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The Scarlet & Black

The R(ead)sling List: Slow Lightning by Eduardo Corral

By Emma Soberano

This is my last column, and I want to end with something a little different: this week, I’ve selected a poetry collection. I know not everyone is a fan of poetry; parsing its meaning can be daunting, and poetic forms seem, in abstract, rigid and exclusive. Yet I hope that I, and “Slow Lightning” by Eduardo Corral, can convert a few poetry-wary readers and provide a queer Latinx perspective on verse. I first encountered Corral’s collection my first year and was immediately struck by his innovative and playful use of language to explore themes of family, immigration, queer love, artwork, AIDS and loss. There is also a huge variety in the format of Corral’s writing; some poems read like short prose, while others seem at first glance strings of unexpected yet aptly-paired words, which spiral into nebulous meaning just beyond grasp.

There are three things which make me return to “Slow Lightning” again and again, and which reignite my love for the collection upon each reading. These are: Corral’s linguistic sensibility and ability to combine Spanish and English to create layers of meaning and musicality; his playful yet careful attention to poetic form and the way words appear on the page and his soulful, gentle handling of sensitive and deeply personal topics. Corral is a gay Latino writer, and themes of cultural identification, immigration (particularly his father’s journey and acclimation to the United States) and sexuality (discovery, love and loss) flow throughout, and bind the collection together. In exploring topics rooted deeply in his own personal identity and experiences, Corral deviates from traditional poetic boundaries and challenges our conceptions of verse; this is the book which made me realize I loved reading poetry. Poetry is often conceived of as white and dusty; Corral not only gives the form a fresh perspective, he deliberately and beautifully carves out a place in the literary institution for himself and others too often forgotten.

Corral pushes the bounds of poetic form as well as of content. Poems like “Border Triptych” use traditional forms (the sonnet) and apply them to surprising topics (the dangers of the U.S./Mexico border). In other places, he innovates; “Poem after Frida Kahlo’s Painting ‘The Broken Column’” mimics the shape of a chair, layering meaning onto a poem inspired by an artist who suffered a spinal cord injury. One of my favorite aspects of Corral’s innovation with form is that he forces the reader to question the very definition of poetry: some poems (“Immigration and Naturalization Service Report”) appear as blocks of prosaic text, while others (“Variation on a Theme by José Montoya”) switch between forms, even twining what seem to be multiple poems together. One of the most enjoyable things about good poetry is that it demands to be read multiple times; each time offers new perspectives and insights. Slow Lightning can be read as a whole, as individual poems or in chapters (it is divided into parts). As we approach finals week, it seems the perfect distraction – productive procrastination which can be parceled out as one wishes and revisited again and again.

I chose Slow Press 2016 Sauvignon Blanc to accompany Slow Lightning. I’ll admit, I paired this wine with Slow Lightning in part on account of its name. It claims to be slow pressed, and while I don’t know enough about the minutiae of viticulture to know if this is more than a marketing ploy, it did seem fitting. More fitting, however, than the speed at which the grapes were pressed, was how well this wine’s flavor profile fit what I was looking for. It smells crisp and lemony, and there is a slight sweetness to its aroma. Yet the taste leads with a bright, almost tart acidity, coming from notes of green apple, passion fruit and maybe even under-ripe peaches, as well as a slight green, vegetal aftertaste. This is a very dry wine, as poignant and complex as Corral’s varied verse.

Wine: Slow Press 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, $12 at McNally’s.

Alcohol-Free Alternative: sparkling apple cider, such as Martinelli’s.

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