A finalist for the 2019 National Book Award, Be Recorder investigates the precariousness of personhood in an age of xenophobia. Carmen Giménez Smith turns the increasingly pressing urge to cry out into a dream of rebellion―against compromise, against inertia, against self-delusion, and against the ways the media dream up our complacency in an America that depends on it.
In speaking another colonizer’s language — English — Giménez Smith twists the language upon itself and, in referencing the nativist rhetoric of the Trump regime, undercuts his key slogans and ideas ... In 'Make America Mongrel Again,' Giménez Smith writes that 'Mongrel is multiplatform art that critiques, high and low culture, and deploys a pointed critique borne of dismay and urgency.' I can’t think of a better description of Be Recorder After the 2016 United States presidential election I found myself paralyzed and hopeless; Be Recorder gives me hope. Be Recorder is necessary reading for our dark times. The collection reminds us of the rich, interconnected histories between both Americas, North and South, the one we live in and the one we wish we lived in.
[Smith's] most ambitious book to date ... [a] fierce and undaunted voice that speaks her poems ... a powerful allegiance to the freedom of free verse ... At the center of the book is the title poem, an extraordinary drifting dirge that swallows everything it can from memory, the imagination, and the culture at large to speak publicly and personally as a person of color in today's America, alternately cynical, triumphant, and wary.
Giménez Smith nestles the book’s sprawling, associative, surreal title poem amongst the clear, often incisive ones of the other two sections of the book. The book’s first poem, Origins,... lays the groundwork for the complication that Be Recorder addresses ... sections of more narrative, crystalized lyrics help us approach the title poem, 'Be Recorder,' which beats like a hidden heart in the center of the collection. The poem is remarkable, epic, and important. It inundates us with the often-uncomfortable realities of living in a time and place that bears down on the self and enforces conformity and adherence to white supremacist, sexist, and heterosexist values; xenophobia; and desperate capitalist consumption ... the chaos, dissolution, and bleakness of this vision of the world underpins the quieter, more narrative poems in the collection and is matched by the urgency of the speaker’s 'revisionist chronicle'—her fantasy of a future...and her petition for us to...'to turn hate/into light.' The vision presented in Be Recorder, then, isn’t completely bleak. Hope is seated in that active, astute, and vigilant speaker, who is capable of recording the monolith, deconstructing it, and reassembling it as a world that looks a little more like one we can bear.