Fruta Bomba: Poems
Making Her Mark Press
Poetry Review by Clara B. Jones
Published in The Ofi Press issue 45
Holly Iglesias, a professor at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, is an accomplished poet and translator (Spanish). She has published several chapbooks and books, and her writing has appeared in Prarie Schooner, Barrow Street, Crab Orchard Review, Massachusetts Review, as well as other venues. The poet has been awarded fellowships from a number of sources, including, the National Endowment for the Arts and the North Carolina Arts Council, and her first book, Souvenirs of a Shrunken World, won the First Book Award from Kore Press in 2008. Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a reading by Iglesias, and it was apparent that I was in the presence of a socially-conscious poet whose creative work transcends politics, sociology, and journalism. The lyricism that she achieves is reminiscent of the “deep song” form associated with Federico Garcia Lorca, a poet whose verse introduces Fruta Bomba [tr. papaya or female genitalia].
Fruta Bomba, a revised edition of a 2012 chapbook published by Q Avenue Press, is a historical as well as an artistic document. Each contribution is a prose poem, some exhibiting experimental forms and many in the tradition of Lorca's surrealism, emphasizing events in Cuba and Miami, as well as physical and emotional distances between these two locations. Iglesias' poems of place, time, and space authentically reflect tropical sensuousness—the colors, the passion and soul (Lorca's duende), the exoticism, the mystery, and the potential for violence. Fruta Bomba is not a didactic work; however, it is clearly influenced by historical figures and highlights, in particular, Cuba's liberation from Spain and the death of José Martí; the Spanish Civil War and the death of Lorca; Janet Reno's advocacy of children's rights, particularly, the Elián González case; and, the Cold War. Though Iglesias has clearly renounced the optimistic Modernism characteristic of Martí and Lorca, the poems in this chapbook are not depressing or nihilistic. They reflect, rather, an awareness of the complexities and contradictions of the post-World War II political landscape—at personal and social scales.
The poet and editor, Eleanor Wilner, has praised Iglesias' “pitch-perfect ear and keen eye for the voices, vantages, and scraps of the actual”, and most of the poems in the present collection are noteworthy for their metric and imagistic qualities, notwithstanding their prose form. Iglesias' formal skills are, also, evident in her placement of poems relative to one another, and song-like poems stringing words together serve almost as “white space”, providing relief from difficult, sometimes, disturbing, verses. Even the “Glossary” and “Notes” at the end of the chapbook mimic poems, the former elucidating contrasting effects of the same word, and “Notes” reminding us of the historical and legal backgrounds of the poems.
Several poems (e.g., “Talking Without Italics”; “Llorona”) address change, difference, and the disruption of calm, and “Bicentenario” echoes an earlier epigram in which Martí tells us that he has two fatherlands—Cuba and nighttime. In this poem, babies are excited to see a garbage truck in the morning, but the speaker, apparently, a woman, visits a doctor, physically and mentally ill (“Doctor, my eyes my ears the tremor the buckling walls Big truck!”). Continuing a recurrent theme, the welfare of babies and children, the poem, “Anthem”, expresses concern for children's safety and the preservation of innocence (“teach my children well feed them on my dreams”). In other poems, the vulnerability of children contrasts with the vulnerability of adults bearing the consequences of political unrest and war (“Assassination can seldom be employed with a clear conscience”) and the instability of reality when things are not what they appear to be (“The goat, a bee, six nuns by the sea.”; “The concept of Miami was correct but got out of hand.”). Other poems represent the tropics as an ethereal experience (“Another afternoon cloudburst and what to do but wait.”; “the same easy pleasure his finger takes when circling the headlight of a Lamborghini as though it were capable of arousal”). Iglesias' work clearly derives from serious consideration of and direct experience with her themes.
Iglesias' prose, including, experimental, poems do not appear to be contrived but seem to be almost classical conventions appropriate to theme, meaning, and meter. A good example is the poem, “Oremos”, that begins with a religious litany and moves, sensitively and logically, to a statement about inequality and oppression. But, Iglesias cannot be dismissed as a polemical poet. Her craft is always primary. She is not telling her reader what to think or do. This chapbook presents the work of a mature poet who deserves a wider audience and is one of the most compelling collections that I have read in some time. I look forward to reading Iglesias' next publication.