Tuesday, May 16, 2006



Poetic Voices Without Borders, Edited by Robert L. Giron
(Gival Press, Arlington, VA., 2005)

Poetic Voices in Strong and Memorable Poems

What makes a good anthology? On the most basic level, anthologies must delight readers by bringing together beautiful poems by known and newly discovered poets. At their best, anthologies are a treasure trove of poems stitched together in a beautiful and functional multi-colored, patchworked quilt. Beyond the needs of the individual reader, however, anthologies have a variety of functions in the literary world. Often they have a special appeal to teachers for classroom use. Often consciously or unconsciously anthologies define and move forward a significant literary trend. Some anthologies are transcendent because of the political and historical moment at which they are published. I think of Lesbian Poetry edited by Elly Bulkin and This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color edited by Gloria Anzaldua and Cherrie Moraga as two anthologies that transformed the literary world with the voices that they brought forth. Since then, an organizing principle that has been widely utilized in compiling anthologies is gathering writers by their identities.

Poetic Voices Without Borders doesn’t do this as a collection although many of the individual poems are written within that tradition. Rather, Robert Giron, as the editor of Poetic Voices Without Borders, gathers poems, more than poets, around the principle of transcending borders “on a variety of metamorphical senses” to give them “an opportunity to voice what they have to say, be it personal, social, or political.”

There are three sections of the book in three languages: English, French, and Spanish. The editor notes, “I wanted the anthology to represent the three major languages of North America.” While in the European history of North America these are the three major languages, in an inclusive history, the native languages and the language of the Inuit would be major languages of North America as well. Despite this omission, a few native voices are included, notably Joy Harjo, whose poem, “Reality Show,” includes lines in Navajo. While I admire the project of bringing more multilingual poetry to our monolingual sensibility in the United States, the three language sections of Poetic Voices Without Borders are not balanced. There are one hundred forty-one poems in English; eight poems in French; thirty-four poems in Spanish. The disparity among the number of poems included in French and Spanish left me wondering about the significance of the trilingual aspect of the project.

By far, the strength of the anthology is the individual poems that are included. I was delighted to see two poems by Jewelle Gomez, and poems by Jeff Mann, Jeff Walt, Shane Allison, and Louis E. Bourgeois in the anthology. These are contemporary poets that delight me; I enjoyed finding their work included here. I discovered new poets, too. Gabriella Belfiglio in “Instructions After Death” writes,

Save one part of the firewood of my body—
You choose:

hand, nipple, elbow, spleen, heart, clitoris.

Her instructions continue for eight sections and conclude, “And with a seed of your favorite tree, bury me.” Cathleen Calbert’s contribution, “Companionate Marriage,” resonated with my experience in these lines,

Seriously, can one ever hope

for better than serial monogamy?

In any case, we’re able to conjure

lust occasionally as affectionate equals

although you rarely do the dishes

(or dust or vacuum), and, I confess,

you’re the one I’m rudest to.

Kim Roberts’ poem, “The Back of My Hand,” takes us on a ride through eastern Europe and Russia and then returns us to the glove compartment where maps are resting “like the blue veins/that map/the back of my hand.” The poems selected for the anthology are delicious and each page seems to yield a new delight. On the strength of the poems and the poets included in the anthology alone, Poetic Voices Without Borders achieves in the simplest goal of any anthology: to delight its reader.

Reading Poetic Voices Without Borders as the issues of immigration were exploding in the United States and the political implications of borders are being scrutinized in a public way, I missed, in this anthology, a focused exploration of the premise of transcending borders which is outlined in the introduction. The poems just don’t hang together as a whole to make a comment on the title. Moreover, Poetic Voices Without Borders doesn’t have a modern analysis of borders, which were explored so eloquently by Gloria Anzaldua in her book, Borderlands/La Frontera. I missed that and wanted and expected it from the title and initial statement of the project. Despite that critique, where I laud Poetic Voices Without Borders is in its struggle to define an anthology without the identity politics of the last century. That is a challenge and worthy of note.

Poetic Voices Without Borders is a solid collection of new and urgent voices. Read it to be delighted by the individual poems and remember the individual poets to seek out their new work. Regardless of borders, these poetic voices are ones you will remember.


Julie R. Enszer is a writer and lesbian activist living in Maryland. She has previously been published in Iris: A Journal About Women, Room of One’s Own, Long Shot, the Web Del Sol Review, and the Jewish Women’s Literary Annual. You can learn more about her work at www.JulieREnszer.com.


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