Sunday, January 13, 2013

Review Roundup: January 13, 2013

Johnny Payne reviews Gabriel Gomez’s The Seed Bank (Mouthfeel Press)

In 2006 Gabriel Gomez’s The Outer Bands (University of Notre Dame Press) was awarded the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize. Written shortly after the devastating events of Hurricane Katrina, Gomez’s debut collection of poems concludes with a title poem which sums up a chronicle of the twenty-eight-days between Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita and which D.A. Powell called a “kindness in the midst of a disordered world; a spire rising from the floodwaters.” The Seed Bank is Gabriel Gomez's newest collection of poems, here is what Johnny Payne of the El Paso Times had to say:

“This collection of lyrical poems comes out of a self-conscious reflection on poetry-in-itself. With his affable experimentation and subtle cultural vibe, Gómez allows us to enjoy a refined mind with a deep sense of music. If you've ever felt mild euphoria while listening to someone improvise on a guitar, you'll read this slim volume in a single sitting. It's as much John Cale as John Cage.

"The Seed Bank" consists mostly of interconnected poems, and in a sense, one could describe the book as one long, if willfully fractured, poem -- "an isotropic / voice split to its / frequencies." At the same time, each new poem, changing, sometimes radically, from, say, spare typographic play to a numbered list, springs on us a fresh surprise.”

            [Continue reading.]


Craig Santos Perez reviews Paul Martinez Pompa’s My Kill Adore Him (Unviersity of Notre Dame Press) Brenda Cárdenas’s Boomerang (Bilingual Press) and Kristin Naca's Bird Eating Bird (Harper Perennial)

Craig Santos Perez reminds me that poetry, through its manipulation of the imagination, has the power to move its readers and listeners to question and challenge established structures of power. Take for instance the Arizona’s racist laws SB 1070 and HB 2281, which together seek to erase any historical and linguistic marker which records that state’s intimate connection with Mexicans, Mexican-Americans and native communities. Perez also reminds me that just as poetry has the ability to “speak truth to power,” the writing, study and appreciation of that type of poetry is also just as vital an exercise in the fight for a more egalitarian society:

Santos Perez on Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize Winner, Paul Martinez Pompa’s My Kill Adore Him as a response to SB 1070:

Pompa’s “While Late Capitalism” depicts the tragedy that often befalls those who cross the border in search of better lives:

[Crammed-in-&-bangin-against-each-othr-in-a-dark-aluminum-box-they-drop-like-fleas-or-croak-standin-6-hrs-into-th-trip-a-mothr-drapes-her-limp-babys-serape-over-th-mans-head-it-nods-back-&-frth-with-each-bump-in-th-road-thank-god-th-corpse-doesnt-smell-warm-piss-&-shit-make-bodies-vomit-on-bodies-th-coyote-can’t-unlock-th-trailr-door-a-womn-tries-to-scratch-a-hole-thru-th-wall-as-she-prays-some-phrase-or-word-some-idea-that-resists-translation-into-Englsh] (58)

Perhaps Pompa is referring to the 19 migrants who, along with nearly 100 other people, died from heat exhaustion after the trailer they were being smuggled in was abandoned and left locked in the heat before it reached Houston in 2003. The poem embodies that sense of confinement with its use of brackets; the hyphens further emphasize the “crammed-in-&-bangin” rhythm. Even the truncated words (“th” and “frth”) embody the crowdedness and aural stumbling of the “aluminum box.” These formal elements powerfully contribute to the haunting image of the woman whose scratching prayer eludes translation.


Santos Perez on Brenda Cárdena's code-switching and multilingualism in Boomerang as a response to HB 2281—Arizona’s English-only law:

Brenda Cárdenas’ first book shows that multilingualism (and, by extension, multilingual poetics) is beautiful, profound, engaging, and necessary. Her work also resists pressure to write (or speak or live) “English-only.” The poem “Al mestizaje” begins:

In mi gente’s hips, la clave
and from mi gente’s lips, sale
a fluid, funky lingo fusion
that fools among you call intrusion,
but purity is an illusion.
So if you can’t dig la mezcla, ¡chale! (46)


Santos Perez on Kristin Naca's Bird Eating Bird and the banning of ethnic-studies in Arizona:

Moreover, Naca writes from a multicultural perspective: she examines her Latina and Filipina heritage, as she moves across the geographies of Mexico City, Pittsburgh, and the Philippines.

The very first poem, “Speaking English is Like,” offers several descriptions of what speaking English is like for her: “The staple that misfires and jams the hammer”; “Red water out the pipes, teeming from the rusty gutters”; “The ghostly cu-cu echoing through the purple night, under stars.” (1-2) In her work, Naca imaginatively engages with the experience of language acquisition and use, showing us that learning multiple languages can give pleasure, even if it’s a difficult (or even painful) process.


Lambda Literary reviews Blas Falconer's  The Foundling Wheel (Four Way Books)

Blas Falconer is the author of The Foundling Wheel (Four Way Books, 2012);  A Question of Gravity and Light (University of Arizona Press, 2007);  and The Perfect Hour (Pleasure Boat Studio: A Literary Press, 2006).  He is also a co-editor for The Other Latin@: Writing Against a Singular Identity (University of Arizona Press, 2011) and Mentor & Muse:  Essays from Poets to Poets (Southern Illinois University Press, 2010).

Here is a favorite excerpt (from the poem “Homecoming”), which for me captures what Stanley Plumly calls “the pastoral [as] the lyric of a landscape,” that joyous sound by which we near home in the poems in Falconer latest collection The Foundling Wheel :

            “Rain against the roof sounds like a slow tire
            over gravel, as if a friend has come.
            The train rumbles through the dark, and my body, tuned
            to hear you cry before you cry, stirs.”

Here is what Lambda had to say:

The Foundling Wheel (Four Way Books) is an apt title for this collection of poems, which reflect the revolving emotions involved in cleaving to one’s child or lover, as well as the emotions involved in being emotionally and physically abandoned. Many of these poems touch upon the relationships between two gay fathers and their infant son.  There is a sense of absence in this work and a resistance to “taking comfort/in routine,” meaning domestic routines and the semi-rural landscape behind most of these poems.  Certain darker emotions reverberate under the surface—anger, resentment and in short, the panoply of emotion that come with any relationship, gay or straight.

As a follow-up to his first collection of poems, A Question of Gravity and Light, Falconer continues his exploration of the domestic and the heartfelt. The speaker tells us up front “You’ll test/yourself the way you always have, a boy/stepping into the dark and the story/it held—whatever it was.” This becomes an invocation of sorts, an exploration.  In “On the Bluffs of Pico Duarte” the poet takes a fool-hearty cliff-side plunge into “the cold and muted dark, the stillness there” despite the fears and anxiety of his lover who waits breathlessly above. But this in a way is metaphor for the poet who always suspects “the emptiness below” who sees in the joyful scenes of pastoral nature or in the confines of a long relationship the troubles and anger, which lie, submerged, who resists the seductiveness of stillness and passivity.

            [Continue reading.]

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