Study Guide

The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica Sound Check

By Judith Ortiz Cofer

Sound Check

Se hablan espa├▒ol, Shmoopers? Don't worry if you're shrugging your shoulders out there. You don't have to know Spanish to enjoy this poem. But you should be aware of the way Spanish contributes to its sound.

We talk more about Spanish over in "Symbols, Imagery, and Wordplay." But, for our purposes here, it's worth noting that the sounds of the deli itself find a neat echo with the inclusion of the Spanish words in the poem. Listening to the poem read out loud would, at times, be just like standing next to someone in the deli while they read a label marked "Suspiros, / Merengues" (27-28).

But that's not the only set of sounds to sync your senses to, Shmoopers. You see what we did there? We strung together a bunch of S sounds, just like the poem does in this section:

the heady mix of smells from the open bins
of dried codfish, the green plantains
hanging in stalks like votive offerings,
she is the Patroness of Exiles
, (4-7)

All the plural nouns in this section make the S sounds really pile up here, creating a poetic effect known as consonance.

We also get some alliteration, with phrases like "spoken Spanish" (19), "dreams and their disillusions" (23), and " lost lovers" (27).

So, what's the deal with all these sonic shenanigans? Is Ortiz Cofer just showing off here? Probably not, given that this is a poem that's in part about language and the music of spoken sounds. Since that's a major focus, we'd say the poem does a great job of using sound techniques to perk up our ears and remind us of just how powerful the music of words can be.

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