Saturday, October 8, 2011

Gambito Delivers in Hungry and Vivid Words

Sarah Gambito’s compelling and energetic book of poems, Delivered, has the audacious tendency to – as articulated in her poem ‘The Tip of the Angel’ – “[ask] questions we don’t like” (50). These questions often vehemently confront relationships, immigration, religion and family dynamics. While her subject matter may vary, Gambito’s sharp and expressive voice is constant throughout. It is a tense voice, constantly shuffling between a struggling tone and an assertive one. This conflict, in turn, illuminates the paramount theme in her work of human vulnerability, of the desperate longing to overcome pain.

Almost always, the “I” is the victim in the poems. Over time, the reader develops an attachment with and understanding towards this “I,” the main speaker. This relationship is made possible because of Gambito’s artfully communicative and persuasive writing. For example, in some poems thoughts are repeatedly interrupted by periods, such as in ‘A Borderless Ethos Would Please Everyone’: “Reserved and ever patient. I sprang to my defense. I was better than you. I wanted it more.” (30). By breaking up the phrase, and forcing the reader to pause, every segment is given value, which in turn heightens the emotion. It likewise gives rise to a quick rhythm, which complements the assertive tone and correlates to the way we speak.

Gambito masterfully translates how we speak into writing not only through punctuation but also through the use of contemporary and colloquial language. This is evidenced through cursing or through the incorporation of common expressions and slang. She likewise sometimes addresses the reader directly, reducing any distance between the reader and the words. The reader thus becomes, to some degree, a character in her poems, like the many “he’s,” “she’s,” and “you’s.” Like these entities, the reader is another person that she is desperately trying to communicate with. This is especially evidenced in the close of the poem, ‘Waiting,’ where the speaker pleads the “dear reader”: “Stay again. / Let me try again” (23). The despairing tone insinuates dissatisfaction with the articulation of her words. Indeed, the speaker is always trying to grasp something, whether it is her identity, her opinions on religion or her feelings towards a lover. This desire, though rarely resolved, is frequently expressed through hand and touch imagery.

In ‘What I Saw,’ comfort is found through tangibility: “And I thought all the hunks of peaches of my/ life were coming together. To hold/ in my hand. And have.” (59). The use of “hunks” connotes fullness and weight, and complements the fruitfulness, juiciness and roundness in “peaches.” To have a life that “[comes] together” consists of holding, possessing something plentiful and whole that one would like to gorge. ‘A Borderless Ethos Would Please Everyone,’ on the other hand, shows the frustration of not being able to grasp and touch (36). Unlike the peach imagery in ‘What I Saw,’ here, we have fractured or disruptive images – “dead toys” and “war” – to resemble someone empty-handed, unfulfilled. Towards the poem’s end, the speaker writes: “I can’t touch your hands. / Let me. Give me.” This phrase highlights a failed attempt to reach, an ultimate absence and loneliness. The curt, juvenile language in “Let me. Give me,” disturbingly reveals the greed and persistence of a child. Gambito’s expressive language and vivid imagery often functions to communicate the two poles of absence and fulfillment.

This pairing of abstract thoughts and emotions with concrete imagery is masterfully executed throughout much of Gambito’s book. Her frequently striking imagery prevents the poems from solely echoing vague emotional statements.

The importance of Gambito’s imagery is evidenced in those poems that lack such descriptions and rest on abstract or non-visual wording. ‘Two Times’ reads as a menial narrative on a dream the speaker had where “everyone” forgot her birthday (25). The reader follows an uninteresting dialogue between a mother and daughter on having a birthday party. Although other poems similarly describe personal moments that may be familiar to the reader, there is an imaginative twist to them through metaphorical imagery. Here, however, once Gambito rests on the spine of her thoughts with no concrete images to enrich them, they fall rather flat. The same can be said of ‘A Borderless Ethos Would Please Everyone,’ which, like many of her other poems, takes a critical stance on the American way of living (27). Although I may sympathize with the statements made in regard to the consuming, controlling and predictable lifestyle, that is as far as engagement gets here. The poem’s ending – “It continues like this.” – only reiterates the bored, observational tone of the language and the repetitive nature of the ideas. However, this factual wording and tone, when balanced with a fuller and more dynamic language, has its merits. Because much of her subject matter is overtly emotional, this colder and curt voice can prevent the writing from becoming too sentimental.

The layout of Delivered is divided into three parts, where each section is introduced with a quote from a different source. In using these quotes, Gambito pulls her writing out of the bounded book into a wider dialogue. However, she does not resist to subtly and tellingly manipulate the quotes, which she does through bolding certain words. The writer, Gómez-Peña’s quoted passage expresses the discomfort in being an immigrant, and likens crying to a “baby coyote” (45). This bolded image carries all at once vulnerable, childish and animalistic connotations – all of which are prominent in Gambito’s poems, where the speaker has the appetite of a child and the aggressiveness of an animal, often “biting” at things. The quote, like the other two, does not entirely remove us from the poems; rather, it takes us out just enough to make us reflect outside of the book’s personal and specific realm.

Gambito’s poetry is dense with imagery and tense with emotion, which can powerfully overwhelm the reader with its painful pangs and vivid moments. Though Gambito can repeat themes and specific images, they do not feel overused. Rather, Gambito is endowed with the ability to make her language appear fresh every time. Indeed, Delivered convinces us that only through this elasticity and complexity of language can such a vigorous and distinct world be felt.

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