DaMaris Hill

Snake, Plume and Sea Songs:  

a Review of Syllables of Wind by Xanath Caraza

Lawrence, Kansas: Mammoth Publications 2014


Syllables of Wind, Xanath Caraza’s second collection, is an in-depth examination of identity and collective memory demonstrating how each rests in the tongue and is formed in language. In this volume, Caraza continues to impress the reader with her abilities to paint portraits of people and places, honoring both an Imagist style of poetry and the collective memory of ‘spaces’. The collection is as deep and expansive as the sea and equally necessary in today’s poetic landscape. 


Caraza’s poems illustrate a complex understanding and sense of knowing that casts the self as having a global identity that predates the recent attention to patriotism and national borders.  One of the ways Caraza complicates popular notions of national borders and identity is that these poems bear witness to the sea being a connecting force, rather than one that separates nations. She embraces the sea as a nurturing force that nurtures and fosters common community despite national and ethnic ideologies that threaten the peace associated with the serine landscape. In her poem Incalculable she captures the seascape to illustrate Costa Tropical, Andalusia, Spain.  She helps the reader to understand the Alboran Sea as a “Sea that found other cultures”, “Sea that forged the cosmic race”, and “Sea of linguistic currents”. In this way, Caraza reframes this sea and shores as a welcoming space of hybridity, rather than privilege this sea and shores’ history of Roman and Muslim political conquest.  In kind, the sea referents in this collection can also be understood as a healing or life giving energy, a space where the poems seem to brush upon the collective consciousness of readers.


In addition to historic references and literary allusions, Caraza’s poems attend to the spiritual and divine presences in her life.  The collection does more correct and rewrite the ways unto which time and identity are situated in Western context, it incorporates the collective spiritual beliefs and practices of the Oaxaca, honoring the divine and indestructible energy that predates Spanish colonization and Catholic tradition.   The opening poem The Serpent of Spring and accompanying image by Adriana Manuela foreshadows Caraza’s attention to the indigenous spiritual traditions that framed the Nahuatl mother tongue.  


Considering that the collection is written in at least three different languages, Nahuatl, Spanish and English, I found myself slightly frustrated by the fact that I am not literate in Nahuatl and cannot enjoy the poems in her ‘mother tongue’. And although there are many classical, historic, and religious details, I believe the collection has cultural currency in addition to literary merit.  Caraza’s framing of identity is one that speaks to the fluidity of borders and definitions of identity.  In this substantive collection readers are permitted to contextualize notions of the diaspora and global identity outside the context of nationality and recent her/histories.


- DaMaris B. Hill, Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Kentucky

Another version of this review, which focuses solely on identity, was published by the American Studies Journal.  

© The Acentos Review 2015