How A Civilization Begins by Richard Vargas |
Your shopping cart is empty.


How A Civilization Begins by Richard Vargas

Mouthfeel Press, 134 pages, $16
Mouthfeel Press, 134 pages, $16

I have edited three anthologies of Latino poetry and fiction featuring almost a hundred Wisconsin poets and writers, including Martín Espada, Ruth Behar, and former Milwaukee Poet Laureate Brenda Cardenas. I would add to that distinguished roster Richard Vargas, who moved to the state in early 2020. He apparently used his days in pandemic isolation writing new poetry and compiling it with earlier, unpublished work into How a Civilization Begins, his fourth collection of poetry. This collection is the work of a mature writer, one who has had a variety of jobs and experiences growing up in Southern California, and living in Rockford, Illinois, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and for the past few years in Madison. Vargas writes from the “everyman” perspective about subjects that relate with ease to the person on the street. His imagery and language reflect respect and appreciation for his readers without sacrificing a sense of poetics. His working-class sensibility shows in the poem “i am still waiting in line,” in which the speaker waits in line for one of the few cashiers on duty:

…i am still waiting while
at the far end of the row
of vacant conveyor belts
and silent cash registers
the self-checkout is packed
people in a hurry
their time is so priceless
they rush to give it away

Not only does Vargas have an eye for minute detail, he also has a keen sense of humor. In the poem “outside the box,” the speaker, after a fruitless job search following his graduation from a creative writing program, finds himself “reading poetry at birthday parties”:

…the first time i found myself
tied up and hanging from a tree limb
swaying back and forth
as someone jerked me up and down
while blindfolded adults swung
a louisville slugger in my direction
me spouting off haikus
that rained down on the cursing
drunks like bite size Snickers
and Milky Ways

Vargas’ poems shine a light on social injustice, reminding us we are all connected regardless of the barriers keeping us apart, whether they be an invisible line in the dirt or the languages we speak. The poem “labor of love,” describes a scene at a processing center in New Mexico for families seeking asylum in the U. S.:

…the older kids are kicking soccer balls
outside with some of my fellow volunteers
the little ones stay inside
sit in the roped off area just for them
busy with crayons, coloring books, and toys
a safe place where they return to being children
with their universal need to play

This collection of poetry draws the reader into a world of stories to share, places to visit, and memories that have been almost forgotten. How A Civilization Begins puts Richard Vargas on the map among the other established Latino poets in Wisconsin today.


Oscar Mireles is published poet and editor of three anthologies titled, I Didn’t Know There Were Latinos In Wisconsin, Mireles has also published a children’s book titled “Why did you name me Javier, Dad? and a chapbook of poetry titled Second Generation.

Contact Us

Follow Us

Wisconsin Academy Offices 
1922 University Avenue
Madison, Wisconsin 53726
Phone: 608.733.6633


James Watrous Gallery 
3rd Floor, Overture Center for the Arts
201 State Street
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: 608.733.6633 x25