Catalina Cariaga is a rare voice in poetry: she's able to wed avant-garde innovations with accessibility for the average reader. The results are consistently rewarding, challenging without being purposefully obtuse, establishing an independent space apart from the tight confines of academic poetry and commercial gristle.
Cariaga is at ease in a variety of forms, from prose poems to outright lists to free verse. Her poems are conversational, fragmentary, and edged with the ability to make language sing. As suggested by the title, the collection explores themes of cross-cultural understanding and confusion. Take "Dogmeat", for example:
they didn't eat dogs.
They didn't have dogs.
If they had dogs
they would have eaten them.
Gently chastizing and deceptively simple, the poem casually implodes a stereotype and establishes its own space even without the unique layout and structure that defines many of the works here.
"The Family Tree" is particularly strong. Presented over six pages, each compact verse traces an image of her family through a scene, memory, observation or quote:
"Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze."
father owner a collection of old Billie Holiday
records. The words were "hauntingly beautiful."
He would sing a phrase, whistle a phrase, mumble
a phrase. . .
Cariaga's words echo and reflect.
By fusing everyday sentences and situations into the skill of her craft, Cariaga creates a body of work that is fresh and keenly contemporary.