Monday, June 02, 2008

Luis Omar Salinas (1937-2008)

*posted by Luis C. Berriozabal

Luis Omar Salinas, born in Robstown, Texas, died after a long illness near his home in Sanger, California on May 25, 2008. He was one of the leading voices in contemporary American poetry as well as one the leading Hispanic-American poets. His first book, Crazy Gypsy (1970), was considered a classic of Chicano literature.

Over 5 years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Luis Omar Salinas with the assistance of his friend, Karen Harlow (McClintock), who is responsible for my photograph on MySpace and the back cover of my first book, Raw Materials. Mr. Salinas was in failing health and I was asked by Ms. Harlow if I wanted to meet Mr. Salinas. Being one of my favorite poets, I decided to meet Mr. Salinas and his kind friend, Karen. I met Salinas on two occasions. One when he was in a Fresno hospital, where we had a good talk. I was nervous about meeting Mr. Salinas. I did not know what to ask, but he was friendly and we seemed to hit it off. A year later he invited me to his birthday party in Sanger, California. I read a few poems for Mr. Salinas at his request from my book, Raw Materials. I am not one to read my poetry in public, but I could not say no to one of my heroes of poetry.

Around October 2003 I was able to conduct a small interview, with the assistance of his friend, Karen, with Mr. Salinas, who graciously answered my questions while he was recovering in a nursing home in Fresno, California, in his own handwriting. It appeared as if he had trouble writing at the time. Below are the questions I asked Mr. Luis Omar Salinas:

Five Questions for you, Omar -- please tell me

1) Why do you write?

I write to try to understand others and myself.

2) What inspires you?

What inspires me is the wind, nature, the ocean, and women

3) Who inspires you?

I'm inspired by a certain lady friend.

4) When did you decide that writing poetry was what you wanted to do?

It's not a question of when, but a question of how it happened and that it did happen

5) Do you love poetry as much as love?

Both as well

Last winter, my chapbook, Keepers Of Silence, was published by Kendra Steiner Editions. The book was dedicated to Mr. Luis Omar Salinas. Sadly, I had lost contact with Mr. Salinas and was not able to send him a copy. Below is a poem from the chapbook, which would not had been written if I had not met and read the work of Luis Omar Salinas.


Luis Omar Salinas
walks through the hills of Spain
in a dream.

Miguel Hernandez walks at his side.
In the quiet night
they listen to
softly singing.

Salinas says
to Hernandez,
I need to be alone.

Go forward, my friend, says Hernandez.

Luis Omar contemplates death.
He knows Hernandez is
a ghost, but also a
helpful guide and friend.

Hernandez walks away whistling.

Luis Omar looks to the sky.
There is a full moon.
He feels at home.

His dream takes him
to Central California.
His hands are calloused
and mulberry trees
appear in the distance.

Hernandez is with him again.

They are children playing
with imaginary swords
in a dusty field.

No one draws blood
in this dream like heaven.

Hernandez and Salinas say goodbye.

Miguel Hernandez walks
through the hills of Spain;
Luis Omar strolls
under a Fresno moon.

(Appeared in Pemmican and in the chapbook Keepers of Silence published by Kendra Steiner Editions)

There are a couple of more poems influenced by Luis Omar Salinas in Kendra Steiner Editions' 100th Chapbook, Next Exit Series #7, co-authored by poet Ronald Baatz.


Blogger christopher cunningham said...

good post lcb, and of course, condolences to you and salinas' family, from blood relatives to his family of the poem...

3:14 PM  
Blogger j.b said...

yes, sorry to hear of the passing of your friend. i know how much he meant to you, and by association that means he means a lot to all of your friends.
we mourn with you.

8:37 PM  
Blogger Luis said...

Thank you, guys. Thanks for cleaning up my post, cc.

Luis Omar's official biography
stated he was born in 1937, but
it is rumored that he was actually
born in 1924, which would have made him about 83 years old, if
his birthday is late June, as it
says in his official biography.

12:43 AM  
Blogger rocky said...

Omar Salinas was born in 1937 in Robstown, Texas, not 1924. Omar attended St. Anthony Catholic School in Robstown, he also attended my birthday party when I was 2 years old. Check my blog and you will see photo of children at a party.

Omar is the first boy in the back row. Also, his adopted parents were my padrinos de bautismo. My parents were friends of the family.

Sorry to hear of his passing, I had just started to search for him about a month ago. May he rest in peace.

2:40 AM  
Blogger Victoria said...

Thank you for writing so beautifully about my friend Omar. Te quiero, Omar.

1:03 PM  

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