so i am reading – three books parallel. these are the books:
- beyond heart mountain (lee ann roripaugh)
- autobiography of so-and-so (maurice kilwein guevara)
- der einarmige pianist (original title: musicophilia) (oliver sacks)
for today, i am going to talk a bit about guevara’s autobiography of so-and-so. by the looks of it, i must have bought this book at sam weller’s in salt lake last time i was there. like, two years ago? it’s a first edition, 2001. i think it was the violet, green and white cover design that got me, although the vertical title is quite an eye-catcher too.
the collection is divided into seven sections of 3 to 9 poems each. the first section is called “History before Me” and the last one, fittingly enough, “Afterlife.” when i choose a book of poetry i open it at a random page and read wherever i happen to land. if it grabs me, i will likely buy the book, if it’s in my budget. it’s that easy. here is the passage that struck me (and very likely caused the purchase), it’s from the poem “Mirror, Mirror”:
My twin brothers were conjoined at the elbows until the age of two and a half. When one walked forward, the other pedaled backwards. They learned to dance by watching two candy wrappers swirl in the wind. If one said, “Tree,” the other whispered, “Root.”
another gem, from “My Father Half-Stoned in the Projects”:
My father was drinking beer after supper, exhaling pale tendrils of marijuana like a beast with seven eyes. His hair was as long as that night, and he’d begun to teach himself to play a tin whistle he found abandoned the season before in the green dumpster.
whether “so-and-so” dreams before his birth or follows a cockroach through the innards of the walls, his language is always concrete, his images are tangible and real. scissors, a short wave radio, an old black and white tv, sugar ants, vietnam war soldiers, a burning cross, and a man dressed like adolf hitler, each has a story, a particular significance in this autobiography which, in defiance of the whole technical idea of a biography, gives us no particular dates, times, or places, except when “so-and-so” feels like sharing that information. yet nothing is missing – the prose poems flow with their own logic and an enviable ease. in “Why I Return to Colombia,” so-and-so asks:
What if all the stories you knew about the past fit into tiny photographs the size of slides, black & white with crenulated borders?
and guevara’s poems are much like a collection of such photographs, telling a disjointed yet coherent story of life in the culture that makes its place between cultures. i am very much enjoying this book, not just because i like detail and am partial to insect imagery (the cucaracha appears more than once).
i also like the subtlety – saying much without using more words than really necessary, without exaggerating or numbing through excessive clarity. often, subtlety can be so much more effective that the more prevalent “in your face” approach.
for more poetry by maurice kilwein guevara, check out this video / animation of one of his poems:
Doña Josefina Counsels Doña Concepción Before Entering Sears : Poetry Everywhere : Video : The Poetry Foundation