cover image Defacing the Monument

Defacing the Monument

Susan Briante. Noemi, $21 trade paper (162p) ISBN 978-1-934819-90-6

Poet Briante (The Market Wonders) provides a superb examination of the ethical issues facing artists who tell others’ stories, within the context of undocumented immigration and her work teaching creative writing at the University of Arizona, in this dazzlingly inventive and searching text. In one of the book’s central events, she and her students visit a shelter in Nogales, Mexico, to interview Central American migrants, “most [of whom] have either been deported or arrested on their journey.” The experience moves her to ask herself, “Poet, do you make poems out of the suffering of others without considering how you are implicated in that suffering?” This question haunts her attendance at an Operation Streamline hearing, in which undocumented migrants are prosecuted by the U.S. government. Incorporating images of official documents from the hearing and other government texts throughout, Briante meditates on the tensions between the words document and documentary. Reflecting that “as poets and documentarians, we can extend the document or deface it... broaden its narrative, reveal its omissions, lay bare its brutality,” she cites authors and visual artists who have grappled with the issues attending representing others’ misfortune. Briante’s richly insightful work will be an invaluable resource for those writers drawn to covering human rights issues but anxious about doing so sensitively. (Aug.)