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by Tracy K. Smith

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Every poem is the story of itself.

Pure conflict. Its own undoing.

Breeze of dreams, then certain death.

—from "History"

Duende, that dark and elusive force described by Federico García Lorca, is the creative and


Every poem is the story of itself.

Pure conflict. Its own undoing.

Breeze of dreams, then certain death.

—from "History"

Duende, that dark and elusive force described by Federico García Lorca, is the creative and ecstatic power an artist seeks to channel from within. It can lead the artist toward revelation, but it must also, Lorca says, accept and even serenade the possibility of death. Tracy K. Smith's bold second poetry collection explores history and the intersections of folk traditions, political resistance, and personal survival. Duende gives passionate testament to suppressed cultures, and allows them to sing.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“The most persuasively haunted poems here are those where [Smith] casts herself not simply as a dutiful curator of personal history but a canny medium of fellow feeling and the stirrings of the collective unconscious . . . [And] it's this charged air of rapt apprehension that gives her spare, fluid lines their coolly incantatory tenor as she warms to the task of channeling disquieting visions and fugitive voices.” —The New York Times Book Review on The Body's Question
Publishers Weekly

Federico García Lorca famously described duendein 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, duendeis 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)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

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Graywolf Press
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6.20(w) x 8.91(h) x 0.32(d)

Read an Excerpt


By Tracy K. Smith

Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2007 Tracy K. Smith
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-55597-475-6

Chapter One

History Prologue This is a poem about the itch That stirs a nation at night. This is a poem about all we'll do Not to scratch- Where fatigue is great, the mind Will invent entire stories to protect sleep. Dark stories. Deep fright. Syntax of nonsense. Our prone shape has slept a long time. Our night, many nights. This is a story in the poem's own voice. This is epic. * * *

Part One: Gods and Monsters

The Eagle dreams light, Dreams molten heat, dreams words Like bark, fir and great mountains Appear under the shadows of great trees. The Eagle dreams fox, and that amber shape Appears in a glade. Dreams egg, And the fox is cradling A fragile world between sharp teeth. All gods do this. Flesh is the first literature. There is Pan Gu. Dog-god. His only verb: to grow. And when he dies, history happens. His body becomes Word: Blood, eye, tendon, teeth Become river, moon, path, ore. Marrow becomes jade. Sperm, pearl. The vermin ofhis body: you and me. Elsewhere and at the same time, Some sentient scrap of first flame, Of being ablaze, rages on, Hissing air, coughing still more air, Sighing rough sighs around the ideas Of man, woman, snake, fruit. We all know the story Of that god. Written in smoke And set down atop other stories. (How many others? Countless others.) There is the element of Earth to consider: Fast globe driven by the children of gods. Driven blind, driven with fatigue, fear, With night sweats and hoarse laughter. Driven forward, stalled, dragged back. Driven mad, because the ones Who drive it are not gods themselves. * * *

Part Two: The New World

There were always these fingers Winding cotton and wool- Momentary clouds-into thread. Was always that diminishing. Words Whittled and stretched into meaning. And meaning here is: line. What the fish tugs at. What is crossed. Thin split between Ever and After. And what, in going, is lost. Was always the language of pigment: Indigo, yolk, dirt red. This meant Belonging. What the women wove: Stark wonder. Hours and hours. Mystery. Misery. On their knees. A remedy for cold. There were houses not meant to stand Forever. But not for the reasons We were told. * * *

Part Three: Occupation

Every poem is the story of itself. Pure conflict. Its own undoing. Breeze of dreams, then certain death. This poem is Creole. Kreyol. This poem is a boat. Bato. This poem floats on the horizon All day, all night. Has leaks And a hundred bodies at prayer. This poem is not going to make it. And this poem is the army left behind when the bato Sails. This poem is full Of soldiers. Soldas. When the bato is turned back, The people it carries, Those who survive, will be Made to wish for death. The soldas know how to do this. How to make a person Wish for death. The soldas Know how to do this Because many of them believe They have already died once before. There are secret police Who don't want the poem to continue, But they're not sure It is important enough to silence. They go home to wives Who expect to be taken out, Made love to, offered Expensive gifts. They are bored, The police and their wives. They eat, turn on the TV, swallow Scotch, wine. In bed, they say nothing, Feigning sleep. And the house, A new house, croons to itself. Its voice seeps out and off, Marries with the neighbors', Makes a kind of American music That holds everything in place. Of course there are victims in this poem: victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim you are here victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim victim * * *

