Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Monica de la Torre between "Public Domain

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.


  1. hello!

    firstly it is hilarious you extended the train metaphor throughout the entirety of your review. secondly, you should read Notley's Descent of Alette because the narrator IS on a train ride and similarly encounters strange characters who contribute to her narrative, although in a way different from what you're suggesting de la Torre does -- Notley uses one form (meter indicated by quotation marks) throughout the whole book, but a comparison btw the two might be interesting (?)

    Other things: you did a great job explaining your points and, for the most part, providing examples. while i'm not sure to what extent reviews are supposed to "give away" the text, your point about the poem stating what it's about then "side stepping the poem's self-proclaimed subject matter" might use an example cuz i wasn't sure what that would look like. I also wasn't sure what you meant by "Blank" becoming "an object subject to the public domain" -- grammatically and/or metaphorically? Again, I'm not sure to what extent a review is supposed to be explicit... either way you've captured my attention.

    I was similarly interested by your discussion of "Doubles" where "each new Monica de la Torre contacted is left to disclose her identity aside from her name and stake claim in her identity," although i think this could be said clearer and without the repetition of "identity."

    small thing: there are tiny grammatical mistakes, esp. in the last paragraph. you'll see them when you revise

    my last suggestion relates to your alignment of de la Torre with the New York School -- this felt a bit thrown in, maybe give the comparison more time? or refer to it throughout the review rather than just at the end?

    despite all my suggestions, this is a good review -- i know because i really want to read Public Domain!

    p.s. i just realized how you've included your preposition --"btw" right? this book was a great choice for what you're doing with your own work

  2. Steph,

    There were just a few points where I got tripped up.
    For the most part, this review is great.

    I’m a bit confused by your introduction. Specifically, I’m thrown off by your description of the book as “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.” Do you mean that the poems are momentary realizations of individualism before reintegration?

    In paragraph 4, you mention the non-Spanish reader? Who is this? Do you mean a Non-Spanish book (this one)? Do you mean De La Torre? I think the word “this” messes me up.

    You might want to add more about the book’s structure. As I’ve never read the book, I’m a bit curious about how the poet goes about meaning-making (as regards form). I like your use of internal quotes, but maybe you could display De La Torre’s structure through quoting a larger, indented, portion of the poem.

    Other than that, I love this review. While I feel it risks seeming too down to earth to poetry snots, I appreciate its simple, more direct, explanation. Others will find this aspect of your review pleasurable as well.

    --Jade H.

  3. I'm really hooked by this train metaphor. It's easy to grasp and you're loyal to it without overkill, which is great. I especially like the aspect of the metaphor where you discuss how each poem "travels" and makes reference to the next poem. That image works particularly well for me.

    I'm a little confused by "Non-Spanish reader." I imagine that the reader is you, but I'm curious as to where the Spanish came from. How much Spanish is in the book, if any? I would either cut that sentence or expand upon it. It sounds like it could be an interesting/unique phenomenon to read erasure poems in Spanish and if this is an important, "feature" section of the book (I get the feeling it is, but I could be wrong?) I would maybe include more on it and axe the description of a different part if there are length issues. While it was nice, the paragraph about "Blank" doesn't seem as interesting on the poet's part and might be pared down or cut?

    I like the ending and how the reader is left to ponder who de la Torre is. I kind of want the review to end on that note, actually, rather than go on for a few more sentences which are comprised of points that already seem pretty clear. The New York School reference is interesting and articulate, though--I would include it in the first paragraph of the review maybe.

  4. I'd like to see the train metaphor tweaked: there's a load of train images in the first paragraph, and they continue through the piece, but by the end, you get, 'arriving at the end'. and that's it. I'd like to see a more even spread-- and avoid clichés that pile on top of each other 'chugs along while shifting gears' I get the image, but it feels like it's trying too hard. and the reference to de la torre at the end as a NYschooler with a 'new bag of tricks'-- I'd just like to see some fun new phrasing.

    I agree with Stepha on a few counts (on most counts, I suppose, but here are the ones I'd like to talk about): the erasure seems taken for granted. I only know because you talked about it that other languages are in these poems, but that feels skipped over. If you struggled w. it as a reader, that might be something to address in the review, or if you found a way to overcome/comprehend it, that would be good to discuss, too. (I'm guessing [haven't read the book, just your review, so it's just a guess] that she uses multiple languages as some sort of bridge between her ancestral roots in Argentina and her present self in an Anglo country [USA])? that might be wrong, but as a reader of this review, I'm just left to wonder.

    liminal: of or relating to a sensory threshold

    I'm not really sure what that means, but it's in this piece a few times, and I wanted a synonym for spice/clarity.

    Agreed that the grammatical mistakes are distracting, esp. when they change meaning. 'allowing the speaker to have a kind of identity crises on the page' for example-- crisis or crises (multiple)? they take me out of the review and get me thinking about grammar, and that's never good (for me).