Monica de la Torre’s book, Public Domain, is a crowded express train ride where only the most important stops are made and viewed momentarily before the individual is propelled into the next shared space with new riders. While on the train ride that is Public Domain the reader enjoys the narrative voice’s unique perspective and wit on her personal life while throttling toward the larger public space. Like a public transit ride the reader encounters many voices with different destinations. The voices are in many forms, they are multi-lingual, and have various agendas while simultaneously funneled through De La Torre’s unique perspective and wandering eye.
The opening poem, “Is to Travel Getting to or Being in a Destination,” establishes the books as a liminal space. De la Torre throws us in the mix with a captivating opening line “the next poem was inspired by something I overheard” (7). Through the line she immediately establishes the players as an individual entangled in a world of others where everything is open to the possibilities of poem. The poem “travels” by stating what “the next poem” is “called” or “about” and then moves to the speaker’s observations of others while side stepping the poem’s self-proclaimed subject matter.
The rest of the book chugs along by shifting gears into different poetic forms yet continuing to explore the space where identity is caught between the individual and public realm. The next long piece, “The facts”, plays in prose and lyric, the space of the page, and bilingualism to establish the speaker as an ironic Confessionalist through her admittance of being told by her “therapist” that if she “could only put down her obsession” in her work she would “be much happier” (13). One of the speakers “obsessions” is of her “crush on a musician” known as “Blank” (15). Through “The facts”, De La Torre continues to examine the theme of people as public objects in list poems. The speaker plots ways in which to discover more and more out about her crush, Blank. As a celebrity, Blank becomes an object subject to the public domain. Meanwhile, at the bottom of each page the reader finds more out about the speaker’s obsession with “lists”. De La Torre is allowing the speaker to have a kind of identity crises on the page as her opinion on lists changes and seems to suggest the poem as another kind of “list”.
The book continues along its path from the public to private sector and begins to pull out all the formal stops. De La Torre examines erasure as a vehicle in which political information is withheld from the public. And for this non-Spanish reader, even the language becomes a gap in understanding between members of the public space. Her multi-voiced piece, “The March Papers”, begins to turn the power back over to the individual while also keeping the reins on it through editing. Voices gathered from the editorial sections of The New York Times merge together while De La Torre tells the reader “texts can be read in any order” and “circular reading and repetition is encouraged” (45). Of course much erasure was performed while treating the texts, but De La Torre has left the rest of the performance up to the reader, allowing for his or her own bit of agency while en route.
Finally, De La Torre steers the reader to the more familiar but liminal space of the World Wide Web. Here identity is up for grabs in the form of an email conversation between many Monica de la Torres and at selfhood.com. In “selfhood.com”, De La Torres pokes fun at poorly written websites and the self-help culture. By continuingly repeating the word “self” in the piece, De La Torre suggest the lack of meaning in the word and possibly in identity itself. In “Doubles”, one woman’s attempt to understand herself better through a lost mother (Monica de la Torre once of Argentina) is the catalyst for an email correspondence. Thus each new Monica de la Torre contacted is left to disclose her identity aside from her name and stake claim in her identity.
Of course by arriving at the end of the book with “Doubles” the reader is left to ponder who is Monica de la Torre? The author of Public Domain is a witty poet invested allowing the self to conflict with the public sphere and the other individuals contained there. She has the irony and play of any New York school poet but carries whole bag of new tricks. She’s invested in the additional layer the forms she chooses add to each poem but largely the writing holds up on its own with a playful but sharp voice. The writing is conscious of it’s poetic state at many times suggesting that one way to find the space where identity may reside in flux among an ever-growing public sphere is to poem it out.