In the second installment of the Clark Poets and Writers Reading series, Latinx poet Benjamin Garcia gave a reading and led a workshop, sponsored by the Higgins School of Humanities and the English Department.
Blog post written by Prof. Mandy Gutmann-Gonzalez; edited by Sophie Stern.
In the second installment of the Clark Poets and Writers Reading series, Latinx poet Benjamin Garcia gave a reading and led a workshop, sponsored by the Higgins School of Humanities and the English Department. Benjamin Garcia’s first collection, Thrown in the Throat (Milkweed Editions, August 2020), was selected by Kazim Ali for the 2019 National Poetry Series. In his review of Thrown in the Throat, poet Eduardo Corral says, “In his inventive and daring debut, Benjamin Garcia confesses ‘my mouth has many uses: / eat, sing, bite, kiss, but most of all / insinuate. ’He gleefully tongues words; muscles syllables into sonic-rich lines attuned to public and private dictions, histories. This collection is furiously queer, ecstatic, bilingual, sarcastic. It refutes shame and doesn’t plea for forgiveness.”
Characterized by surprising lyrical turns, high energy, and a sassy, unapologetic tone, Garcia’s work is above all attentive to sound, word play, and inventive language. Central to the book is the idea that language has power. “Go ahead and call me what I am,/call me: faggot, homo, joto, pinche puto” begins his poem “Huitlacoche,” suggesting that derogatory language can be reclaimed for the purpose of liberation. In the words of one Clark student, Luis Santos (’21): “For so long language has been a tool of oppression. Garcia reverses this notion, and in this reversal, subverts the coloniality of language.” In “Huitlacoche,” Gracia code-switches and braids several subjects together: the fungus “huitlacoche” which grows on corn, homophobia and xenophobia, queer desire, and naming. He slips from one topic to another and back, twinning meaning through double-entendres and puns, sometimes even rhyming across languages, a Spanish word echoing an English one.
Garcia reminds us that writing poetry is pleasurable because it’s a mode of play. Associative sound combinations open doors to new meaning. In his workshop, he asked participants to sound letters out loud (organized by sibilants, plosives, liquids, fricatives, nasals, and vowels) in order to feel these units of sound in our mouths. What do these sounds feel like in the body? What do they remind us of? In another exercise, he asked us to pick a word and write down a list of others that sonically resonate with the original, focusing (at the beginning) solely on sound association rather than meaning or connotation. By using sound as an entry into the poem, the brain is freed up to make associations that we might not otherwise come up with. Sound is a tool to surprise oneself in the composition process— and if Benjamin Garcia’s poetry reading was any indication, the result is equally engaging and surprising for the reader. Garcia also uses sound as an editing technique to enliven a poem that hasn’t yet found its shape. For example, when editing his poem “Birds of Illegal Trade,” he decided to use repetition, rhyme, and slant rhyme as a structuring device. His series of mostly-botanical odes (“Ode to the Corpse Flower,” “Ode to the Peacock,” “Ode to the Pitcher Plant,” “Ode to the Touch-MeNot,” and “Ode to Adam Rippon’s Butt”) were particularly dazzling to students; due to the odes’ high energy and cascading word play, these poems gain special power when read out loud.
Benjamin Gacia works as a sexual health and harm reduction educator throughout the Finger Lakes region of New York. His poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in: AGNI, American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, Lithub, and New England Review. In 2021 he will join the faculty at Alma College’s low residency MFA program. You can find Benjamin Garcia online at benjamingarciapoet.com.