Year of the Dog

By Deborah Paredez, reviewed by Stephanie Burt.

Parts of this vivid collection retell and respond to the experience of the poet’s father’s service in a military dental unit during the U.S. war in Vietnam and show how its aftermath affected her: “I am surprised sometimes by what comes out of my mouth, so I have to watch my tongue.” Other parts—held together by the serial title “Year of the Dog”—record public events in the United States during the 1970s and afterward, starting with the infamous National Guard–perpetrated violence at Kent State, moving to the Native occupation of Alcatraz, and concluding with the opening of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, that “mirrored wall / of names.” A countercurrent of ancient Greek references—Hecuba, Troy, Antigone—runs through Paredez’s attention to modern history. Another, full of visual and typographical effects, follows Phan Thi Kim Phúc, the woman made famous by a wartime photograph of her on fire with napalm at age nine. Paredez is also the author of a critical and scholarly study of the singer Selena, and scholarly energy supplements the poems here that include historical research. Those dominated by photographs or small groups of single words, however, may seem less original than her more conventionally lineated poems; the latter get across an inquisitive spirit, a wish to see how it really was for others, alongside a drive to know what, as a daughter, as a citizen, as a poet, she must now do.

This review originally appeared in the Books Noted section of American Poets, Spring-Summer 2020. Buy Year of the Dog (BOA Editions, Ltd., 2020) on or the BOA Editions website