Tag: Rosa Alcala


by on Nov.05, 2010

Hey all, I’m cooking up a full length review of Rosa Alcala’s “Undocumentaries”, as well as a going-on-thirty-page essay about Bolano’s use of and and or, and its got me thinking about similes.

Yes, similes.

What’s interesting about similes is how overt they are– they have the like or as, anyone can pick ’em out. They propose a likeness. Yet there is something duplicitous about the simile, because every time they say like, they are really saying unlike. Because ‘likeness’ is not identical-ness, it’s not complete. There’s a certain residue of unlikeness that is signaled by the word like. Visually speaking, the word ‘like’ comes between two entities and visually enacts a tremulous link between two things are not identical. Two weights that want to split apart (that are already split apart). Like is the join that sunders. For all its overtness, ‘like’ is literary thinking splitting apart, generating a dark matter.

For example, when Rosa Alcala writes “A Girl Like Me”, and uses that girl as the protagonist-figure of her poems, we begin to realize that the like smuggles in an entropy in place of an apparent binary. The girl is the ‘me’s likeness, but there is a split there, an unlikeness, an unspeakable distance between the speaker and the ‘girl’ that creates noise in the form of poem. As the girls multiply in the poems– the Yugoslavian girl, the girl in the factory, a writer girl– the reader is left in a flexing, aporistic space– what is likeness? If one can generate multiple likenesses, can they really be said to be ‘like’, or is every ‘like’, as Plato feared, really generating counterfeits, ill-formed knockoffs which expand the number of things in the world?

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In Circulation: Rosa Alcalá’s Undocumentaries

by on Sep.07, 2010


Many themes and projects run through Undocumentaries, this first collection by the well-known translator, Rosa Alcalá, but one way to describe what it’s interested in is economies: economies as knowable and unknowable  (invisible handed?) systems of exchange and circulation of goods, money, health, services, illnesses, images, bodies, families, memories, desires. Economies saturated with other economies. Economies as media, perhaps.  Media possessed by media.

10-pound banknote featuring Lady Di, by Banksy. 2004.

Alcalá’s book  is made up of lyrically formed poems which combine observation and speculation about the self within these unstable and upended influences, narratives, prerogatives and sensations. The response of the self in this situation seems, at times, to be to become its own avatar, to send a copy of itself into the melee of text and experience, as suggested by the title “A Girl Like Me”—that ‘like’ indicating a ‘likeness’ which is not the same as ‘me’.  In this poem, which forms a kind of matrix for the book, providing subtitles for the various sections, Alcalá plays with the documentary-poem genre most directly, seeming to recount at times men working in a meatpacking plant.

Loop 1:

Minnesota men slice

at the chests of pigs

making musicals

with their wrists.

An endnote tells us the poem is drawn from a film of men working, as evidenced by the phrases ‘loop 1’ and ‘loop 2’. At the same time, to watch a film of men working and then write a poem about it is to create a work at three removes from the labor it supposedly ‘documents’, and to open up the original image up to further alterations and proliferations into other genres, as the phrase “making musicals” suggest. After awhile the ‘original’ is so degraded by dissemination that one wonders if there is anything left that can bear the status of ‘original’ at all. This, I would think, is what is signaled by the title Undocumentaries.

 The splitting of the self into its likeness is often reflected in Alcalá’s poems through the split between the speaker, an “I”, and a third-person stand-in, referred to as “a girl” or “the girl”. This redirects the notion of DuBoisian double consciousness in a new, post-modern direction, one mindful of the potential of media to split and multiply ‘consciousness’ far beyond a double. Indeed, “a girl”s and “the girl”s proliferate in this volume, until they seem, in bulk, to counterweigh the “I”s.  In the case of an “I”, readers generally generously impute a whole Proustian hugeness of consciousness behind this slender letter. In the case of “the girl” or “a girl” the energy might be the opposite—the reader tracks the slender avatar or icon among the others on the page, an icon limited to or even imperiled by what the syntax does to it. “I” authors, “I” contains multitudes; “the girl” or “a girl” is a multiple, a replicant.

In this poem, we can see “the girl” and “I” in quick succession:

Confessional Poem

The girl next door had something to teach me

about what to air: On the line

somebody’s business gets told

then recounted; it’s best to thread a tale

for the neighbors, an orchestration

of sorts. But I am far from modest

in my telling of lies. There are three references

I put forward: each a past lover

who liked a different kind of underling

to his genius. You wouldn’t know it

from the delicates I roll

into the yard. It’s all the same peek-a-boo lace

and stunted imaginations. Of course,

all of this is scanty truth. Who hangs anything out to dry

when invention has halved the work?

In this merrily compressed and somewhat nasty poem (like some kinds of lingerie),  “the girl” is left behind by the poem; the “I”, declaring itself “far from modest,” takes over, spinning a flexing piece of rhetoric what eventually drops the first person pronoun for “You” and then “Who”. In a poem about masking, decoys, exposure and “Confession,” it’s delightful to see how effortlessly (but not, perhaps, casually?) these series of masks are taken up and jettisoned—how jetsam is made of the usually durable “I”.

I have more to say about Alcalá, and particularly about dismemberment and circulation, and I plan to do so in a full-length review for the next edition of the Latino Poetry Review, set to be revived sometime this year.  In an upcoming post I hope to discuss Alcalá amid the scatterings, doublings, and dismemberments of Don Mee Choi. 

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