Review: Sílabas de viento by Xánath Caraza

Sílabas de viento/ Syllables of Wind, the latest collection of poetry by Xánath Caraza, reads less like the work of a flesh-and-blood woman and more like the ecstatic musings of an earth-bound spirit. The poems carry with them a mystical weight, like the sacred text of an ancient religion whose adherents worshiped cloud, rock and stream. The subjects probed are both everyday and eternal. Caraza’s words are driven by the rhythm of Mesoamerican drums. These are her deepest and most private meditations, laid publicly upon the altar of poetry. For Caraza doesn’t merely write poetry; she embodies poetry, and bleeds it onto every page.

Que la poesía se haga relámpago
Fulmine pensamientos cuadrado

Let poetry become lightning
Let it strike down square thoughts

Caraza’s verses reflect a thorough familiarity with the landscapes and societies of various locales. Born in the Mexican state of Veracruz, now teaching at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, she styles herself as a world traveler, her wanderlust having pulled her to such places as Spain, Mexico, the North African coast and Bosnia.

Marruecos frente de mí
Espejo de Andalucía
Cual eslabones que se
Vuelven a conectar
Sonidos semejantes

Morocco in front of me
Mirror of Andalusia
Links in a chain that
Similar sounds

The scenes in this collection likewise run the gamut from Mediterranean sunrises and narrow Andalusian streets, to cloudy fall days in Kansas City and the dense humidity of a Mexican jungle. These pages are populated by pedestrians, dead artists, Olmec heads and ancient deities, temples, bell towers, songs, echoes and whispers, forests and deserts, snakes, jaguars, crabs, and enough birds to blot out the sun. It is a celebration of life, of living, and of being. The poet calls forth the past, present and future as she paints the world with words.

Soy hija de la luz y del canto de las aves en la húmeda selva. Llevo la esencia de las flores en el corazón.

I am a daughter of the light and of the song of the birds in the damp jungle. I carry the essence of flowers in my heart.

Najaya ikonej tlauili uan iuikalis totomej ipan xolontok kuatitlamik. Ipan no yolo niuika iauiyalis xochimej.

Besides being stamped with the place and time it was written, each work is also translated from the original Spanish into English by Sandra Kingery, and Tirso Bautista Cardenas translates three into Nahuatl, the language of Caraza’s ancestors. The translations demonstrate the importance of particularity in poetry in terms of language and style. Though at least the English translations are true to the original, reading both versions of any poem will leave the reader with two distinct impacts. The Spanish is much more sensual, gentle; the Spanish verses trickle down the page like tiny cataracts in a lush garden. Caraza’s original contains more substance and texture, seeing how modern English poetry tends to be more terse, preferring to affect the reader with short, crisp words. Spanish can be exact too, of course, but in its poetry, it’s more likely to dance than march, like English does.

Lloro, lloro, lloro
En el silencio de la sala lloro

I weep, I weep, I weep
In the silence of the gallery I weep

The intimacy of Caraza’s words, however, is what makes them so bewitching. Just as Whitman did more than 100 years ago, Caraza not only invites the reader to sit beside her and ponder the natural world with her. She invites the reader into her mind as well, allowing them to see with her eyes, hear with her ears, smell with her nostrils and touch with her skin. Her powers of illustration are vivid to the point where the reader feels they’ve actually been to the places she describes — not just bodily, but emotionally as well.

By connecting to the poetical in her own surroundings, interpreted through these syllables of wind, Caraza makes certain the reader will discover the poetical within themselves.


Sílabas De Viento/ Syllables of Wind
Xánath Caraza
Mammoth Publications
170 pages

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