Words or Water by Li Yun Alvarado
Li Yun Alvarado's Words or Water is an affective map of the Nuyorican archipelago, as oceanic as it is embodied. In vivid and uncompromising poems—about love and family, about the politics of tweezing and the intricacies of Puerto Rican rum, about the artist Keith Haring's lover Juanito Xtravaganza and the imperialism of Old Navy t-shirts—Alvarado traces the “Atlantic currents” of diaspora while honoring quotidian practices of survival and struggle: “my parents government-cheesed / our lives into normalcy.” Women emerge here as counter-genealogical figures (Don Quijote's Dulcinea, the poet Julia de Burgos, who provides an epigraph, mothers and sisters, biological and otherwise) and as guides to a revolutionary knowledge, an affirmation of our bodies even as they are policed and colonized. From the port cities of Nuyorico, Words or Water claims its own freedom by rerouting geographies:“homes anchored / to hearts and backs.” In that sense, the title is not so much binary as it is strategic and metaphorical; Alvarado's flow finds words for “estos latidos” (“these heartbeats”) while memorializing what words fail to convey: "I scavenge for lost / pockets of me."
-- Urayoán Noel author of Buzzing Hemisphere/Rumor Hemisférico and In Visible Movement: Nuyorican Poetry from the Sixties to Slam