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Book Reviews

Watchword

How to write about the intimate, the deeply personal, the body, without resorting to confession or to the kinds of detail that can seem almost pornographic? In her newest book, Mexican poet Pura López Colomé writes her best poetry in a style which is less a refinement of how she wrote previously than a condensation of it.

Watchword

Watchword

Author: Pura López Colomé

176 pp. Wesleyan

In her most recent book, Watchword—the winner of the Villaurrutia, Mexico’s most esteemed literary prize—acclaimed poet Pura López Colomé writes of life at its brink with fierce honesty and an unblinking eye. This work shares the darkness, intensity, and skeptical hope of Thomas Hardy’s great poems. Like them, López Colomé‘s poems have flashes of secular mysticism, sparked from language itself, which generate unforgettable passages and give voice to a world familiar and odd, wounded and buoyant. In the energy and intensity of her work and in her exhilarating words, we discover both a line of conduct and the source for a richer life. This bilingual edition features the poems en face in Spanish and English.

In some ways, Watchword’s poems are highly personal.  Watchword, was written during a bleak period during which the author, diagnosed with cancer, submitted to sequential operations, radiation treatment, chemotherapy, and later reconstructive surgeries.  Her psychological outlook wasn’t upbeat.  She had suffered cancer earlier, in her adolescence.  This biographical information, which López Colomé reminds us in the Afterward is least relative to her poetry, does help orient the English-language reader who comes across poems with medical terms like fomite (which is material that transmits infection) or poems titled “Deep Wound” or “Almond” (if the reader also knows that cancer patients often consume bitter almonds therapeutically).

Pura López Colomé’s poems give voice to a world familiar and odd, wounded and, particularly in third section, hopeful.  In the energy and intensity of her poems and in López Colomé’s attitude toward words, we discover both a line of conduct and the source for a richer life.