Aracelis Girmay makes me want to be a better writer. In TEETH, poetry rises de sudor y socorro, spun from ancestral bones and living blood. Girmay's been fortunate to have Martín Espada as a mentor, and their work is kindred, drawing you down, drawing you in, and reflecting a world view where the personal and the political are one. But make no mistake, she is absolutely and clearly her own woman, fully articulate in her own voice and subject matter.
Girmay's writing dances on the razor's edge, sharp, glittering, precise. She skillfully celebrates culture, yet bares the thousand cuts of injustices large and small. Her work reminds me of an indelible scene in Maxine Hong Kingston's Woman Warrior. In the scene, the heroine's parents make knife cuts along the whole of her back, inscribing the harm done to them and the villagers at the hands of the overlord. It is a wound and stunning beauty, an indelible branding of history, the deepest possible oath.
But TEETH is not a mere recitation of oppression. Again, like Espada, the writing holds triumph and resilience, a faith rooted in the goodness and perseverance of working people. Girmay is also a teacher and her work with young people feeds and informs her work in specific and at the soul level.