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A Review of Nick Carbó’s Andalusian Dawn

A Review of Nick Carbó’s Andalusian Dawn

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Andalusian Dawn is Nick Carbó’s third poetry collection (Cherry Grove Collections, 2007) after El Grupo McDonald’s (1995) and Secret Asian Man (2000).  He is also an active anthologist having compiled works related to Filipino American literature and poetics. 

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Andalusian Dawn is especially a departure from Secret Asian Man, which imagines a Filipino/American superhero type character who attempts to re-fashion himself into a poet, in that it takes a divergent geographical approach, choosing to begin the collection with lyric poems that consider the vitality of Spain to the lyric speaker’s meditations.  In “Robo,” Carbó immediately establishes the importance of Andalusia to the collection:

I must admit to this outright theft.
Before the crickets could impede me,

I reached outside my window
to grab as much of Andalusia as

I could in the palm of my hand.
I took the evening’s silver

from the olive trees, the yellow slumber
from the lemons, the recipe for gazpacho.

I made a small incision in my heart
and slipped in as much as my left

and right ventricles could hold.
I reached for a pen and a piece of paper

to ease-out the land into this poem.
I closed the small incision in my heart

and closed the wooden shutters
of my window (16).

The lyric speaker employs the Andalusian history, culture, geography, and landscape as a kind of poetic muse.  Much like Linh Dinh’s work (I’m thinking of course here of Linh Dinh’s outstandingly dynamic collection, Borderless Bodies), Carbo’s poetry is often very playful and the first line is an indicator of his flexible employment of language, likening his Andalusian-inspired poetry as a kind of theft.  The poem thus proceeds to show the “value,” why it is that the readers too can understand why the speaker would want to steal that which is not his.  In simple and direct lyrics, augmented by a geometric form, the poetry collection is born here and the poems that follow draw from the speaker’s enchantment with Andalusia.  An excellent example of the mesmerizing effect of Andalusia occurs in “Humedad,” which is reprinted here:

Humedad

On a humid night like this—
olive leaves turn silver,
air is as still as a statue of a saint,
mosquitos come out with their neumatic tools
to drill for four thousand red blood cells. 

On a humid night like this—
figs on the fig trees shake their bellies
and laugh their way into a purple ripeness,
the farmer’s young wife down the dirt road slaps
a mosquito on her naked thigh (21).

Carbo returns to certain vivid images such as olive trees and here “olive leaves” which turn “silver.”  The interlingual valence of the entire collection is elucidated here through the title of the poem which when translated into its clear English cognate means humidity.  Like “Robo” which has a geometric symmetry in its two-line stanzas, here the the poem is constructed with a gentle refrain “On a humid night like this,” with stanzas constructed of five lines each.  In each stanza, figurative language stands to texturize each image.  In the first stanza, the lyric speaker muses on the “air,” which is described as “still as a statue of a saint,” at atmospheric description that is immediately complicated by the following lines.  Even in this apparent stillness, there are various kinds of activity taking place, including the nocturnal quests of mosquitos and the ripening of fruits, whose progress toward ripening is described through a wonderfully inventive personification.  
In second 2, the collection moves backwards in time, as evidenced by its title, “Songs of Ancient Arab Andalusia” where early Arab Andalusian poets loom large.  Much of the these lyrics seem to provide dialogues with poems written in this early Spanish period.  Of course, given Carbo’s own poetic inspiration, Federico Garcia Lorca, his choice to set this section in “Arab Andalusia” does recall Lorca’s own high estimation of these poets.  The final section perhaps complicates the collection’s affinity with Spain by presenting a different landscape, a different history, one irreparably connected to Spain, that of course, being the Philippines.  It is here where the kind of legibility accorded to the Asian American poet might most easily be found, but its resonance especially against the different ways in which the lyric speaker interfaces with unique set of temporal and spatial contexts is nevertheless much appreciated.  “Capis Windows” begins with exactly this sentiment of familiarity and distance as the speaker walks through the Manila streets: 

“Capis Windows”

How do you enter that Manila
frame of mind, that woven
mat of noodle house restaurants,

that dawn of tapis tasting women,
that hankering of hourly hauntings?
Drive along Roxas Boulevard

when the moon has just clocked
out of third shift and the sea horses
are returning to their feeding stables.

Walk the afternoon trees of Taft Avenue
and talk to the mechanics of Sunday
medicine.  Ask them for recipes

to cure fire-retardant love.  Bask
in the baying of mahogany dogs on Mabini
street and pass through the red

wrought iron gates of Calle Remedios
where you’ll find a house with capis windows
where Dona Inez waits to sew your skin (60). 

Entering that Manila frame of mind seems to be related through the discrete particularity of images and streets, food and even specific individuals.  This poem is so exquisitely crafted in terms of its sound quality.  I have thought about this factor much in my enjoyment of poetry ever since Lee Ann Roripaugh’s Year of the Snake.  I especially enjoyed the last two stanzas where the alliterative repetition of “b,” “m,” and “w” sounds continue to ring outward as the lines move onward.  Everywhere the poem confounds through subversive word usage.  For instance, this line, “Walk the afternoon trees of Taft Avenue and talk to the mechanics of Sunday medicine” already challenges our preconceptions of what it means to “walk” and what sort of information we might receive from “mechanics,” especially as they have the “recipes/ to cure fire-retardant love.”  I end this review with some photographs culled from the internet which include both an Andalusian dawn and a “capis window" and the reference to "Roxas Boulevard." 

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Here is apparently an Andalusian Dawn, pretty beautiful huh?

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A capis window!


And finally, Roxas Boulevard:

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Tags: asian american poetry, book review
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