Cofer’s Later Work (2000-2010)

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To discover the differences in trends between Judith Ortiz Cofer’s early poems and late poems, we analyzed 10 poems from the period between 1987-1997 and 7 poems from the period between 2000-2010. For the later period, we are analyzing the three poems featured on our site, Homework: Define Caliente, And Goya Said, I am Still Learning, and How Do You Say?. The other poems that we included are mostly works from Cofer’s newest poetry book, A Love Story Beginning in Spanish, published in 2005. These poems include Beans: An Apologia For Not Knowing How To Cook, Black Silk Shirt, The Art of Scrying: A Poem for my Birthday, and The Poet’s Work. To make sure we got an accurate sampling of Cofer’s later poetry, these poems were chosen at random.

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When mapping the frequency of Spanish words in the corpus, we used the same technique from mapping the earlier works. The prevalence of el and la was not as pronounced in these works, and three of them did not have the words at all. It seems as though Cofer may not have been as focused on maintaining her Latin roots in her later works, and instead focused on her experiences as a middle-aged woman rather than her experiences as a Latina woman in America.

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Some of the word frequencies were extremely high; random words like beans, goya, caliente. When mapping the frequency of the words it became apparent that in her later poems, Cofer tends to find a topic and stick to it religiously. One poem is about the life and works of Goya, another is about the narrator’s memories of beans throughout her life, etc. Instead of writing narrative poems with a broad scope, Cofer seems to have honed in on one topic in particular for each of these later poems. She uses these particular topics as a focal point in her narrative and her retelling of memories from her past.

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The image on the top is from this corpus, the image on the bottom is from the corpus that contained Cofer’s early work to be used for comparison.
In these later poems, Cofer seems to have a greater interest in light and dark elements, as both serve as key themes in most of the poems from this particular corpus. Cofer seems to shift her focus to more artistic elements of life as she continues writing and growing as a poet. Her focus on artistic elements and her mention of the word art in her work shows this growth and change in focus. Her earlier poems are about life experiences, and her later poems represent a shift in focus and acknowledgment of the world around her. She is still narrating the life experiences that she and her poem’s narrators have had, yet they seem to look at life in a different way.

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The image on the top is from this corpus, the image on the bottom is from the Corpus that contained Cofer’s early work to be used for comparison.
We decided to compare some of the themes that we found in Cofer’s early work and started with the prevalence of references to a mother or motherly figure in her poetry. In these later works, mentions of mother are almost completely gone. No longer is Cofer the young woman who is thinking about her childhood and yearning for her mother. She is now a grown woman, who has probably become a mother herself and no longer needs the support. Her growth is evident with the absence of this theme.

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The image on the top is from this corpus, the image on the bottom is from the Corpus that contained Cofer’s early work to be used for comparison.
The theme of love has experienced growth in Cofer’s poems. In her early works, love was a prevalent theme, however these late works show a much higher frequency of the theme of love in her poems. Perhaps this is because Cofer is older, more mature, and has had many more experiences with love that she documents in her poetry. In these later poems, she mentions a lover a lot more frequently than in the past, which might be a result of the theme of love switching from a familial, platonic love to a more romantic and sensual love that the matured narrator has now experienced.

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The image on the top is from this corpus, the image on the bottom is from the Corpus that contained Cofer’s early work to be used for comparison.
The theme of children and childhood has remained pretty static throughout Cofer’s early and late works. Cofer is known for her poetry and prose that talk about either her past or the past of her narrators, and it seems as though she has not changed her desire to discuss these topics. While children are not an overwhelmingly common topic among her work, it is important to note that she has some elements that remain the same across long stretches of writing.

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The image on the top is from this corpus, the image on the bottom is from the Corpus that contained Cofer’s early work to be used for comparison.
Cofer continues her use of the first person in these later poems, and the use of a personal narrative seems to have increased dramatically. In her early poems, Cofer was writing as an outsider, or would write from the perspective of her narrator. In these later poems, Cofer seems to focus more attention on her life experiences and translates that into the poetry.

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The image on the top is from this corpus, the image on the bottom is from the Corpus that contained Cofer’s early work to be used for comparison.
One of the most glaring differences between the early and later poems is Cofer’s focus on a male character in her work. In the early poems, mentions of a man were scare and almost entirely limited to using the word lover. A focus on men seems to dominate the later poems, where Cofer makes many references to he and him throughout. Perhaps this is because men play a new role of importance in her life, ten years after her early poems were written, and this change translates into the poetry.

These later poems seem to focus more on Cofer’s own identity as a woman who has found herself in love, with a male figure in an important role in her life. We no longer see the prevalence of childhood, the past, or motherly figures in Cofer’s poetry as she no longer characterizes herself by these memories but rather focuses on making new ones. A distinct personal identity is able to emerge from these works because of these changes. While her later poems are much different thematically from her first, Cofer remains true to her Latin heritage and includes Spanish and Puerto Rican elements that are sure to make readers realize that their author has not changed completely.

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