Blue Mountain, by John Balaban. Greensboro, N.C.: Unicorn Press (P.O. Box 3307, 27402).88 pp. $6 (paperback).
Today's small publishers are producing a whole range of books which, because of production and marketing considerations, most of the larger houses can't even consider.
''Fiesta in Aztlan'' is the sort of book that makes the small literary presses so valuable. An anthology of 26 Chicano poets, ''Fiesta'' leads the reader into a new world, a culture-within-a-culture that is native to America, yet completely unfamiliar to most Americans.
The language of these poems - a blend of Spanish, English, and Calo, the street language of the barrio - reveals the mixture of influences and inherent contradictions these writers confront. Editor Toni Empiringham provides translations of the poems where necessary. The book's introduction points out the special nature of the Mexican-American's heritage: ''We left no teeming shore in Europe, hungry and eager to reach the New World. . . . No Statue of Liberty ever greeted our arrival in this country. . . . We did not, in fact, come to the United States at all. The United States came to us.''
The collection is divided into the three concentric circles of Chicano life: Family, Barrio, El Mundo (the effort to create a whole existence in ''the world'' at large). The violence and nihilism too often associated with barrio life is present in these poems as well, but is far outweighed by individual compassion and attention to the rich distinctions of Chicano culture. The poems differ greatly in their stylistic approaches and levels of success; but the anthology forms a vivid mosaic of Chicano life and a valuable introduction to many fine new talents.
John Balaban's first book of poems, ''After Our War,'' was a Lamont Prize winner and National Book Award nominee when it first appeared in 1974. After publishing two translations of Vietnamese folk poetry, he has returned with a second volume of his own writing. ''Blue Mountain'' is an adventurous, strong-spirited work that combines the storyteller's narrative sense with the lyric poet's concern for language and image.
All eyes and ears, Balaban's poems wander across the US, examine the health of the post-Vietnam era, sift for his family origins in Romania, and make repeated pilgrimages to the sparkling Blue Mountain wilderness of his imagination. The poet fuses a relaxed contemporary idiom with an acute sense of sound and rhythm. Balaban writes with exquisite attention to detail and a precision of craft too often lacking in today's poetry. He confronts the violence and deadening alienation of our age and distills from it poems designed to defend his sanity and sensitivity as well as our own. He wrings a surprising beauty from an overlooked countryside and a too-familiar language.