Titulada is, without question, one of the best books of poetry I’ve read this year. Formally exploratory, sonically interesting, and rich with meaning, this book offers exactly what I’m hoping to find every time I pick up a new poetry collection: a challenge that rewards the effort put into reading it. Titulada is, without question, one of the best books of poetry I’ve read this year. Formally exploratory, sonically interesting, and rich with meaning, this book offers exactly what I’m hoping to find every time I pick up a new poetry collection: a challenge that rewards the effort put into reading it.
Written in a mix of about 70% English, 30% Spanish (I’m making a loose estimate here), without offering translations of either language, the book code-switches between languages as well as formal and slang diction. In addition, words are frequently subbed out for homonyms, or broken up with slashes, as in “s/t/rolling,” suggesting simultaneous readings of the word as “strolling,” “trolling,” or “rolling.” The poems foreground the slipperiness of language, going to great lengths to ensure that even bilingual readers will occasionally pause to consider how to read a line. We’re plunged into
ellipses and secrets
spaces where lost language
flies offs the handle/s
Yet this ambivalence does not come at the expense of sound—Titulada is rich with alliteration and metered phrase units and onomatopoeia and other rich sonic pleasures.
In an interview earlier this year on the Lettres Latinas blog, minor described her work as “exploratory” rather than experimental, saying:
I don’t think of my work as ‘experimental.’ The word implies a theoretical framework that is not my starting point. That said, though, I do consider my work ‘exploratory’ because that’s what I do with language—explore its possibilities.
This exploratory sensibility makes for poems that are formally interesting; most of the poems are free verse, occasionally offering concrete poetic gestures, as when a genuflection in “Water Down” is followed by:
the words pausing to bend down the page along with the kneeling speaker. Other poems splice lines, or arrange their content in stanzas, prose blocks, or diagrammatic blocks; the poems shift in shape while the speaker that voices them remains consistent.
For a book that pulls so many formal and semantic tricks, Titulada also manages to be very emotionally sincere. Across the book’s four parts, the poems take displacement, love, adolescence, and mortality for their subject matter, moving between restraint and exuberance, offering lots of little moments of surprising candor, as when the seemingly heartbroken tone of “Diez Y Nueve,” a poem that laments the end of a teenage relationship, concludes dismissively with, “Pero me canse de ti.” (“But I tired of you.”)
One of the inherent risks of experimental poetry is always that the experiment’s constraints—whatever they may be—can impede opportunities for emotional intimacy, making for poems that excite at first, but then fail to offer much substance upon rereading. Thankfully, that’s not the case here—Titulada explores new modes of form and diction, while also maintaining a commitment to emotional truth. This is a challenging book that’s as memorable as it is exciting to read.