Eduardo C. Corral Book Release Party for Slow Lightning
by Rio Cortez
Last Thursday, Darrel Alejandro Holnes and Jerome Murphy organized an event celebrating the publication of Eduardo C. Corral’s first book-length collection of poetry, Slow Lightning, winner of the 2011 Yale Series of Younger Poets prize. Held in a salon-style living room at NYU’s Lilian Vernon Creative Writing House, the event felt like an intimate gathering of friends, though it was attended by an impressive crowd of nearly 200 guests.
As additional chairs were unfolded to accommodate listeners and as attendees carved space for themselves on the house staircase, enthusiasm for Corral’s work was palpable. Since Corral, the first Latino to win the Yale Younger Poets prize in its 93-year history, wrote Slow Lightning in essential moments of dual language, it was fitting that the evening began with a bilingual reading of Lorca’s “Cielo Vivo” by Holnes and Murphy. The program continued with a musical performance and a selection of readers chosen by Corral, all previous winners of the prestigious Yale prize. Ken Chen, Executive Director of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, opened up the floor with a reading from his book Juvenilia, chosen by Louise Glück for the prize in 2009.
Jerome Murphy and Darrel Alejandro Holnes
Corral asked each reader to briefly recall the moment they were informed that their manuscripts had been selected for the Yale; Chen shared a memory of Glück candidly discussing the poems from his submission at a café. Next to read was the most recent winner of the prize, Will Schutt, whose manuscript, Westerly, was Carl Phillips’ second selection as judge and will be published in April 2013. Schutt read from his beautiful poem, “Ferry,” and talked briefly about the moment he discovered he’d won. Fellow poet and NYU alum, Alex Morris, adapted one of Corral’s poems, “To the Angelbeast,” into song. Morris, accompanied vocally by Katie Von Schleicher, played guitar and created a chorus out of Corral’s powerful line “Am I not your animal?”
Alex Morris and Katie Von Schleicher
The incomparable Jean Valentine introduced to Corral, reading from Carl Phillips’ forward in Slow Lightning. She echoed some of Phillips’ praise and talked about first becoming familiar with Corral when Ploughshares published his poem “Caballero”. Valentine also discussed her own experience winning the Yale at age 30 and receiving the news by postal mail.
Eduardo C. Corral and Jean Valentine
Finally, Eduardo read from his celebrated collection. Corral remarked on the irony of his work being published by Yale at the same moment in history that “Arizona is pulling Latino authors off the shelves.” He talked about the creation of Slow Lightning, that it took a lengthy nine years to complete, and also read “Tumbling & Lasso,” which he said was the final poem to go into the book. Corral took a moment after reading poems like “Watermark” and “Want” to divulge the layers of meaning behind particular Spanish words, for example that the word “Socorro,” was both the word for a call for help and also his own mother’s name. Before closing his reading with “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome” and “To a Mojado Who Died Crossing the Dessert,” Corral recalled his own experience discovering that he’d won the Yale by humorously recounting a series of missed calls and voicemails from judge Carl Phillips, while Corral was in residence at the MacDowell Colony.
The evening ended in warmth as Corral greeted friends and signed copies of his exciting new book, my own copy with the joyful inscription “May lightning strike again and again!”
Eduardo C. Corral and Rio Cortez
Rio Cortez is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, where she received the Lucy Grealy Prize in poetry. She is a Cave Canem fellow and MFA candidate at NYU. Her work has appeared in Clementine, Tuesday, Tidal Basin Review, Sugar House Review, & Cratelit. Born & raised in Salt Lake City, she now loves & lives in Queens, NY.