Monday, June 1, 2009

Review of Naomi Ayala's latest book, This Side of Early

This Side of Early, Naomi Ayala's second book of poems, opens with a series of personal, or apparently personal, poems chronically the life of a young girl. In “Cutter,” the speaker marvels at a bat that has been sliced nearly in half with a machete. The lines ending the poem – “I studied the furry gash,/unfettered, and circled bone - /that day that death was first,/small and quick like my body.” – demonstrate Naomi’s focus on rhythm and the strength of language, as well as her ability to examine even a fraught moment for insight into the relationships and consequences that make up life. The poem deals with the wonder of life and death, as well as fear, family, and pride.

These themes are particularly poignant in light of the December 2007 death of Alexander “Sandy” Taylor, co-founder of Curbstone Press, publisher of both of Naomi’s books (her first is Wild Animals on the Moon, 1997). In a 2006 interview with New Pages , Taylor suggests that Curbstone grew out of two impulses: a desire to find “a way to contribute to the awareness of poetry” and involvement in “human rights organizations and solidarity movements and anti-racist movements.” The two, he goes on to say in the interview, are inseparable – “[t]he hunger for justice is every bit a part of our experience as love or death.”
In reading This Side of Early, I can see this philosophy clearly through the poems. Tightly woven and visually powerful, the poems that follow carry through the skill and insight promised in “Cutter.” With Naomi’s native Spanish used throughout (carefully contextualized and translated in a glossary in back), This Side of Early journeys through the stories and locations that make up the life the poems hold in such wonder.

The speakers of these poems do not simply observe, however; they engage in a kind of observation that engages with the darker, hidden sides of truth. The poems “In Adams Morgan, Two Years of Neighborhood-Wide Reconstruction Come to a Halt for the Night” and “Front Church Steps” give voice to the easily overlooked downsides of gentrification and modern, market-driven life.

This keen eye for the ignored aspects of the world around us marks This Side of Early with a sense of justice marked with a love for language and image. In Naomi’s poems, the world is a thousand small moments waiting to be teased out, each one a different truth worthy of speaking. The final poem in the book, “Crickets,” provides a powerful coda to those moments, as the speaker images life after death singing with the insects: “I want to go where it is I go/and come back singing, always, somehow.” The journey through This Side of Early ends with joy, but the stops along the path remind us that joy is not the only experience worth examination.

Buy this book online at Curbstone or at Teaching for Change

Buy this book in DC at Busboys and Poets Bookstore at 14th and V NW. All proceeds from the sale of the book at Busboys (both online and in store) go to Teaching for Change.

Katherine Howell is the Blog Goddess for Split This Rock Poetry Festival; she lives and writes in Washington, D.C.


So It Shall Be Written said...

This is truly a gorgeous book. The richness of Naomi's language is profound.

DWx said...

Buying it now --