“a life affected marginally by Star Wars”

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These notes are part of my “read 100 poetry books in 12-ish months” effort. Far from an official review, they represent first impressions and provide some context for what I brought to the reading of the text.

3 of 100: Be Recorder by Carmen Gimenez Smith (2019, Graywolf Press)

Quick, personal thoughts:

  • I’ve struggled to write about the political times we live in. Although I rant on Twitter and retweet other people’s clever or biting tweets about the scandals/horrors/injustice/harms/etc/etc like a mad woman, I can’t get there in my own writing. In contrast, this collection will prove to be an important record (I mean, it’s in the title) of this moment in time. National/global politics and capitalism place those without power at risk, and Be Recorder captures that vulnerability with a “a queer, Latinx, immigrants’ daughter, motherhood poetics” (as described in the New York Times).
  • May the voice in these poems be seeds for a revolution the world desperately needs. xo

Lines I want to remember:

  • “am I the mariner / and whose bird was it / and how does absolution / work … why am I the locus of your discontent / and not your president / your intimate the landlord / an aesthetic overlord / how do I hand from your neck / with such ease and when / will I be graced with immunity.”
  • “repeat it and it’ll become the human drone / over the world that trembles out the clouds // tumbles them to wash over the cities wash / out our mouths the consonance draining out // into the sewers of our historical consciousness / and the new city rises from the bits of what // was the letters are shaped like us”
  • “a metaphysical Cheshire / telling me I could finally evict / the angry fist who became chairman / of me for some time / I don’t blame him / I was being permeable”
  • “Meanwhile, my son goes on to have a life affected marginally by Star Wars, and more generally by the psychodynamic he grew up in, which is, more or less, average bougie child with a kid sister, narcissistic parents, and ecological disaster.”

What others have said:

  • The Los Angeles Review: “As in past collections, her topics are by turns humorous, heartbreaking, and affirming; her lines are linguistically playful and complex. But in Be Recorder Giménez Smith’s speaker asserts power as specifically rooted in her Latinx, descendant-of-immigrants identity. By giving readers “the context for the twenty-first century Latina lyric I,” she does nothing short of destabilizing our current MAGA-loving moment and mapping a new national order.”
  • Publishers Weekly: “An autobiographical speaker (a mother and first-generation American) catalogues the flotsam and jetsam of late-stage capitalism in the stunning sixth collection from Smith (Milk and Filth). With a prophetic voice rooted in awareness of a dying planet, 20 poems and a middle lyric sequence are impressively served by Smith’s ear for pithy encapsulation.”
  • ZYZZYVA: “Be Recorder refuses to pretend it lives elsewhere, in some untouchable world of the lyric. Rather, each poem is undeniably here, in the now of state-generated violence and imperialism, of oppressive immigration policies, of love, of motherhood, of writerly politics. “ 

Where some of the poems from this collection live online:

Have you read this collection? If so, let me know your thoughts in the comments!




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