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First Muse

First Muse

Julia Alvarez


When I heard the famous poet Pronounce

"One can only write poems in the tongue

in which one first said Mother,” I was stunned'

Lately arrived in English, I slipped down

into my seat and fought back tears, thinking                   5

of all those notebooks filled with bogus poems

I'd have to burn, thinking maybe there was

a little loophole, maybe just maybe

Mami had sung me lullabies she'd learned

from wives stationed at the embassy,                            l0


thinking maybe she'd left the radio on

beside my crib tuned to the BBC

or Voice of America, maybe her friend

from boarding school had sent a talking doll

who spoke in English? Maybe I could be                        15

the one exception to this writing rule?

For months i suffered from bad writer's-block'

which I envisioned, not as a blank page,

but as a literary border guard

turning me back to Spanish on each line'                        20


I gave up writing, watched lots of TV,

and you, know how it happens that advice

comes from unlikely quarters? She came on'

sassy, olive-skinned, hula-hooping her hips'

a basket of bananas on her head,                                  25

her lilting accent so full of feeling

it seemed the way the heart would speak English

if it could speak' I touched the screen and sang

my own heart out with my new muse, I am

Chiquita Banana and l'm here to say …                           30





First Muse

1. What is a muse? How is finding a muse linked to the speaker's identity in this poem?

2. Who are the people (or muses) that influence the speaker in her development as a writer?

3. What words and images in this poem suggest speech, sound, and voice? What is Alvarez's purpose in including so many?  Why does she end the poem

 with the ellipsis dots?

4. How does the poem challenge authority – those who set standards for "literary merit" – and instead celebrate popular culture? What does Alvarez mean 

by "a literary border guard" (1. 19), and how does this image also challenge authority?

5. How does the poem's tone change from the opening lines of "the famous poet['s]" pronouncement to the vivid description of the ending? Describe that change.

6. How has Alvarez – or has she? – avoided the negative stereotype of Chiquita Banana? To respond to this question, you might explore images of the character 

(starting in 1944) and her history in advertising.

Chiquita Banana Ad.


Alvarez Interview 

YouTube Video

Library of Congress 2009 Book Festival

Library of Congress Book Festival

Library Books
Sorted by Call Number / Author.
810.8 LAT

Latina : women's voices from the borderlands. New York : Simon & Schuster, c1995.


Women in literature : reading through the lens of gender. Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, c2003.

REF 860.998 MOS

Moss, Joyce, 1951-. Latin American literature and its times : profiles of notable literary works and the historical events that influenced them. Detroit : Gale Group, 1999.

E-Book See librarian

Student's encyclopedia of great American writers. New York : Facts On File, 2010-.

Database Resources