Duende, by Tracy K. Smith.
Tracy K. Smith’s first collection, The Body’s Question, but I’ll be tracking a copy down to spend some more time enjoying the modulations of her strong, subtle voice. It’s no surprise that this book won the 2006 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. Whether Smith is writing about politics, a classic film, the remains of an 18,000 year old species of tiny human discovered on a remote Indonesian island, marriage and its discontents, or the late Flamenco guitarist* Camarón de la Isla (a master musician Lorca would call duende-ridden), her poetry gives us the sense that we’re witnessing “things invisible to see.”
Here’s an example:
for Camarón de la Isla
You have no soul now,
But are one. Anchorless child,
Wisp of whim, of sentient wind.
And your voice, which has always
Roved the earth, always dragged
Those dirt, those cobbled roads,
Always snagged at the living like a stick
That stokes at embers and is singed—
Your voice, Ragged Traveler, hangs on
Tapping out its swift dance. Too swift
To follow with anything but abandon.
It used to be, you’d open your mouth
And the weather changed. You’d
Open your mouth and the sky’d spill
That dry, missing-somebody kind of rain
No matter the season. And it hurt
Like a guitar hurts under the right hands.
Like a good strong spell. Now
You’re all song. Body gone to memory.
And guess what? It hurts
Elizabeth Alexander, who judged the Laughlin competition, blurbs: “Her poems are mysterious but utterly lucid and write a history that is sub-roisa yet fully within her vision.”
* Actually, Camarón was primarily a cantaor (folksinger) — so saith my authority on all things Flamenco, Esther Nigg.