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Poetic Justice

[whitespace] Morton Marcus Honor System: Morton Marcus joins an impressive roster of literary talent on Friday for a tribute to poet Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz and 'El Andar.'

Jana Marcus

Poets pay homage to a centuries-old literary trailblazer at Holy Cross Church this weekend

By Karen Reardanz

IF SOR JUANA Ines de la Cruz were alive today, she'd most likely feel quite at home so near the millennium. It's in a time like this--with a readership that reveres her some 400 years after her death--that her tremendous talent and mystic vision could have been fostered fully.

On Friday night, a congregation of Sor Juana revelers joins together for an evening commemorating the spirit of the early feminist poet, as well as celebrating the rebirth of the local Latino magazine, El Andar.

Leading the way through the night's festivities is local poet Morton Marcus, who, along with acclaimed wordsmiths Gary Soto, Francisco X. Alarcón, Gabriella Gutiérrez and Claire Braz-Valentine, will present readings dedicated to and inspired by Sor Juana's life, work and vision.

The 16th-century nun (who also added poet, playwright, philosopher and mathematician to her roster of credentials) was generations ahead of her time. A victim of a sort of medieval three strikes, Sor Juana was hindered in her search for higher education by her gender, her poor economic status and her illegitimacy, yet she managed to become one of the first American women poets--and a famous one at that, even in her era--penning secular poems and plays, as well as one of her most famous works, La Respuesta, her response to a public attack on her by the clergy.

In the centuries since her death, Sor Juana has become an icon in the Mexican and Spanish cultures.

"She has a become symbol of feminism ... a symbol of the feminine gender, if you will," Marcus explains, "as the mother of us all. Mexican kids learn her poems. She is a national treasure."

Sor Juana blazed a literary trail, combining the traditions and languages of both the Old World and the new.

"She embraced the New World culture, acting as a bridge going from the old to the new," Marcus explains. "Some of her works were written in the Indian language."

While Sor Juana's words will fill Holy Cross Church on Friday, the evening is also a tribute to language of all kinds, featuring bilingual readings and original poetry and prose.

"The poets will be reading their own works," says Reynaldo Barrioz, one of the event's coordinators, "as well as poems dedicated to her and what she represented."

Marcus will present "Three Heroes," his never-before-read work dedicated to Sor Juana, whom Marcus deems "one of my heroes."

The evening also welcomes back El Andar, the bilingual Latino magazine that had a hiatus last year. Marcus is particularly excited about having the magazine up and running again, not just for its cultural significance to Santa Cruz's Latino community, but for its importance to everyone interested in the culture and history of the Americas. He also holds El Andar's publisher, Jorge Chino, in special regard.

"His sense of social responsibility has taken over his life," Marcus says of his one-time student at Cabrillo College. "Jorge is a magnificent talent."

Most importantly, the third-annual tribute is a night for everyone, young and old, Spanish and English speakers.

"The focus is on creating an event that helps people rally around the literary arts," Barrioz says. "There is something for everyone."

Tribute to Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz takes place Friday at 7pm at Holy Cross Church, 126 High St., SC. The event is free. For info, call 457-8353.

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From the December 3-9, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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