Study Guide

The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica What's Up With the Title?

By Judith Ortiz Cofer

What's Up With the Title?

Like any good grocery store, our title offers up a little bit of something for everyone. Let's start at the beginning, shall we? We shall. "The Latin Deli" announces the setting for the poem. We have tons more to say about that over in "Setting," but for now just note how this setting is only described, never stated outright, in the rest of the poem. Without this huge hint from the title, we might as readers have gotten a bit confused by all those bins of dried codfish lying around. The title sets us straight.

So, we have the setting… settled. But that's not all the title does. It also offers this commentary: "An Ars Poetica." Now, "Ars Poetica" sounds like that band you were in back in junior high. Or maybe it's the name of that student literary journal that you've been thinking about submitting to (psst: you should totally do it). In other words, we have a fancy-schmancy term here that sounds… deep.

In reality, though, this is a legit label in the poetry world. It basically refers to a poem, or other text, that sets forth a philosophy of poetry. When you slap "ars poetica" on the title of your poem, you are letting the reader know that this will spell out your approach to writing poetry.

So… what does a grocery store have to do with poetry? Why would Ortiz Cofer call this particular poem her "ars poetica"? Why can't we stop writing questions?

One way to think about this poem is that it's a bit like the grocery store it describes. In other words, it connects people to a sense of home. It's a welcoming place where the language is familiar, a place for memories to come to life. All in all, those are some pretty noble goals for a poem.

In a sense, Ortiz Cofer uses her title to call her shot. This poem is going to represent her Main Goal as a Poet: to bring people together in a way that allows them to preserve their culture and explore their heritage. Maybe, then, there's more to this store owner than meets the eye. It's possible that our poet sees herself as the real "Patroness of Exiles."

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