I sat down to read “Be Recorder,” the new collection by Carmen Giménez Smith, and put a little sticky note on each poem that knocked me out. But it was a waste of sticky notes because they all knocked me out.
The daughter of South American immigrants who were proud to be working hard in America, Smith explores her Latina identity in the context of this country’s rising xenophobia. She can be sardonic, insightful and worried all in the same line — and she’s never afraid to express her anger. “This girl becomes a poet,” she writes, “brilliant and mean.”
“Origins,” the opening poem of “Be Recorder,” begins:
People sometimes confuse me for someone else they know
because they’ve projected an idea onto me. I’ve developed
a second sense for this — some call it paranoia, but I call it
the profoundest consciousness on the face of the earth.
Moving between short lines and prose poems, Smith’s urgent verse can be sharply political or tenderly intimate, confronting the persistence of racism or exploring her mother’s decline into dementia. A long piece near the end of “Be Recorder” starts with a common parental question — whether to order her son a video game — and spins out miraculously into a vast reflection of maternal anxiety and the future of civilization.
A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Smith is now a poetry editor of the Nation magazine, and she teaches English at Virginia Tech.
Smith will be the next guest for the Life of a Poet at Hill Center in the District on Wednesday, Sept. 11. This tri-annual series, now in its sixth year, examines each guest writer’s entire career during an hour-long conversation. Previous guests have included Edward Hirsch, Frank Bidart and Ada Limón.
In addition to talking with Smith about her life and inspiration, I’ll invite her to read from her new and previous collections. Copies of Smith’s books will be offered for sale in the lobby, where you can talk with her and have your copies signed. The Life of a Poet is co-sponsored by Hill Center, the Library of Congress, The Washington Post and the Capitol Hill Community Foundation.
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11.
Where: Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital, 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE (two blocks from the Eastern Market Metro stop on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines).
Cost: Free, but register for a seat at hillcenterdc.org.
Ron Charles writes about books for The Washington Post and hosts TotallyHipVideoBookReview.com.