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Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize
Kara Candito’s second poetry collection is anything but a comedy, although it ends happily. At the book’s center is the struggle of a U.S. citizen and a Mexican citizen to find a common space and language in their relationship while navigating the U.S. immigration system, a process that sometimes requires magical thinking just to endure. By employing a kind of documentary poetics that views the application process through different angles and perspectives, Candito crafts discourses around xenophobia, otherness, and national and ethnic identity.
“In the waiting room of the third government office, / you will invent your own religion,” writes Candito in “Ars Amatoria: So You Want to Marry a Foreign National,” a tragicomic sequence written in Roman-numeric fragments reminiscent of an official document’s formatting. Interspersed with moments of lyric urgency (“I am here / to learn how to suffer more beautifully”) and disconcerting cinematic observation (“One wore an assault rifle across his back, // another pointed a video camera at our faces.”), Spectator charts the plural self’s course through a world of airplane travel, drug wars, and customs forms.
From Italy to Boston, from Lorca’s Granada to New York City, and from the dusty streets of Mexico City to the snowy parking lots of the Midwest, the speakers of Spectator probe the jagged boundaries between past and present, observer and observed, and political and personal. The book becomes an homage to anyone who’s been displaced or redefined by bureaucratic systems of power.
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Initiation #5: Lorca
He is standing at the foot of my bed
with an insanely tragic smile and a syringe
full of lead. He is sitting beside me
in a bloodless body, stroking the pink sheets
with eyes like a fruit that’s never in season.
Burning casinos and countries I’ll never visit
pass over the room. I am here
to learn how to suffer more beautifully.
Outside, at the bus stop, thin men in scrubs
read about nanobots, and maybe they can map
the malignant cells unspooling in my marrow,
or the best, fastest path of a bullet entering the chest.
Inside, in another dimension, we are riding
two lame mares to the pasture where I am
ravaged by centaur after centaur, never a satyr.
Bodies matter, how they break open,
which animals we let inside us. I am here
to learn how to suffer more beautifully,
to smile for the white air and give everything away.
Praise and Reviews:
“The fluidity of the writing, the lift of the heart, the self-deprecating humor, and the aggregate of the understated losses add up to, in Kara Candito’s second collection, a kind of brilliance and readability all too rare. These new poems are alive with the personality and honesty of a young poet at the beginning of true art.”
"Spectator has a subversive heart: a series of poems about a Mexican and an American in love. These ravenous poems cross many emotional and aesthetic borders. They’re surreal, tender, meta, political, impressionistic, and angry. Kara Candito has enlarged the contemporary love poem. This is vital and startling work.”