Back in November when installment one of Latino/a Poetry Now kicked-off with the Poetry Society of America’s second roundtable featuring Rosa Alcalá, Eduardo C. Corral, and Aracelis Girmay, I offered you this synopsis of that e-conversation. I remember being deeply moved by Maria Melendez’s closing statements: Speaking on the issue of race and other barriers of exclusion that emerge in this discussion, Maria Melendez manages to reaffirm her belief in the need for these three poets “to be more widely read, heard, and discussed” as an antidote to exclusion.
And now that installment two of Latino/a Poetry Now has concluded I find that Maria Melendez’s preoccupation with a lack appreciation and exposure to this new generation of poets showcased in this national reading series contributes to a form of censorship that is more silent but by no means less excluding than that of book banning. For example, in preparing for this e-conversation between Ruth Irupé Sanabria and William Archila, nowhere did I find a single book review or piece of literary criticism on Ruth Irupé Sanabria’s The Strange House Testifies. In an attempt to breach this gap (even if it is just a little) I humbly offer you here my own book review of Ruth Irupé Sanabria’s The Strange House Testifies.
In her first book-length collection of poems, The Strange House Testifies (Bilingual Press, 2009) Ruth Irupé Sanabria explores the power of language to destroy and re-create. The book, while divided into three sections, reads as a two-part book. In the opening half of the collection Sanabria opens up with poems that explore the genocidal dictatorship that began in 1976 and which was responsible for the deaths and disappearances of thousands of Argentineans:
It was the first reunion for MR. and Mrs. S—
and their 4-year-old daughter
since Argentine police arrested the parents
at their home on Jan. 12, 1977
and imprisoned them on
Mrs. S— commented that she had been kept
in a 9-foot by 9-foot prison cell
for almost three years and thousands
like her are still in prison in Argentina.
“Yesterday was the first time in three years
I have been able to touch my daughter,” she said.
I vomited in the clouds
above the ocean
between Buenos Aires and New Orleans[…]
One stewardess gave me a hard American mint,
red and white, to suck on
and pinned a pair of plastic wings on my chest;
said it was the shock of clouds
that had made me sick (6-7)
The poet’s juxtaposition of the language of official narratives, of Nunca Mas (the official report of the Argentine National Commission on the Disappeared and which documents the human rights abuses), with the language of poetry offers not only a new insight into social justice but also into poetry itself. While a poem alone may do little to stop the historical, social and economic forces that create conditions of suffering for the innocent, these poems remind us that a literature that is deeply immersed with the problems of its times can only but aid in resisting through language—like here:
When a family which was to be chupada, had children, the
following methods were employed:
1 The children were left with neighbors to be looked after[…]
3 The children might themselves be abducted and eventually
adopted by a member of the armed forces […]
6 They could be taken to the secret detention centre, where they
would witness the tortures inflicted on their parents, or they
might themselves be tortured in front of their parents. Many of
these children are now among the list of “disappeared.”
Behold apricot chin,
flared and boogered.
And this one, glossy whites of eyes rolled,
just a quarter moon of honey showing.
Or here, sweetly milk-toothed and swinging on the walnut tree,
and oblivious playing with blue toy blow-dryer
in a box of brown sand. (17)
I would transform
and nectar loving
birds colored lilac (74)
The second section follows the adventures of “ghetto girl” and explores—through poems infused with the music of Latinos and jazz and the everyday rhythms of African-American and Latino speech(s)—the racism and violence of growing up Latina in the U.S.: “I arrive unannounced” declares ghetto girl:
trappin’ and slappin’
with my brown
this is no super joke[…]
and we’re coming
to a theater near you
all the spics and niggas
stuck in naked freeze frames
big butt monkey sex scenes
illiterate dope dealin’ rice and beans
stereo sound (45)
And here too the poet dares to summon the hallucinating bird of poetic language, bird that has landed
upon our rusted chain link fence
not only the cage
but complete ownership. (63)
Bird that “does not trust human hands” and sings a “wild-wing-growing” and shoots free through the roof of the earth.