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Book Review of
 Teeth
By

Jose B. Gonzalez

Teeth
By Aracelis Girmay
Curbstone (2007)

When I first talked to Sandy Taylor, Co-Director of the little press that could (and has), about Aracelis Girmay, he described her as “the real deal.”  Coming from the same publisher who essentially discovered Luis J. Rodriguez and published his bestselling book, Always Running, that seemed like very high praise, to say the least.  The fact that Girmay’s collection had earned accolades from one of the godfathers of modern Latino poetry, Martín Espada, had also caught my attention and had made me curious before I had even opened a page.  In the foreword, he calls the poems, “hard, cutting, brilliant, beautiful.”  As I read Teeth, I have to say that it did not take long for me to agree with their opinions.  But more than that, I have to say that Girmay has put together one of the best debuts by any poet in recent memory. 

In terms of subjects, the poems in this collection are a mix, some based on Girmay’s experiences, from Santa Ana, the place she calls home, to New York, where she has worked in various capacities.  Others are based on more global issues. For example, “Arroz Poetica,” and “Ode to the Watermelon,” have a playful tone to them and reel the reader in, providing serious social messages worth listening to. 

“For Estefani Lora, Third Grade, Who Made Me a Card,” and “Ode to the Letter B” are two noteworthy poems that highlight Girmay’s talent and her ability to use poetry as a genre for using language to its fullest. The former is based on a word, “Loisfoeribari,” that a young girl had written for Girmay on a card, and it details how Girmay tried to decipher the meaning of that word.  Like a masterful storyteller, she gives away just enough, but more to the point, like a masterful poet, she ends the poem with just the right words, some of them reconstructed, some imagined, all of them powerful.  Meanwhile, the structure of the poem, “Ode” is reminiscent of the work of Maurice Kilwein Guevara, the Colombian American poet, whose use of style and syntax  are the very definition of creativity.

For those who are wondering whether Girmay’s work would appeal to students, I have proof that it most certainly does.  I assigned the book in an introductory literature class where students of all backgrounds became immersed in her work.  The class had the good fortune of catching Girmay at a reading in New London’s Hygienic Art Gallery where she wowed a packed house. 

            This collection is sure to continue to create a significant amount of well-deserved buzz.  No doubt it will garner more praise and will be mentioned among nominees for literary awards.  Indeed, Aracelis Girmay is the real deal.  
 

 

Jose B. Gonzalez is the Editor of LatinoStories.Com, the Co-Editor of Latino Boom: Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature, and an award-winning poet and educator who has been a featured speaker at various colleges and universities nationwide.
 

 

Copyright 2006 LatinoStories.com design and content by John S. Christie and Jose B. Gonzalez
Copyright 2006 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature, Pearson Education, Inc.
Copyright 2006 Latino Fiction and the Modernist Imagination, John S. Christie

 
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Last Updated: July 06, 2009