Poetic License: the Reconfiguring of Border Lines Through Poetry in Mark Statman’s Hechizo
a review by Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Seattle University Professor
As the world changes and becomes electronic, the poet’s role shifts, especially in the last almost three years with Covid-19 realities. We see the immaculate power of poetry in delineating new possibilities for the creation of border lines and subjectivities, turning paradigms about México, from México, particularly from the gaze of non-Mexicans on its side, liberating a multiplicity of possibilities for perspective and knowledge, in this particular case about Oaxaca and its many cultural riches.
In Mark Statman’s latest collection Hechizo (Lavender Ink, 2022), we see a shiny and profound civilization, culture, language, unknown to many of us who have ransacked the pockets of identities, traditions and recovecos of our ancestral lands, having yet not found what Statman brings out, in his unique poetics. In his particular collection written in México, we understand our place as readers of culture and some language, brought to us by the poet’s experience, interactions and joy in living a Mexican life. Our journey in reading the collection and in particular “Mexican Songs,” let us know what it’s like to enter a culture and its music, through a poet’s eye: “and there’ll be this/lifting this soaring this sense of the presence/if not of God some/force beyond all force/made from human voice/ I hear La Llorona, Paloma/negra, Zandunga” (148-9). In the most intimate of cultural and social Mexican practices, the poet I present, true poet, knows that Los Panchos are a national treasure to Mexican popular memory. Statman provides the reader with an interactive practice for knowing that he knows you might not know what he is pulling from te mind of a Mexican, particularly in “forever,” “ear you say/no and no/like the soft/ dice no/no y no of/ the Los Panchos song/not a go away not a/ denial just a/reminder it isn’t love” (155-6). You have to know the culture well to know that this song is inscribed in Mexican culture, and curiosuly made famous by Eydie Gormé, a Jewish singer who became world famous, singing with Los Panchos in México.
The collection consists of four sections, each with a different number of poems:
- The Furies/Duende (27 poems),
- My Father’s Voices/Sueños (23 poems)
- Sigue la vida/shut up (34 poems)
- Hechizo/Love Poems (30 poems)
Most of the poems have significant terminology and Mexican concepts in Spanish, and as we can see above in the titles of the sections, Spanish is present, it is not a translation of the title, but inserting efficacy into the poet’s transport of the reader into a paradigm in Spanish. Every section has magical, mystical words in Spanish like “duende” “sueño” “Hechizo” all words that do not have a single meanings. Duende means goblin, elf, ghost, and “tener duende” is a category of gifted all its own: It is derived from “spirit of the house.” Other words that it elicits are: allure, animal magnetism, appeal, attractiveness, captivation, charisma, charm, enchantment, fascination, magic, magnetism, oomph, pizzazz, seductiveness, witchery, a force field.
Althougth at the end of the collection there is a type of glossary of terms in the “Notes” section, revealing some of the meanings of the words in Spanish, not all the possibilities are explored. Spanish appears as an expression or a word that is not translated as a title, in a poem. It appears in almost half of the poems. It lives as a background, a trasfondo, so that the reader does not forget that the author is writing Oaxaca, Mexican culture and civilization, mostly in English, but is respectful to space, place and language. Mark Statman, along with his wife Katherine and his dog Apollo, cohabitate the space of Nepantla, the in-between space between ancestral and present lands, philosophies, treasures, that bridges us into the landscape, la casita, the terrain where these poetic exchanges develop and evolve.
In the eyes of Statman’s poetic pen, México is a new territory, explored as a living ajolote, the Pre-Columbian amphibian that has outlived generations of thinkers, biologists, writers appreciating the water as a river creature and the land as a water creature that can survive and thrive on land. The México we hold in our hands in Hechizo/Spell is emblematic of palpable realities that endure and soar, revive and inscribe, resurrect and direct the energy of an entire region, which the poet inhabits physically and poetically.
Grandpa now I live here
ancient in modern or
modern in ancient
yesterday I went
and found the book
the ancient Jews
still roaming here in Oaxaca
they speak Hebrew and Zapotec
they speak to something sacred
that survive in me (70)
The poet inherits the legacy of his own ancestral culture that allows him to identify time as timeless:
what’s a thousand years
a night of sleep
what’s a thousand clouds
a night of birds
what’s a thousand rocks
view from the trees…
what’s a thousand trains
a thousand ships…
the disappearing hearts
many questions. (101)
In the words of Mexicans, Mark Statman gives us the worldview (cosmovisión) of a current people’s in multiple poems, in varied voices. In “Chacalaca Pálida” Chivis, the pool cleaner states in Statman’s poem:
there are fewer
these days people
caught so many
to eat sabroso muy
they don’t lay
many eggs the
eggs sabroso too he
The domestic chacalaca from the náhuatl, meaning “to chatter,” is tasty, delicious. Statman uses the words of a native Mexican to tell us that she and her eggs are appreciated by the locals, that distinguish between pale and dark chacalacas, or domestic hen/pullet, in English. The use of Spanish is italicized in this poem, to give voice to the speaker and not appropriate the language used by Chivis.
Throughout this collection it is the cultural gaze that is significant, transcribed fully though the delicately balanced keen gaze of the pluricultural poet:
Time is negotiated in “yesterday, and tomorrow today” (129). The future, present and past are embossed in a transparent time warp that unites the ancestral México with the present and the future.
life takes me like
that every day I
think I’m going someplace
the park te bookstore the
casita and I end up
somewhere else, the cafe
a plaza the library
yesterday Efraín and I
didn’t talk translation (131)
The poet accepts that time is valued differently in his new state, that although he did not get to do what he planned, he is living the future in the present with his friend, enjoying and embracing in a differently successful meter.
In “canción,” “we’d see/country towns/we’d talk past/and future/the present it’s/always in/those miles/still ahead/and those miles miles/behind.” The poet again through enjambment is able to unite the past/present/future into a Mexican fluidity (166).
Enjambment is the favorite tool in the poet’s tool box, practiced in almost every poem in the collection, nudged we are to continue reading and to consider the next line an intrinsic part of the body of the poem, and a series of parts that form a whole, without a disconnect.
The enjambment technique of continuing a sentence/thought into the next line also provides a free verse punctuation that makes the reader read a line several times, as if the reflection had become personal, a mantra.
The poems are organized, as previously stated in four sections, one hundred and ten poems that follow each other closely, spaced as if they were literally holding hands, and no capitalized titles: unassuming, a long trail of words mostly in short, narrow verses that distinguish Statman’s style in most of his collections, where he successfully unites time and geography, in an interruption of words, word maps:
from the map
the looseness of/history and geography/meaning orbits/
inside orbits unwed/to space to/clouds cloudiness…”(164)
It is in “interrupted” that we find beauty “that tree
in wind a-
Mark Statman uses spacing to give us beauty as an expanded breath, as if Oaxaca’s:
to live/in beauty/and not/in interruption
interruption/a world/uninterrupted/seen. (100)