A cohesive poetry collection that traces one woman’s physical and psychological journey through immigration, love, motherhood and artistic ambition.
Grageda-Smith, a Filipino immigrant to the United States, crafts poems that address fundamental questions of identity. She divides the book into seven chapters, each dedicated to a different topic, from the metaphorical “Fire and Water” and “Earth and Air” to “Friendship” and “The Soul.” The preface, a long essay, aims to answer the question, “Who am I as a writer?”—a theme that informs the majority of Grageda-Smith’s work. Although it’s unclear if she finds her answer, her poems boldly address the beauty and ugliness of life in grand, sweeping language: “Like a / period movie in sepia—tinting everything with rosy / film of romantic delusion, suppressing odious sight, / like the whitewashed walls the Madam built to conceal / the slums of her city with its putrid pots of bubbling, / seething discontent and ignorance.” Some poems look at different types of artists, from poets and actors to musicians and painters; “To Vincent,” about Vincent Van Gogh, begins: “Your burning gaze shames us: we, who / are stripped bare by the purity of your pain.” Although these verses aren’t as strong as others in the collection, they do trace a theme of artistic provenance that fits with the poet’s overall project. Although some poems might have benefited from a stronger edit, readers will delight in most of these explorations. The most engaging lines aren’t high-pitched, as when the poet calls to her muse; instead, they’re small, concrete moments, images of the ordinary or original perspectives on well-worn tropes. “The Sleepers,” for example, is most successful when it’s most specific: “So I opened the door / and stepped outside, and I, with my new skin and bare / feet, hugged the ground with its sweet-sour smell / of damp earth and rotting things.”
A forceful poetic examination of art and the self.