Part Four: Grammar

There is a We in this poem To which everyone belongs. As in: We the People- In order to form a more perfect Union- And: We were objects of much curiosity To the Indians- And: The next we present before you Are things very appalling- And: We find we are living, suffering, loving, Dying a story. We bad not known otherwise- We's a huckster, trickster, has pluck. We will draw you in. Your starched shirt is wet under the arms. Your neck spills over the collar, tie points- Repentant tongue-toward your bored sex. There is a map on the wall. A trail Of colored tacks spreads like a wound From the center, and you realize (for the first time?) The world is mostly water. You are not paid To imagine a time before tanks and submarines, But for a moment you do. It's a quiet thought, And a cool breeze blows through it. Green leaves Rustle overhead. Your toes sink into dark soil. Or: You unwrap foil from around last night's rack of lamb. It sits like a mountain of light next to the sink. Something inside you wants out. You calculate Minutes and seconds on smooth keys. There is humming, and a beeping when the food is hot. Above your head, a bulb hangs upside down Like an idea in reverse, tungsten filament Sagging between prongs. Your heart sways Like a tattered flag from the bones in your chest. You don't think of Eisenhower, long dead, His voice flapping away on a scrap of newsreel From decades ago. But the silence around you Knows he was right: You bare a row of dominoes set up, You knock over the first one, And what will happen to the last one Is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. Or: You settle into the plush seat And the darkness swells, the screen No longer silent, white. Outside No longer today, no longer now. Place names and years appear, disappear like forbidden thoughts. Chile. Cambodia. Kent State. Why do they watch back coolly? Why, when the lights come up, Does a new part of you ache? Was that you this whole time, Running, hands in the air? You all these years, marching Under the weight of a gun? We has swallowed Us and Them. You will be the next to go. * * *

Part Five: Twentieth Century

Sometimes, this poem wants to wander Into a department store and watch itself Transformed in a trinity of mirrors.

Sometimes this poem wants to pop pills. Sometimes in this poem, the stereo's blaring While the TV's on mute.

Sometimes this poem walks the street And doesn't give a shit. Sometimes this poem tells itself nothing matters, All's a joke. Relax, it says, everything's Taken care of.

(A poem can lie.)

* * *

Part Six: Cosmology

Once there was a great cloud Of primeval matter. Atoms and atoms. By believing, we made it the world. We named the animals out of need. Made ourselves human out of need. There were other inventions. Plunder and damage. Insatiable fire. * * * Epilogue: The Seventh Day There are ways of naming the wound. There are ways of entering the dream The way a painter enters a studio: To spill. Flores Woman A species of tiny human has been discovered, which lived on the remote Indonesian island of Flores just 18,000 years ago.... Researchers bare so far unearthed remains from eight individuals who were just one [meter] tall, with grapefruit-sized skulls. These astonishing little people ... made tools, hunted tiny elephants and lived at the same time as modern humans who were colonizing the area. NATURE, OCTOBER 2004 Light: lifted, I stretch my brief body. Color: blaze of day behind blank eyes. Sound: birds stab greedy beaks Into trunk and seed, spill husk Onto the heap where my dreaming And my loving live. Every day I wake to this. Tracks follow the heavy beasts Back to where they huddle, herd. Hunt: a dance against hunger. Music: feast and fear. This island becomes us. (Continues...)

Excerpted from Duende by Tracy K. Smith Copyright © 2007 by Tracy K. Smith. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

TRACY K. SMITH is the author of The Body's Question. She received a Whiting Writers' Award in 2005 and a 2004 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award. She lives in Brooklyn and teaches at Princeton University.

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Duende 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was really interesting and the same time excellent. The format of the different poems stood out to me and I can honestly say is inspirational and full of imagination on the page.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Tracy R. Smith uses great metaphors in her works. The book talks about her views on life and history in a dramatic fashion. My favorite work in the book was titled 'Grammar'. The quotation she used, 'We has swallow Us and Them. You will be the next to go', is pretty down to earth and real. I recommend everyone to read this book to get a poetic view on history and our everyday lives.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book. Smith¿s use of imagery was powerful. Also, the variety in the formatting of each poem made it more interesting and captured my attention immediately. She found an effective way to mix historical and political issues with ideas with emotions the ordinary person experiences. Part four of the first poem, History, was especially inspiring. This, I feel, set the tone for the rest of the book. Not only did I enjoy the poetry, but I learned a lot as well.