cover image Duende


Tracy K. Smith, . . Graywolf, $14 (87pp) ISBN 978-1-55597-475-6

Federico García Lorca famously described duende in relation to flamenco music, but understood it as the dark wellspring for any artistic endeavor. As interpreted by Smith in her Laughlin Award–winning second collection, duende is the unforgiving place where the soul confronts emotion, acknowledges death and finds poetry. Smith writes from various unconsoled spaces, where “[k]nowledge is regret” and “[e]ach word is a wish.” About the view from a failing marriage, Smith says: “I liked best/ When there was nothing/ That I could/ Or could not see.” These 30 poems are roving, alluding to diverse countries and political situations, often shifting perspectives and locations abruptly between sections. Identity and history are often sources of pain, and Smith adopts various marginalized personas (Flores Woman, Persephone, John Dall, Ugandan girls sold into wifedom) unhinged by displacement. Identity politics bleed into personal lyric, where the poet admits, “I am not/ What you intend me to be.” Writing in the voice of a Ugandan girl, Smith says, “Somewhere in every life there is a line./ One side to the other and you are gone./ Not disappeared but undone.” Although the site of undoing may well be the source of duende , the poet's lyric brilliance and political impulses never falter under the considerable weight of her subject matter. (June)