Borderland Apocrypha

By Anthony Cody, reviewed by Stephanie Burt.

Focused on immigration, detention, and survival around the U.S.-Mexico border, Cody’s fierce, righteously outraged collection deserves shelf space near other recent monuments of highly political, partly conceptual poetry: M. NourBese Philips’s Zong!, for example, or Layli Long Soldier’s Whereas. Lines of diagrammed sentences, free verse, vertical and off-kilter overlapping or inverted words, and the border cross, repeat, and point ahead to “exile or escapar,” praying “Undeed this border. / Make me / explain.” Lynchings in nineteenth-century California introduce gruesome modern “TripAdvisor Reviews” for a hanging tree; other pages rearrange what appear to be government documents about funding present-day detention camps. Inset photographs complement the mix of English and Spanish, family history and public lexicon, double meanings and historical warnings: “dentro de la linea / que toca / le devolución / de la republica” (inside the line that touches the devolution of the republic). Cody also creates a long bilingual erasure of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo: “boundary line shall be / religious.... sobre la tierra // y ninguna / libre” (over the earth and no one free). In one of the volume’s best, most cutting moments, “The election is a wall. / The wall is a type of silence. / The silence is a type of America.” If some readers find it grim or overwhelming, more may find in the course of Borderland Apocrypha’s built-up prepositions and propositions, “How it is to feel yourself less // how nothing goes numb.”

This review originally appeared in the Books Noted section of American Poets, Spring-Summer 2020. Buy Borderland Apocrypha (Omnidawn Publishing, 2020) on or the Omnidawn website