MORTAL by IVY ALVAREZ (1)ERNESTO PRIEGO Reviews
Mortal by Ivy Alvarez
(Red Morning Press, Washington DC, 2006)
Mortal, by Ivy Alvarez, bites. What strikes me as truly significant is the unity in difference here: Mortal is a delicate tour de force, a subtle traumatism, if you excuse the oxymorons, where different poetic voices are sheltered under the same coherent style. There is a voice here, inside all those personae, including Demeter and Persephone, but also mothers and daughters, old and new voices coming from beyond and beneath and right here.
I have read Mortal several times and the image that comes to mind -- if I had to find some kind of translation for what it does -- perhaps would involve that of a broken steel net, maybe like those used in tropical countries to leave the insects out of the house. Picture the metal thread, and an innocent hand accidentally getting pierced by it, a thin river of blood coming out of the epidermis; an antigravitational drop of red liquid stuck in the pointy end of the slightly rusted iron, like the finger of a girl's hand just in the instant before she lets go of her brand new Sunday red balloon.
Alvarez's poetry is full of teeth, fangs, bones, animals inside the body, blood, milk and other bodily fluids, enamel, insects, fish. The poet makes use of prodigious alliterations to describe the organic, always-flowing nature of her tropes. Formally, Alvarez moves from couplets to blocks of prose, but always with a profound understanding of the rhythmic, musical nature of her vocabulary, which shines always individually through constant anaphora and repetition.
Like animals and the body, the motif of rain haunts her poems, once and again, once and again, the word falls on us with the sound of a storm against a fragile, improvised metal roof: rain stands for a playful bending of oppositional sets (liquid versus hard; exterior versus interior). The rain of Ivy Alvarez bends the trees while being the meaning of home.
Rain and teeth are pervasive motifs, and they echo and frame a poetics of the flow, the beat, the pulse. When the poet writes "I am a pulse. I cannot stop beating, beating" it finally becomes clear whose ghost is standing by her doorstep: Mortal is possessed by Sylvia Plath's ghost, but not as a shadow that obscures the play at work here. A poem like "Vena cava" is portentous, extraordinary in its simplicity, in the way the words are allowed to breath, to stand on their own, solitary and surrounded by blankness, just to let the reader imagine unthought horizons, trespassable borders.
The poems in Mortal grow in the reader like teeth, they break the skin, grow inwards before finally seeking an exit out of the body, through the mouth, to become expression, to grind and bite in survival and in love, in sex and in everything which is pleasurable.
Ernesto Priego was born in Mexico City. He is a poet,essayist and translator. currently doing his PhD at the School of Library, Archive and Information Studies, University College, London. His main interests are poetry, graphic narrative, pop music, the history of the book and print/ reproduction technologies, postcolonialism, cultural/critical theory, flanêrie and translation. He has released a translation of Jessica Abel's award-winning graphic novel, La Perdida (Astiberri Editores, Bilbao, Spain, 2007) and his first book of poetry Not Even Dogs (Meritage Press, 2006).