Friday, March 23, 2012

Book Review: Eduardo Corral's Slow Lightning

This review is more high praise than anything else.  I have said it before, but I refuse to waste my energy writing bad reviews.  I prefer to write reviews where I can heap on praise and admiration.  Here is yet another example.  I am certain this review will not influence many people to go buy the book.  In my own way of thinking, Slow Lightning by Eduardo Corral is probably the most anticipated book of poetry in the past several years, and rightly so.  We have all witnessed what talent and integrity amount to in the publication of this book, and that is just the way it is.  However, if you are on the fence about this book, know now I have nothing bad to say about it.  It is about as perfect a book can be, and in my humble estimation the very reason why the Yale Series of Younger Poet may still call itself relevant.

 * * *

Slow Lightning
Eduardo C. Corral
76 pp.,  Yale University Press
forward by Carl Phillips
ISBN: 978-0-300-17893-7

I am probably the quintessential fool for telling any of you about how wonderful Eduardo Corral’s poetry is.  After all, most any of you who are reading this review have known this for years, and we have all been anticipating this book for quite some time.  However, I am going to put effort into something which should need no effort:  Convince you to buy Eduardo’s book, Slow Lightning.  Before starting, I must say my knowledge of Eduardo the poet is far greater than my knowledge of Eduardo’s poetry.  Prior to reading this book, I had only seen a handful of his poems in various on-line journals.  In this telling I can assure you there is something synergistic about reading his book as opposed to reading one or two poems catch-as-catch-can.

My first look at Slow Lightning was sporadic.  I usually thumb through a book before I start reading it seriously.  It gives me a sense of what I am going to be able to expect.  I stopped on occasion, read a poem or two, and then would look at how individual poems are structured.  Normally this gives me a good sense, like I said before, but with Corral’s book, it was no preparation at all.  Oh, I knew his poems were going to slip between English and Spanish, and I knew some poems for formatting were printed on their sides, but those things, if you will allow, are cosmetic.  Important in the final analysis, yes, but cosmetic.  What I am talking about here is language.  I am talking about Corral’s ability to be expansive and terse; formal and informal; elegiac and joyous. 

I wish I could avoid talking about contradictions in this quasi-review.  I wish I could give you a straightforward analysis of the poems and structure of the book, but my saying expansive and terse, elegiac an joyous are only a beginning at best.  I hesitate to say something superficial such as confessional, but these poems are so intimate and personal I find it difficult to ignore their immense presence as I think back on them.  Corral finds the most apt places in his poems to divulge this information, and much of what he reveals is hidden in the context of narration, which belies its significance until you are right on top of it.  By then it is too late.  You can do nothing to prepare yourself and you cannot deflect any of the impact.

On the other end of the spectrum is Corral’s ability to create grand moments of language.  He directly references Frida Kahlo in the title of one poem, but it is in another I see what I take to be connective tissue between Kahlo and Corral’s work.  In the closing lines of “Temple in a Teapot (aqui esta el detalle)” I found this:

Canaries flit from branch to branch in a pear tree

wing bones knitting the blood inside their bodies

into ruby handkerchiefs in the breast pockets

of the handsome men who shoulder her coffin

Corral is not referring directly to Kahlo, but I feel a transcendence of sorts, a transference from the woman in his poem to Frida Kahlo.  I would at least like to believe these lines have some otherworldly connection to the paintings of Kahlo and perhaps, Diego Rivera.

Slow Lightning tells stories, offers powerful imagery, and is supremely confident in its construction and tone.  Part of that must be due to Corral having lived with the manuscript so long, but as far as first books go, there is a maturity which goes far beyond time.  Every page and poem is evidence; each makes the reader more aware of why this book was selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets.  Looking back, now having read the book in its entirety, I not only see a book worthy of reading again, I also see the announcement of a new voice to be reckoned with within the poetry community.  Having known Eduardo Corral as a poet and now knowing his poetry on a much better level, I look forward to more of that voice with great anticipation.

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