cover image Notes on the Assemblage

Notes on the Assemblage

Juan Felipe Herrera. City Lights (Consortium, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (108p) ISBN 978-0-87286-697-3

U.S. Poet Laureate Herrera (Half the World in Light) combines erasure, translation, and elegy in a collection that shows him to be a master of connection. He reveals the fraught places where lives thread together and the seams where they split, his speakers desiring a world of tenderness yet demanding that the reader face violence and tyranny. There is little punctuation and he includes multiple poems in Spanish with English translations, mirroring America's linguistic divide. The long poem "Borderbus" has dialogue in both languages, opening with the heartbreaking, almost whispered, "A d%C3%B3nde vamos where are we going/ Speak in English or the guard is going to come." The English, in a smaller font, reflects the disorientation and desperation of the interplay between the languages and speakers. Herrera manipulates visuals as much as language, utilizing erasure and the illusion of erasure. "You Throw a Stone" manages to simultaneously sound like a children's rhyme, a biblical passage, and a censored Pentagon document. A book of witness and demand, the collection also contains a series of elegies and a smattering of ekphrasis%E2%80%94all riveting, tender, personal, and political. Herrera's sections are brief and the subject matter broad, but everything clicks together through the voice of the quietest man in the room%E2%80%94the one who has probably seen the most. (Sept.)