cover image Senegal Taxi

Senegal Taxi

Juan Felipe Herrera. Univ. of Ari, $15.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-8165-3015-1

Herrera (Half the World in Light) has become nationally famous for his many ambitious, jagged, nonlinear, sometimes performance-based poems and scenes from Mexican-American life: his profile spiked when he became, in 2012, poet laureate of California. This first volume since then shows his fierce and innovative spirit, his sense of global responsibility, and his attention to voice and character; its frightening prose blocks, fictional interview transcripts, anguished verse recollections, puzzling concrete poems (“one one one one one”) and gestural visual art follow the child refugees and tormented former soldiers of Darfur in the years of the Janjaweed and their attempts at genocide, on its way to the birth of the new nation South Sudan. One of its “ghost children” tries to “raise a classroom with sticks... Set the table with mud”; some children escape Darfur in the eponymous taxi, finding their way to Brooklyn. “Kalash,” the Kalashnikov rifle, becomes both a symbol and a menacing character; a former militiaman baffles an obtuse American as he tries to account for his dreams. The sequence exists on the border between creative nonfiction and expressionistic response to catastrophe. It may not add much to what journalists have already shown Americans about this conflict, and yet it adds, to the poetry of international witness, Herrera’s compelling and quick-witted voice. (Mar.)