Odalisque in Pieces

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In her debut poetry collection, Carmen Giménez Smith illuminates Latina identity in the prismatic light of postcolonial history, feminism, myth, and the fragmentation of modernity. From these disparate elements she fashions a female persona—“clairvoyant with great shoes”—who is both bracingly modern and movingly vulnerable. Through her poems we traverse the landscape of a woman’s life (girl, mother, lover), navigating a terrain tinted with mythology and relic yet still fresh and uncharted. The poems revolve around issues of identity—and the ways in which identity is both inherited and constructed/reconstructed. Or, as one poem puts it, “The planet floating backwards / whirling some of us older than the stars, some of us nascent and bare.” Although she employs techniques of avant-garde poetry, Giménez Smith shades and deepens the New World landscape into a territory of rare lyric intensity and energy. Humorous, sly, sexy, sophisticated, these poems are animated by passion and hard-won knowledge.

In these poems we encounter such strange beauties as a girl assembling and disassembling, a moth trapped in a glass of water, new-age fairy godmothers, and a lark who sings for the milkman. Yet we are also made aware of how these beauties reflect the speaker’s troubles—her effort to employ, in the words of one of her most memorable poems, “Only the invisible post where she writes the encounters / with air’s lusters. Only the imagined hour / with which she’s made a fragile craft.”

Vivid and charged with an inner light, these are poems that linger and expand in the mind and memory.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Carmen Giménez Smith arrives in the poetry world fully formed, and dazzling.  Her work is strange, incantatory, but also full of story, innuendo, confession, praise. Although each line, each image, is original, memorable, and distinct, the accumulation of music and meaning that becomes the whole of this book is a great accomplishment. Odalisque in Pieces renews our sense of what a collection can do. This is a poet of mystery, power, and also ancient wisdom: ‘Moths are often still. / Give me a moth and a shred of black silk, / and I’ll show you history.’  Carmen Giménez Smith brings us news both of this world, and the one before it.” —Laura Kasischke, author of Lilies Without

Odalisque in Pieces pitches its tent on that fertile border where language means (often with an engaging inner logic of its own) or where the poem mostly ‘holds itself upon its sounds.’ Put another way: Giménez Smith is promiscuous when exploring the best our poetries make available to anyone fearless enough to move beyond their comfort zones. This work is ‘mumbled indecency of the sweetest kind.’” Francisco Aragón, editor of The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry

Library Journal
In her debut collection, Giménez Smith suggests an odalisque (a female harem slave) is a woman fragmented: "Once when I was harmless/ and didn't know any better,// I lay wedged in the middle of daylight,/// then I vanished." In 42 poems, some complicated, some transparent, some short lyrics, some longer and narrative, the narrator vanishes and reappears, disassembles and reassembles herself as a woman for the 21st century. Part feminist, part myth, part artifact, part modern woman, Giménez Smith's narrator tries to find "the part between parts./ The pause between the verses," pondering "What we did because we had to./ The screen split in two, one side/ light, the other dark." Many of the poems elaborate childhood, womanhood, motherhood, the many pieces from which woman is made. The narrator is resourceful yet ephemeral as a moth, as predictable and fleeting as the moon. These are poems of complexity and clarity, of litany and wishes: "I wish I could find what I need like you find a twenty/ in an old coat. I wish I could unravel it all and start/ it again to redo each first day." VERDICT Recommended for contemporary poetry collections.—Karla Huston, Appleton Art Ctr., WI
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780816527885
  • Publisher: University of Arizona Press
  • Publication date: 9/15/2009
  • Series: Camino del Sol Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 80
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Carmen Giménez Smith is an assistant professor in the English department at New Mexico State University, editor-in-chief of the literary journal Puerto del Sol, and publisher of Noemi Press.

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