Review of Xanath Caraza's
"Corta la piel / It Pierces the Skin"
(FlowerSong Press, 2020 Translated by Sandra Kingery)
by Gabriel Hugo
Reading Xanath Caraza’s newest collection of poetry Corta la piel/It Pierces the Skin is an experience in something that is quickly becoming unusual in this fast world of disposable memes and social media video clips. It Pierces the Skin pierces the senses as Violeta, the protagonist of this almost novelistic narrative, describes images of death from the victim’s point of view just as easily and vividly as she does images of love and desire. The smell death should have is not something we think of very often. The closest most of us in the U.S. have been to awakening in a field of dead human bodies is through images of Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto,” a fictionalized account of brown people’s history in the Americas which fails to capture the full sense of death and dying because it never mentions the stench. Caraza is brilliant in bringing images of this and other scenes of blood, with and without the horror that can accompany them. In one poem, the blood can be the result of a violent assault by armed guerrillas upon innocent villagers in Central America, and in another, a paper cut upon the poet’s finger.
The work on which Caraza has embarked in this collection serves not only as a window into historical moments in the Americas and the world, but also as an instructional manual on how to write poetically. Poetry, the very word which inspires typical laypersons to roll our eyes into our skulls as we reach our hands at break-neck speed for a smart phone, a laptop, anything that could sooth our need for diversion if only for that very superficial moment, lest we be subjected to a heavy dousing of poetic and philosophical gasoline on the brain, which could lead to some kind of revelation or truth enveloping us as we blindly and deafly pass through this Earth.
Nonetheless, this aversion to the broad realm of poetry is not the fault of the poet or the layperson, but of society itself. Our teachers need to teach more from poetry books, as they teach from math books. Parents need to inculcate their children with the sensibilities of poets, for besides clergy, who among us is purest or more honest? Poets advocate for the victims of oppression. Figures like Caraza depict for us the contradictions in our collective history, as in “The Sword,” a poem about Christopher Columbus and the violence he and the church unleashed through evangelism. We need to see this content dramatized for us in words in poetic stanzas, because no other vehicle manages to convey those images as powerfully as does the poet through the written word.
Among bilingual Spanish/English speakers as myself, a common utterance is that Spanish presents a better experience when reading poetry, because it just sounds much more romantic, profound, and dramatic when it needs to be. For the most part, in my experience, this has been the case. Yet, this general rule does not always hold true. Such was the case when I read “Falsa Alarma/False Alarm”, and the book’s namesake “Corta la Piel/It Pierces the Skin,” two of my favorite poems in this book. The entire collection was translated by Sandra Kingery and students at Lycoming College in Williamsport, PA. The translations themselves seemed to me not as the same poems merely interpreted in another language (translated from Spanish to English), but more like a continuation of the thought process, the inspiration stretched along, spread wider to encompass territory that constitutes a separate world with separate ideas, but clearly with similar sensibilities. At times throughout the pages, I felt that the English translation surpassed the original not in skill or depth, but in magnitude and urgency.
Caraza’s poetry is emotive, powerful, and transcendental in its tone and content. Corta la piel/It Pierces the Skin is a collection worthy of collecting and passing along to the next generation. It not only shows the pictures of our current and past world history interlaced with matters of the heart and urges of the human body, but also teaches an art form that seems to be on the brink of being forgotten. Thanks to Xanath Caraza, forgetting the power of poetry we will not.
Gabriel H. Sanchez is an author, poet, actor, editor, and publisher from the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas, on the border with Mexico. Gabriel is the author of "Once Upon a Bad Hombre," "The X Series," "The Martian Ones: Tales of Human Folly," and "The Fluid Chicano." You can read more about him and his other projects at gabrielhugo.com or on his Facebook page: @gabrielhugoauthor.
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