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Carmen Giménez Smith

Carmen Giménez Smith was born on February 20, 1971, in New York City. She received a BA from San Jose State University and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

She is the author of numerous poetry collections, including Be Recorder (Graywolf Press, 2019), which was a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award in Poetry, the PEN Open Book Award, the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; and Goodbye, Flicker (University of Massachusetts Press, 2012), winner of the Juniper Prize for Poetry. Her memoir, Bring Down the Little Birds (University of Arizona, 2010) was a finalist for the American Book Award.

Of her poems, poet Dana Levin says, “It’s as if Giménez Smith threw a stone called ‘girl’ into the pond of psyche—a psyche both personal and collective—and these are the ripples.”

Giménez Smith was named one of Poetry Society of America’s New American Poets in 2009. She received a Howard Foundation grant for creative nonfiction in 2011 and was a 2019 Guggenheim fellow. She was the guest editor for Poem-a-Day in December 2018, an has served as the publisher of Noemi Press since 2002. In 2020, she received the Academy of American Poets Fellowship, which recognizes distinguished poetic achievement.

A Professor of English at Virginia Tech and Bennington College, she lives in Blacksburg, Virginia. 


Selected Bibliography

Poetry
Be Recorder (Graywolf Press, 2019)
Cruel Futures (City Lights Publishers, 2018)
Milk and Filth (University of Arizona Press, 2013)
Goodbye, Flicker (University of Massachusetts Press, 2012)
The City She Was (Center for Literary Publishing, 2011)
Odalisque in Pieces (University of Arizona Press, 2009)

Prose
Bring Down the Little Birds: On Mothering, Art, Work, and Everything Else (University of Arizona Press, 2010)

By This Poet

9

Redaction

We make dogma out of letter writing: the apocryphal story 
of Lincoln who wrote angry letters he never sent. We wait for letters 
for days and days. Someone tells me I'll write you a letter
and I feel he's saying you're different than anyone else.
Distance's buzz gets louder and louder. It gets to be a blackest hole.
I want the letter about the time we cross the avenue, and you reach 
for my hand without looking—I am afraid I'm not what you want. 
We float down the street as if in the curve of a pod 
and the starry black is like the inside of a secret. We're drunk. 
The streetlight exposes us which becomes the deepest 
horror. Yes. End the letter like that, so it becomes authorless. 
Then the letter might give off secrets: acid imbalances that detonate.

Beasts

My siblings and I archive the blanks in my mother’s memory, 
diagnose her in text messages. And so it begins, I write although 

her disease had no true beginning, only a gradual peeling away 
until she was left a live wire of disquiet. We frame her illness 

as a conceptual resistance—She thinks, yet she is an other—
to make sense of the transformation. She forgot my brother’s cancer, 

for example, and her shock, which registered as surprise, 
was the reaction to any story we told her, an apogee of sublimity 

over and over. Once on a walk she told us she thought 
she was getting better, and exhausted, we told her she was incurable, 

a child’s revenge. The flash of sorrow was tempered only 
by her forgetting and new talk of a remedy, 

and we continued with the fiction because darker dwindling 
awaits us like rage, suspicion, delusion, estrangement. 

I had once told myself a different story about us. 
In it she was a living marble goddess in my house 

watching over my children and me. So what a bitter fruit 
for us to share, our hands sinking into its fetid bruise, 

the harsh flavor stretched over all our days, coloring them grey, 
infesting them with the beasts that disappeared her,

the beasts that hid her mail in shoeboxes under her bed, 
bills unpaid for months, boxes to their brims. The lesson: 

memory, which once seemed impermeable, had always been  
a muslin, spilling the self out like water, so that one became 

a new species of naïf and martyr. And us, we’re made a cabal 
of medieval scholars speculating how many splinters of light 

make up her diminishing core, how much we might harvest before 
she disappears. This is the new love: her children making an inventory 

of her failing body to then divide into pieces we can manage— 
her shame our reward, and I’ll speak for the three of us: 

we would have liked her to relish in any of the boons that never came, 
our own failures amplified by her ephemeral and fading quality.

Default Message

I have thirty seconds to convince you
that when I’m not home, my verve is still,
online or if I’m sleeping when you call,
sheep are grazing on yesterday’s melodrama.
Does anybody know what the burning umbrella
really meant? Forget it. Tell me what you need.
Leave me a map. Leave me your net worth
for reference. Leave me more than you ever planned.
Frankly, I’m anxious your message will be a series
of blurs, that you’ll leave the endearing part out,
garble your confession: A misstep here, a domain there.
A ventriloquism. The phone is in the kitchen,
but I’ve lost my way. It must be hunting season.
I retract every last gesture for your same retraction.