An excerpt of this very thoughtful review by Carolyne Whelan at Coal Hill Review:
Starting with a monologue of longing from Eve, Reyes weaves seamlessly the creation myths of the Book of Genesis and of the Tagalog people of the Philippines, along with the bloody history of colonization in the Philippines and her grandfather’s role during World War II. We are offered Reyes’ own version of oral history, the history of her split heritage, the story of survival, and myths of Reyes’ own creation that add an additional emotional truth despite their deliberate inaccuracy. We leave this book both shellshocked and empowered, reborn and rib-torn.
While these poems are capable of standing alone with their musical incantations (“We bring her tobacco when she calls shrill bird trill carried upon air as though her voice were a body’s warm rib cage we could wrap our arms round tight.”), they work collectively as one long narrative that uses traditional Filipino poetic devices, including call and response, repetition, and songlike refrains. The long humming lines matched with short pulse lines (“Here I shall weave a selvedge of we.”) hypnotize us like a fire on an otherwise black night.
I found this chapbook at the awesome McNally Jackson Books on Prince Street, where I also picked up The Locas Mujeres: Poems of Gabriela Mistral, and After you, dearest language by Marisol Limón Martinez.
City: Bolshevik Superpoem in 5 Cantos by Manuel Maples Arce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Reading Arce’s City: Bolshevik Superpoem in 5 Cantos, I suppose we can’t help but think Whitman, and Ginsberg, though I understand this poem was originally published in 1924, so it predates Ginsberg. Of course, I also think of Lorca’s Poeta en Nueva York, obviously because Arce wrote the poem in Spanish, but mostly for the kind of surreal bustling and teeming masses (though not so much vomitous masses). The poet (Arce, Lorca, Whitman, Ginsberg) holding his gaze primarily at (literal and figurative) ground level, an expansive, panoramic gaze focused on those who inhabit the city and most importantly, who are its builders and caretakers — Bolshevik, right? Not previously knowing anything about the poet, that’s an obvious clue about the poet’s political and social concerns.
Thank you to Lyle Daggett for his very thoughtful write-up/blog review of Poeta en San Francisco. It’s great to know that a few years after its initial publication, the book has got legs –
The book is organized in three sections, “orient,” “dis orient,” and “re orient,” with short prologue and epilogue sections. Written on the page sometimes as prose paragraphs, sometimes in the linebreaks of poems, this is writing that constantly shifts perspective, moving through a landscape of viewpoints, speaking in a chorus of voices. I described the book as epic. It’s the average length of a typical book of poems, not a massive volume to pick up; it’s epic in every other sense. The great variation of the poems never wanders away from the book’s central subject: the nature of life, and death, and love, in the heart of the beast of empire.
At times the voice in the poems is clear and accusing, other times quiet and abidingly tender, and again coolly analytical, and yet again public and declamatory. Reyes’s poems move with insistent rhythms and concentrated power that evoke the movement of the sea, the tectonic plates of the earth.
My 14th post is up at the Poetry Foundation blog. Actually, I’ve happily given over the space to Craig Santos Perez’s review of Tara Betts’s debut poetry collection Arc & Hue. An excerpt:
The funniest poem is an interactive piece titled “A Survey on Enjoying Verse.” One of the survey questions asks where the reader last heard poetry read aloud (“please mark YES or NO” with a “No. 2 Pencil only”):
4. Alone in a smoky bar while wishing your sorry ass lover would take you back.
5. At a poetry slam since that’s how you get to go on tour and hawk the CDs you just burned and the chapbook with your picture on the front.
6. At a respected literary organization or conference so academes, publishers, and editors know you’re a REAL poet. (77)
I’ve never seen Betts alone in the smoky bar that I usually hang out in wishing my sorry ass lover would take me back; Betts’s picture nests modestly on the back cover of the book beneath blurbs by Martín Espada, Annie Finch, and Wanda Coleman; does anyone really consider AWP a “respected literary organization or conference”? For real, all one has to do is read Arc & Hue to know that Betts is a REAL poet. Not only does she write about a diverse range of expansive themes, but she also grounds these themes in her past and present experiences. The poems illuminate the smallest domestic moments (whether filled with violence or love) alongside larger cultural issues. While Betts writes mostly in free verse, this collection contains many well-crafted sonnets, a villanelle riff, a sestina, and a vibrant canzone.
