cover image Guantanamo


Frank Smith, trans. from the French by Vanessa Place. Les Figues (SPD, dist.), $17 trade paper (168p) ISBN 978-1-934254-53-0

Smith’s book-length poem is a document of, among other things, the War on Terror, the plight of prisoners, U.S. misdeeds, conceptual art, and the cruelly circular logic that keeps detainees behind bars. Smith took the transcripts, released in 2006, of interviews with Guantánamo detainees, and arranged their testimonies and the summaries that accompanied them into various verse and prose forms. Conceptual poet and defense attorney Place (Statement of Facts) turns the stark French (provided en face) into inescapable English. Sometimes the prisoners speak in flat free verse: “When the Americans came to my house,/ they ordered me to lay on the ground,/ and I obeyed.” Sometimes prose blocks (with virgules built in) furnish chilling litanies: “We interrogate the interrogated, the interrogated answers the interrogator./ The interrogator questions the interrogated.” Even stranger paraphrases suggest that the bureaucratic, impersonal operations of the international system exist beyond the reach of law. Prisoners explain how they were picked up by mistake or framed by local enemies; they describe journeys from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Yemen, and elsewhere into the belly of a global war machine. Smith’s arrangements emphasize the absurdity of bad translation, the Guantánamo administrators’ inability to separate incomprehension from malice or understand what the detainees say. (July)