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Essay- Gloria

09-20-08

Hoodlum Birds, a review by Jane Carr


Each of the poems in this stunning collection creates a different world in sensuous miniature, and in each, the poet negotiates between sharpest detail and broadest universality, mediating for the reader the contradiction between complex beauty and concepts elusive in their indefinable nature. Gloria’s postcolonial eye lingers on images from Bilbao to Manila, Santiago to San Francisco; and against the backdrop of these shifting landscapes, his couplets and tercets, along with their literary, historical, and scholarly references, convey a concern with textuality and literary artifact. In “Female Figure (Sybil With Erasure),” the poet conflates himself with his signature: “My mark infers an absence, / its swift flowing gesture illegible.”

 

Childhood figures and characters circulate, emerging slowly from embodied language and vignettes of familial trauma. The poems obsess over sensory remembrance, parsing, as the poet claims in “Two Blondes and a Turquoise Cadillac,” “the self,” “surging forward / as if to fill a void, think of the void / as history they will one day retrieve.” This idea of inevitable discovery, of personal excavation, animates the textured detail and sadness of the later poems in the collection. “The Block” and “The Idea of North” articulate a desire to recover and revise the poet’s own history. Declaring first, “Let there be gardens in my bad old yard,” he realizes ultimately, “The idea of north means to risk / not coming back to what you’ve left behind . . . ”

 

“North,” understood as a means of navigating, but also as freedom, signals a transition in the poet’s use of lyric. In the final section of the book, Gloria’s language takes on a more mercurial phrasing, challengingly inconclusive yet beautifully unbroken. Increasingly personal characters—the “autumnal / father,” and the “bad uncle”—are brought forward alongside mysteriously vague figures, such as “the man with two jobs [who] is already late for one.” Recognizing that memory, like history, cannot be altered but must be recovered, he engages the senses to trace the geography of alienation, reconciliation, and paradox. The final paradox, unsurprisingly, hinges upon detail and definition—the tension between fixity and movement. The poet has “everything that proves my existence,” but regardless, the soul “must be [as] transient . . . traveling people / with no fixed address or home.”

 

The imagery of birds, while subtle, matches the trajectory of recurrence on which the poems operate. In “Aubade,” a poem of animated grief, the poet watches the sun rise, the “fire spark . . . a nascent thing, immigrant and lonely,” and thinks of birds and their alighting. Birds, like the poet’s eye, circle and watch.

                —from the Virginia Quarterly Review