With his latest collection of poems entitled "American Jesus", poet Richard Vargas continues to explore the same themes and concerns from his first book, "McLife" - the spectrum of high and low points in a Chicano man's existence. The poems are candid and, at times, brutally honest. Relationships, sex, politics, religion, and the mundane reality of work are presented in the belief that poetry and art in general can establish a common ground between us while maintaining our individual identity and personal validity. "American Jesus" veers into a more prevalent political awareness only hinted at in the previous collection. The poet assumes a voice of dissent at a time when popular opinion considers such a stance to be unpatriotic. Vargas had handed out copies of his poems to strangers on the street, tacked them on community bulletin boards, and launched them into the Internet. Many of the anti-war poems in this book were printed and taped to the windows of his apartment, in plain view for his neighbors and anyone else to read. To Vargas, the majority of these people sat still as they appeared to be manipulated by government lies and deception.
Seemingly swayed by corporate-owned media, many of them slapped yellow ribbon magnets on the backsides of their SUVs. "American Jesus" is also a response to Laura Bush's closing the doors to poets (who had been invited to the White House for a celebration of the works of Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Langston Hughes) when she realized they would be voicing opposition to President Bush's "Shock & Awe" war plans. While some poets often refuse to be political in their work (and thus unwittingly end up making a political statement), Vargas asks, "If not now, when?" "American Jesus" is a plea to look within ourselves and find the strength to break through the walls of fear and ignorance which we have allowed to be built around us.
Richard Vargas was born and raised in southern California, where he graduated from California State University, Long Beach. He also published and edited Tequila Review from 1977 to 1979. His first collection of poems, McLife, was published in 2005 by Main Street Rag Press. Extensively published in literary magazines, Vargas has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and his work has been featured on Garrison Keillor's Writers Almanac. He currently resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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