Monday, July 19, 2021

A Poetics of Incantation by Denise Low-Weso

 A Poetics of Incantation by Denise Low-Weso


Sky, water, jade forests, sun—these are the palettes used by Xánath Caraza in her new book Perchada estás/Perching (Mouthfeel Press 2021). She creates poems that are paintings—until they start to move and rise into the heavens. Three sections of the book move from element to birds to language: “Agua/Water,” “Colibrí/Hummingbird,” and “Sílabas/Syllables.”        

One of the perfect poems is “Primavera / Spring”:

El vieto ruge

entre las hojas.


Calla tu nombre,

sella mi boca.


La inunda de tibia agua,

anuncia la primavera.   (44)


The wind roars

between the leaves.


It silences your name,

seals my mouth.


Fills it with warm water,

announces the arrival of spring.   (45)


The connection of breath and wind, words and the human body are implicit in this gust of a poem—apparently simple yet rich with implications and undertones. Caraza is a musician, as she orchestrates tones and rhythms in the couplets. Slant end rhymes enliven the Spanish—“ruge” paired with “hojas,” “nombre” with “boca,” and “agua” with “primavera.”  In both Spanish and English, the parallel phrasings are incantatory.

She is a painter as she arranges colors and perspectives. She is a shaman as she connects human will to the powers of nature. Caraza sweeps her audience along with her as she invokes the heavens and hidden secrets of the Earth. Her poem “Secreto/Secret” opens the book, and its first lines assert the primary theme: “Primero fuimos agua/que fluía en las cavernas/más oscuras en silencio”; “First we were water /which flowed in silence /in the darkest caverns” (11-12). The pathways of underground water are secret and essential to the network of life. The water can be amniotic fluid; it can be the first waters of creation; it can be the nearest seashore waves. The poem proceeds to illuminate states of water, from “remolino/whirlpool” to “giro acuático en la roca/swirl on the rock” to “vapor ardiente/scalding vapor.” The poem is not overtly political, but it underscores the importance of clean, potable water for a planet of finite resources. It celebrates the discrete spirit of water.

Caraza’s poetry examines the body in relationship to the surrounding natural and human-made environments. The poem “El reflejo de la luz /The Reflections of Light” ends with these stanzas:

La cola de la ballena

nace de la profundidad.


Sella mis ojos con sal,

los pulmones explotan.


Luz de luna en la piel.   (31)


...The flukes of the whale

surface from the depths.


Seal my eyes with salt,

My lungs explode.


Moonlight on the skin. (33)


The whale’s tail, with its individual identifying marks, coexists with the narrator’s eyes, lungs, and skin—which identify the person. Moonlight and sea depths define the world’s dimensions for both the whale and the human. Numerous references to nature in the poems are linked closely to the person who narrates the poems, through language on the page and through her body. Many references to la poesía/poetry are in these pages, and they are essential to understanding the direction of the poet’s thought. Wind takes form in hurricanes, storms, and breezes, and it connects to persons through poetic declarations, whether an individual is formally a poet or not.

            Caraza’s body of work emphasizes the power of nature’s elements and its denizens—animals, human, even the vibrant jungle plants that have visible life force. Her first full-length book Conjuro (Mammoth Publications 2012) declaims her intention of casting spells with her words. She ends this book with the poem “Vagones/Train Cars,” and states, “Viento, sopla y esparce / mis palabras, / enrédate conmigo”; “Wind, blow and spread/ my words,/ entangle yourself with me” (98-99). The poet commands the wind to comingle with the narrator’s physical and spiritual selves.

Caraza is one of the strongest oral readers I have ever seen. Even on the printed page, her power comes alive. This is an uplifting book that replaces fear with strength and doubt with an unwavering vision of the cosmos. This is much needed hope in our times.


—Denise Low-Weso, former Poet Laureate of Kansas



Perchada estás / Perching (Mouthfeel Press 2021)

by Xánath Caraza.  Translated by Sandra Kingery.




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