This paragraph instead

I am angry because this is considered prize winning poetry and because writing even a polite review of it takes the kind of effort grading a really bad paper does.

These autobiographical poems are stories of the joys and sorrows of women in families – wives, mothers, grandmothers, aunts – on both sides of the border between Texas and Mexico, and of relationships between women as well as with husbands and sons. In the title poem “Lavando la Dirty Laundry,” for instance, the young speaker’s grandmother tells her that her grandfather had girlfriends. He once mistook a man who comes to tell her this for someone come courting, and threw her pile of clean laundry out into a muddy street. He muddied her, that is to say, and the laundry had to soak for days because rain prevented her from washing soon again. The incident is narrated years later as she prepares to bake a cake, pressing dough into a form, “a metal heart yielding below your fingers” (34), the grandmother loving still, the form responding now to her love. “Well, God” (21-23), the most interesting poem in the book in terms of anecdote, tells of how this grandmother, after one of her sons died in babyhood, adopted a girl from a beggar woman who was giving her children away:

I will take your girl, you said.
And Raque was yours, Raquenel.
A girl you named after yourself.

(23)

This grandmother is perhaps the best drawn character in the book. The speaker, or author’s much more modern loves are implicitly contrasted with hers, and the grandmother’s homely wisdom often applies to her as well. The volume takes us from a first marriage to a divorce, to a remarriage, the birth of a child and a husband’s cancer treatment, often illustrated with references to Greek mythology, the New Testament, or the folktales gathered by the brothers Grimm. There will be readers who see themselves in these poems, or find company in them.

Axé.

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8 Comments

Filed under Banes, Poetry

8 responses to “This paragraph instead

  1. meansomething

    Curious, I read a few of this writer’s poems online. You are right: they are not strong. They are overnarrated, lyrically slack. She loves language and imagery and the soulful pronouncement, but these things are not coming together with the tension and surprise of a real poem.

    I get so frustrated sometimes when I see people praising work like this. It is the thing most likely to drive me off Facebook, where people post poems because they want to praise the intent or the content or the feeling, but the actual poem is poor. I think either the poster can’t recognize a good poem, or the poster is faking enthusiasm, and either one is depressing.

  2. Z

    More things I won’t say, because of the question / issue of wasting time trashing something: that the heavy handed metaphors reduce their component parts to something less, and not more illuminated.

  3. When in doubt, I re-read poems I know are good. There is not much of it, much less than we think. It could be the hardest of all arts to do well. I think around 99% of poetry is crap.

  4. Z

    That must be why people dislike poetry. 🙂

  5. Hattie

    Yes I think so. The best poetry is so special.

  6. Z

    Here is what I would like to include in the review but am not, then:
    With sparer narration and greater lyric tension, more attention to language and less dependence on the inherent interest of the author’s everyday experience, these might be poems. Also: the approach to the body needs to be different. I am all for embodiment but the mere fact that the poet has a body is not enough.

    Drummond on physical sensations, feelings and thoughts in poetry:

    Não faças poesia com o corpo,
    esse excelente, completo e confortável corpo, tão indefenso à efusão lírica.

    Tua gota de bile, tua careta de gozo ou de dor no escuro
    são indiferentes.
    Nem me reveles teus sentimentos,
    que se prevalecem do equívoco e tentam a longa viagem.
    O que pensas e sentes, isso ainda não é poesia.

    It occurs to me that people do not want to criticize Treviño or poets like her because the poems depend so much on her very intimate sentiments and neuroses and experiences that to criticize them is like criticizing her personally and hitting her where she is perhaps weakest, and does not feel fair.

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