Be Recorder by Carmen Giménez Smith
For many these days, it’s easier to recognize it as a feeling than it is to articulate its many layers. It’s not quite dread, and not quite a call to arms: politically and socially, it feels the world has changed faster than we’ve been able to name what’s been going on. Fear is a part of it, but so is disappointment, embarrassment. And curiously, there’s hope in there somewhere, that we may figure out how to look at these abstract, revolutionary feelings and understand something about ourselves. That we may course-correct, and not simply find a new path but definitively declare where it is we’re heading and where we’ve been.
Be Recorder is Carmen Giménez Smith’s sixth collection of poetry and captures the emotional miasma of the late twenty-teens with disarming resonance. Divided into three sections (“Creation Myth,” “Be Recorder,” and “Birthright”), these poems grapple with modern America with the under-heard voice of a queer, Latinx poet. “… I’m that friend / you tally on your list of goodwill for domesticating / my otherness,” she writes in one poem. In another, she scathingly considers “when they revise the chronicles,” and how “the terms for naming us will / have to be something like / anational ones without the burden / of jingoism in a unique typeface / upper case optional.” She continues:
I’m willing to draft some
language to justify funding
an initiative for inscribing
our new title onto the landscape
Just charge it to my race card
Balancing anger with solace, and at times wry humor, Giménez Smith’s urgent collection possess an accessibility that should reach readers who may feel poetry is beyond them: Giménez Smith strikes a tone that will likely resonate with everyone, regardless of their experience with this often-challenging form. She transmits — and writes with — inclusivity, and reminds us that there are lives at the core of our culture’s emotional upheaval. But we also may risk losing sight of that inclusivity, despite the nobility of our convictions. “…have you made anything good with our outrage,” she asks in one poem, “or built an endless abstract war…” Take “Current Events,” a highlight from the collection’s first section:
A mob slid like a protozoa
across the palace plaza,
a Greek choral malignancy,
treacly and pulsing while
a cannon sponsored by Red
Bull shot out T-shirts
with GPS tracking in the Make
America Great Again stitching.
We screamed yasssssssss
for a decade and that is
what had happened.
It’s a perfect summation of the angry, passionate-but-disconnected malaise that’s infected so many of us. This poem captures what Be Recorder, as a whole, aims to achieve: it strives to shake readers not into some vague state of woke-ness but towards a more important place of self-recognition and clarity.
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