Carmen Giménez Smith turns a sharp, sometimes withering eye toward contemporary culture in her sixth collection, “Be Recorder” (Graywolf). As she documents a range of subjects — including reality TV, capitalism and the exploitation of immigrant workers — Smith questions how an individual’s experiences are shaped by the dominant culture and how to push back. She also envisions a new “Emancipatory lyric poetry. Deregulated lyric poetry. Lyric poetry with workboots,” to reflect the Latina experience. The work expands as Smith questions what it means to be an American and turns personal as she describes her mother, who became a citizen decades ago but lost those years and more to dementia. “The lesson:/ memory, which once seemed impermeable, had always been/ a muslin, spilling the self out like water.”
“Lima:: Limón” (Copper Canyon) by Natalie Scenters-Zapico details the many hardships experienced by Latinas on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Scenters-Zapico spotlights how enduring ideas about gender roles compound those struggles by confining and restricting women’s choices. As the speaker explains in one of several poems called “Macho:: Hembra,” “Like my father/ did to my mother at parties, he called me tontita. When we danced, I/ pressed my body against his. He smiled & pet my head like a dog. A good/ hembra never speaks of the violence of men.” Scenters-Zapico speaks fearlessly throughout this, her second book. In doing so, she illustrates what needs to change so that victims can be freed from the cycle of abuse.
Tina Chang’s “Hybrida” (Norton) opens with these powerful lines about her son: “Everywhere I look I see him,/ I have a right to fear for him,/ though I have no right to his color./ His blackness is his to own and what will/ my mouth say of that sweetness.” As she reflects on the threats her son — and to a lesser extent, her daughter — faces, Chang asks evocative questions about identity and the complicated inheritance of anyone “who has ever been born of mixed race.” She also considers the language of motherhood and the “fusion of artistic forms made manifest through the lens/ of protection.” In the process, Chang, the poet laureate of Brooklyn, weaves powerful narratives and uses various poetic forms to create a momentous landscape.
Elizabeth Lund writes about poetry every month for The Washington Post.