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.
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.
Be Recorder is a mirror, or rather funhouse mirror of America—confusing, disorienting, multi-faceted, excessive, distorted. These poems are muscular tonally, but there’s also self-deconstruction everywhere, leading to a book that has multiplicities, is multiplicities, is the self, is America ... In these poems, the reader senses that time is always running out for the speaker, but it is also running out for our country, for our earth, and for humanity ... there’s an implicit understanding that the self is complex, can be both creator and destroyer, victim and perpetrator ... each line, each word, each phrase, effortlessly shifts into the next, but with each new thought, the puzzle gets deeper, more complicated, and the language more sinuous and alert. The language in these poems is alive ... In a book with so much desolation, however, there’s ultimately hope in language, in Giménez Smith’s language that not only bravely names the dilemmas of our time, but also boomerangs language into the mind and heart of the reader, as if to say, we must look into our collective memories and past in order to make a different kind of future, all the while acknowledging our own culpability within our vastly diminished society.