One could probably spend hours just unpacking the cover of this intriguing collection. I don’t know if it was a source of inspiration for Faizullah or not. There do seem to be some references to it on one of the later poems in the collection.
Either way, I think it’s a perfectly appropriate cover. As with her poems, there are recognizable elements and mysterious ones often placed next to each other to create an effect I could not always discern. There’s something to the motif of ‘registers’ that I would explore more carefully if I were to review this collection again. And much like you shouldn’t leave some movies because the credits begin, don’t put this book away until you get all of the way to the back cover. There’s another poem in the ‘registers’ mode to be found. Rather than revisit the collection, though, it’s more likely, though, that I’ll try to teach a few – “Your Own Country” and “Poetry Recitation at St. Catherine’s School for Girls,” for example.
I am already a fan of the poetry of Mike Bazzett. (Full disclosure: I worked with him for a time.) But I admit I was unsure about this project, most likely because I didn’t understand what he was up to and why. Having been lucky enough to visit Mexico recently and, predictably, doing a lot of reading about it, I began to understand the need for and significance of his project.
I have always been fascinated by origin stories. My copy of Virginia Hamilton’s Creation Stories from Around the World is well-worn.
And because he crafts his prose in ways that are similar to poetry, every word carefully weighed, I read the introduction and was nodding along until I came to his claim that “the Popul Vuh is a rattling good story” (xiii). First, only Mike would conjure up the word ‘rattling’ there. Second, my raised eyebrows asked, “Really? A great story?” Origin stories are usually compelling in their details, revealing in the ways they overlap with other creation stories, but good stories? I was skeptical.
But he was right. Perhaps because it’s extended, perhaps because we hear from a variety of voices (and not just one as at least I’m used to), there was something to the way this story is presented (and translated) that made it almost like, dare I say, a page turner. I can’t remember all of the names, but the moment when the two brothers recognize the circumstances of their death and volunteer for it, there is a physical gesture of affection that is so beautifully rendered that the moment gave me the same chills I get when Achilles goes to embrace Patroclus who is not a physical body, but a spirit and therefore the contact cannot be made.
I haven’t read any other translations, so I can’t say anything by way of how this compares to another, but I don’t feel compelled to investigate this angle. I could see teaching this book one day, or at least portions of it. It is, in so many ways, a powerful record of the power of creation by means of words.
“Incendiary” is exactly the right title. One after the other these poems dissect the racism of our times. Smith wastes no words and spares no feelings. In “Incendiary Art: Tulsa, 1921,” Smith writes, “I do not run, but I am seen running.” Could you do that with any more precision? The last couplet of “Incendiary Art”: “Our sons don’t burn their cities as a rule, / born, as they are, up to their necks in fuel.” Linger on that image for a moment or three. From “The Mother Dares Make Love Again, After” – “Fuck // me in the general direction of history.”
You will not walk away from this collection unbruised; you will walk away in awe.
If this title isn’t enough for you, try the whole poem —
This is quite an ambitious project. I like that Hayes, here and elsewhere, is attentive to form. And there are many, many amazing pieces here. There are also some that seemed more clever than anything else. And then there are – and this is okay – some I just didn’t get. As for who his assassin is, I’m not sure, but it might just be people who look like me.
I wish Hayes had at least numbered the sonnets so I could refer to the ones I liked, but no luck.
So, this analogy will date me, but here goes: Do I think it’s worth buying the whole album (book) if only about half of the songs (sonnets) are good? Yep. I think so.
I just didn’t get it. Joudah, a doctor, has vocabulary I lack. Often, the poems seemed like shorthand to me, either references to ideas I didn’t understand or an example of making poetry by what is left out. There were a few poems I could find my way into, like, “I, The Sole Witness to My Despair, Declare” (both versions), “An Algebra Come Home” and “Horses.” Mostly, though, I spent my time banging my head against the wall of this collection.
From the haunting front cover to the very last page, this book will be in your face. The intensity pops from these poems in a way you just won’t believe. I’ve never known anyone who used caesura to such good effect. I could hear these poems. Poems like, “how to get over (for colored girls)” and “how to get over (for white boys in the hood” and “hands” and “how to get over (for those of us who can’t quite quit her)” are incredibly powerful.
This collection has multiple personalities. There is a portion of it that is great. There is a portion of it that seems trivial – clever exercises, passes off as poems. And there’s a small, but telling portion of it that disturbed me, and not in a good or useful way. WHen Majmudar writes about women, especially sex, the language and imagery of it made me pretty uncomfortable. Poems like “Dothead” (that week was India – myths, / caste system, suttee, all the Greatest Hits) demonstrate Majmudar’s wit put to good effect. “Immigration and Naturalization” (But is it still a family / When the son cannot speak / The mother tongue of the father?), “To the Hyphenated Poets,” “The Star-Spangled Turban,” and “Lineage” are outstanding.
So, yes, wade in the gems, even be impressed by the cleverness. And I don’t know, maybe you’ll read poems like, “The Doll” and “Abecedarian” differently than me.