Mónica De la Torre’s kinetic, agitated, self-conscious, and super-smart collection warns us, delightfully, “let’s not overthink this,” even as it aspires to many “an optical conundrum / psychoactive puzzle.” The purposefully uneven, sometimes bilingual free verse does not so much occupy territory as sprint back and forth—ties knots, unravels and ravels nets— to tally up its “in-between state,” taking place as it does between Mexico and the U.S., between a heritage of radical experiment and an urgency of saying. A string of similar English-language poems adapt the same Spanish original, de la Torre’s own “Equivalencias,” as if to show how many stories spin from one thread: “Three is peace and the promise”; “three is peace and security”; “3 space guarantee”; “three kids, it was / three of them, plus a schoolmate/guardian”; “two children in the mirror become enemies now there are three of them.” De la Torre annotates successive translations, explaining her process, linking one to an algorithm, another to the gentrification of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and another to the Equivalents cloud photographs of Alfred Stieglitz. A final, more diffuse segment, Replay, is the result of a residency in Manhattan’s Madison Square Park and records conversations among a group of writers who meet in a park to practice translation. De la Torre makes sense as a theorist, as a tester of hypotheses, but she remains, as the front half of this collection shows, a poet of emotional intensity, too: someone who can theorize for pages and then exclaim, “please let me burn.”
This review originally appeared in the Books Noted section of American Poets, Spring-Summer 2020. Buy Repetition Nineteen (Nightboat Books, 2020) on Bookshop.org or through the Nightboat Books website.