My third post, “Evie Shockley, ‘a half-red sea’ (Carolina Wren Press, 2006),” is up at the Poetry Foundation blog. Here’s an excerpt:
There is much to be admired in this collection of poems. In addition to the sonnet-ballad form, she employs the pantoum and the acrostic in very smooth and revealing ways. As well, Shockley’s Harryette Mullen-esque word play on cliché — “good as guile,” “what’s in a shame,” “the freak shall inherit the mirth” — as if in mimicry of standard American English, is both playful and critical, in uncovering the darker implications of such conventionally throwaway phrases. It goes without saying that Shockley’s work is political, in language and in content. And this is quite satisfying to me as a reader constantly seeking intelligent, well-crafted, historically relevant poetry which is located in the world, tempered and telling urgently of real human lives.
My second post, “Suheir Hammad, ‘breaking poems’ (Cypher Books, 2008)” (in which I’ve included and edited my original breaking poems post is up at the Poetry Foundation blog. Here’s an excerpt:
And so for those American poets who doubt the existence or relevance of well-written political poetry in the USA, for those who think “political poetry” is just a post-9/11 fad, I would say to leave your comfy little academic and abstract circles and open your minds to poets coming out of communities of color, immigrant communities, multilingual communities, communities of working folk and families, these American poets’ communities, and see that “political poetry” has always existed, has always been necessary, has always been crafted and spoken and sang, has always served to educate, inspire, and mobilize its constituents.
Props for new/recent publication, and more news:
- Tara Betts‘s forthcoming debut collection Arc and Hue (Aquarius Press, 2009).
- Reginald Dwayne Betts, recipient of the 2009 Beatrice Hawley Award, for his forthcoming Shahid Reads His Own Palm (Alice James Books, 2010).
- Chad Sweeney’s forthcoming third collecti0n, Parable of Hide and Seek (Alice James Books, 2010).
- Jennifer K. Sweeney, recipient of the 2009 Perugia Press Prize, for her recently released second collection, How to Live on Bread and Music (Perugia Press, 2009). (Something tells me she also has more big news on the horizon.)
- Adrian Castro’s third collection, Handling Destiny, is forthcoming in October 2009 from Coffee House Press, and I am thrilled they are sending me a review copy.
- Achiote Press has just released two new chapbooks: Roberto Harrison’s Urraca and Erin M. Bertram’s The Most Wild, Kindly Green.
- Joël Barraquiel Tan’s Type O Negative (Red Hen Press, 2008) has just been reviewed for the PAWA blog by Marianne Villanueva.
My review of Nick Carbó’s new book, Chinese, Japanese, What Are These? is now up at the Hyphen magazine blog. Here is an excerpt:
There is something heartbreaking about Filipino American poet Nick Carbo’s latest collection of poetry, provocatively titled Chinese, Japanese, What Are These? For those of you not in the know, the book’s title references the xenophobic children’s rhyme, “Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, what are these?” The gestures accompanying said rhyme include using one’s hands to stretch the eyes, hence making the “chinky eye.” The movement corresponding to What are these?” is to show or motion towards the breasts, exaggerating their size.
Read the entire review here.
I really want to go to this. I don’t know Geologic aka Prometheus Brown personally, but have been following and enjoying his blog for a few months now. I also especially appreciate his position as a Filipino American artist, that is, an actual practitioner of art, and a cultural critic. This is something I talk about all the time, how as Filipino American artists, we create the bodies of creative work, the cultural productions which come to be consumed by our fellow community members, activists, academics. Also, we come to take on the responsibility of generating the critical writing on said cultural productions due to the dearth of published community generated critical writing.
This is a hard position to occupy, if only for the very practical reasons of workload. If I am writing books, and then working to find publication, I don’t always have the energy to also write reviews. I do look to poet, novelist, critic, educator Rigoberto González and a few others like him as role models. So here I am blogging, and over time, this has become a frequently referenced and quoted critical space. Of course I could do more. We could all do more. I am slated to start writing for the Hyphen magazine blog, which I will do after Prometheus Brown’s event. So it looks like I’ve got a more official venue than this blog in which to place my work.
But as tensions are rising quite high right now over Steven Schroeder’s review of Richard Vargas’s books (this review appeared in the latest installment of the Latino Poetry Review), here is something plain as day that we can all think about: as I have stated and restated, I do not believe that only POC can and should review the cultural productions of POC. I do, however, believe that the reviewer should try to understand the contexts in which the artist is creating his/her art. What are the artist’s political, historical, cultural concerns, who are the artist’s models?