. These occasional lapses, however, do not diminish the beauty of this elegant volume. This is a book to savor and luxuriate in.