Caraza credits María Miranda Maloney, the founder of El Paso’s Mouthfeel Press, for encouraging her to write this collection, a change from her earlier prize-winning poetry collections. Since 2009 Mouthfeel has published twenty-five books by writers from Mexico, Uruguay, and throughout the United States, garnering recognition and accolades for itself and its writers.
Originally from Mexico, Caraza lives in Kansas City and teaches at the University of Missouri. On an international level, she teaches, serves as editor of literary and academic journals, performs, and publishes work in both English and Spanish. She has won honors in Central America, Europe, and the US. In this bi-lingual collection, she wrote each piece in Spanish, and then she, Sandra Kingery, and Stephen Holland-Wempe translated them into English. Spanish is a superb language for literature, with an innate rhythm and rhyme which can translate awkwardly, losing the natural poetry. I read the English translations which are beautiful in their own right, each line fluid and graceful.
Caraza’s stories vibrate with the sensuality of the female body as it moves through heat, reacts to a man’s gaze, responds to the rhythms of jazz, or fills the memory of a man being subjected to torture. Her writing is redolent of jungle, copal and flesh, the pungent taste and feel of food and drink, the gratification of tactile details. Color permeates her stories -- the flora and fauna of tropical Veracruz and the valley of Anahuac, the sea and sky in their various moods, the colors of cups, drinks, food, clothes, shades of skin. In “Scofield 207,” for example, everything that populates the story possesses a specific color. “Lunch Break” contains twelve references to color in its six brief paragraphs. The writer’s eyes are a prism that breaks the world into every vibrant hue, dazzling the reader, yet along with other sensuous details the myriad colors anchor us in an earthly world even while characters move back and forth between temporal planes, between reality and dreams, fantasy, and myth, between sanity and delusion. Sensuousness is not the only point to this book, however, which addresses refugees from political oppression and other topics of seriousness and depth.
|Estimada Poeta Caraza in La Bloga House|
The limits of time and space do not apply to Caraza’s characters. In “Nezahualcoyotl,” a pre-Columbian king and poet of the Alcolhua culture of Mexico appears in Barcelona, Spain. As he walks with the other character, called Venus, Nezahualcoyotl recites his poetry. The apprehension of language becomes a sense impression. Venus “felt poetry exude from [his] body. That was his aroma . . . that intoxicating essence . . . .” She is filled with emotion as “verses of his poetry were assaulting her.” The poetry becomes visible on her arms, then her entire body is “tattooed in poems.” Finally, her body disappears, leaving only words.
Caraza provides a dazzling lesson in synesthesia, the evocation of one sort of sense impression when a different sense is stimulated. In her stories, odors are colors, poetry a tactile experience. In “The One Behind,” Caraza describes a person as being able to see not only with his eyes “but also his skin, his ears and nose.” In “Water Passes Through my House, It comes to my House to Dream,” the narrator feels “musical notes soak into her being through the pores of her skin” and memory “hits her in the chest.” A breeze is described as pearly in “First Friday in Kansas City.”
Caraza stated in an interview that her “vision concentrates on female voices, their dreams, their struggles, life in general.” A woman’s voice relates all but one of these brief. These women make their own choices. They travel to foreign countries, as has Caraza. They recognize and embrace the mythic power of Man as King, Poet, and Seer. They encounter an intermediary between mortals and gods, between life and death, and demonstrate the gap between the writer’s existence and the fictions she creates.
In some stories, characters are found reading or writing books with titles of Caraza’s own creations, underscoring the gap between the writer’s existence and the fictions she creates. The use of such metafictive devices forces upon the reader an awareness that the writer is really a writer, creating a separate, unreal reality that is fiction. In Caraza’s case, that fictional reality is both marvelous and terrifying. Caraza’s deft use of language immerses the reader in a swirl where disbelief is willingly suspended. Characters use seashells as a tool of divination, experience the supernatural, “dissolve from this dimension to reappear on the printed page.”
The great Spanish writer, Federico García Lorca, first explained the aesthetics of duende, inspiration born in darkness and anguish. The power of duende, a fascination with both death and great erotic desire, suffuses Xánath Caraza’s writing. Her duende, her eroticism and repeated invocation of death, terror, and cataclysm, and the power and authenticity of her language -- all dizzy the reader, precipitating a momentary experience of the sublime. Lo que trae la marea/What the Tide Brings liberates the reader from the sorrow or mere banality of existence.
Mouthfeel Press website
La Bloga interview
Xánath Caraza website
Review in El Paso Times
La Guest Blogger Donna J Snyder
Believing that to give voice is an inherently political act, Donna Snyder offers free, weekly writing workshops through the Tumblewords Project which she founded in 1995. Until recently, she worked as an activist attorney on behalf of indigenous people, immigrant workers, and people with disabilities. Snyder has read her work in Alaska, Boston, New York City, Colorado, Los Angeles, and throughout Texas and New Mexico. In 2014, Chimbarazu Press released her collection Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal and Virgogray Press reissued her 2010 chapbook, I Am South, as a paperback book. Three Sides of the Same Moon is due from NeoPoiesis Press in 2015. She is a contributing poetry editor for Return to Mago.