“We talk American; we don’t talk English.”
– William Carlos Williams
I wish that Marzán had positioned his afterword into a foreword because it would have made some of the positions he takes regarding Williams’ use of his family history, language and his own identity as an American (no Spanish, Latin or other identifier needed) a bit more digestible to me.
In the end, I am not buying into Marzán’s stance that a war was raging within Williams for a place closer to the hot, exotic, sexualized Latin other and that war can be seen in his text. I will fully admit not to be a William Carlos Williams scholar, so my opinion is lacking in that regard, but I am a good listener/reader of poetry and I have a good sense of fracture and/or suture occurring in multi-lingual work.
Working strictly from the evidence that Marzán presents, I would say that Williams is not so much trying to run and meet his wild Spanish self but seeking to blend those languages and experiences to perfect a purely American product (Yes, I am modifying Williams’ own line).
I would recommend this book only to hardcore poetry language lovers with a mild recommendation to poets looking for a good read. For those just looking for a good poetry fix, I would say read more William Carlos Williams.
The Spanish American Roots of William Carlos Williams
Julio Marzán: Bio and Poem
These sonnets walk with a quiet dignity that command respect as opposed to begging for it. They also are unafraid to call blood blood or fucked up shit fucked up shit. These poems speak of experience and don’t have the time to gawk at the everyday but instead the poet rushes home to celebrate it. From the first section, Landscapes, we get Agüeros’ crown of sonnets honoring the memory of the Happy Land massacre where the poet morphs from chronicler to mourner to pointed political critic via subtle shifts in tone.
Agüeros treats the sonnet like a virtuoso constantly playing with its possibilities and structure (Check out his “Sonnet with Twice the Lines”) while always honoring its history — the introduction pays homage to Shakespeare, Browning, cummings, Milay and “Ozymandias” — proving that the sonnet (and all formal poetic structures, in my opinion) is as relevant today as ever.
His middle section entitled Love… shows us a broken hearted speaker recalling over and over again the missed (squandered?) opportunities for happiness in his life. A lesser poet might be afraid to keep the microscope on such an obvious subject but it’s Agüeros’ insistence in highlighting the life and missteps of the every(wo)man that keeps this collection from being anything but mundane and elevates the day-to-day urban immigrant experience into reflections worthy of the sonnet tradition.
Sonnet Substantially like the Words of Fulano Rodriguez One Position Ahead of Me on the Unemployment Line
It happens to me all the time/business
Goes up and down but I’m the yo-yo spun
Into the high speed trick called sleeping
Such as I am fast standing in this line now.
Maybe I am also a top, they too sleep
While standing, tightly twirling in place.
I wish I could step out and listen for
The sort of music that I must make.
But this is where the state celebrates its sport.
From cushioned chairs the agents turn your ample
Time against you through a box of lines.
Your string is both your leash and lash.
The faster you spin, the stiller you look.
There’s something to learn in that, but what?
from Sonnets from the Puerto Rican by Jack Agüeros