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  • Brittany Torres Rivera

Grand Tour by Elisa Gonzalez




















Farrar, Straus and Giroux | ISBN: 9780374611378 |

September 2023 | $26.00




 

Everyone will try to keep you always

But it’s all right to go to the forest and the animal,

If you really want.

—Elisa Gonzalez, Grand Tour (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2023)


In richly lyrical, thoughtfully composed lines, Elisa Gonzalez’s Grand Tour confronts powerlessness, the explorative nature of queerness, and the limitations of memory and capturing it with language.

Throughout this collection is an undercurrent of resignation to immovable forces: nature, death, grief. “In Quarantine, I Reflect On the Death of Ophelia,” for example, reads: “everyone suffers and dies by the unguided motion of matter,” and the death of the speaker's brother echoes throughout the book. However, a line in “The Ice Storm” declares: “Refusal, my life.” When I asked Gonzalez about this in our interview, she described a “paradoxical power” in “simply abstaining, withdrawing, refusing,” even while acknowledging that certain things are beyond one’s control. This type of defiance is also present, and perhaps most available to, the population this collection characterizes as “angry though powerless”: children. “There's just so much strangeness in having so many experiences that you don't have any power over, but also must process or react to,” said Gonzalez; as a child, the speaker of Grand Tour felt a responsibility to protect her family from her father’s abuses. When we spoke, Gonzalez described the way children think, their all-or-nothing logic, which appears in poems like “To My Thirteen-Year-Old Self.” Here, the speaker dreams of her father’s death, believing that she would be responsible for it, or that her death would be his doing. “It’s part of being a child that’s very interesting to me,” Gonzalez told me.


Grand Tour’s fascination with thought processes is not limited to children, though. The pursuit of knowledge arises throughout, especially in romantic situations, in which the speaker exhibits a childlike curiosity: “such pent-up electric joy / as if a younger self.” Gonzalez agreed that there is a relationship between sex and the pursuit of knowledge in these poems and, when I indicated that I’d identified this link between exploration and queer sex in particular, she arrived at the “unscripted” nature of queer (as opposed to cishet) sex: “the thing that is very beautiful about queerness…is that there has to be a renegotiation of what is possible…every single time,” she said. In “Epistemology of the Body,” the speaker contrasts a queer encounter from her youth to one from the present: “I learned you can separate pleasure from disgrace, though / it’s hard to make a habit of pure happiness, when there’s so much to know.” Here, the speaker equates pleasure to happiness and knowledge to disgrace, which resurfaces later, when the speaker grows frustrated with the “dailiness” and “habit” of her (heterosexual) relationship and has infidelious encounters with women. Gonzalez attributed this to the speaker’s desire for knowledge that one “empirically and experientially can discover.” “Possibly, there's too much curiosity,” she said, “the unknown has a kind of irresistible quality.”


Trying to define the unknown by other means is just as fraught. The speaker of Grand Tour acknowledges the fallibility and artful artifice of writing: “Reader, I want you to know you are reading a poem.” Gonzalez said that, though the speaker is “skeptical of the possibility of fully capturing things,” she is also committed to “using the reflective capacity that language enables to try to transform either memories or present observations.” This arrives at the foundational role of poetry: a lens through which our experiences and memories are refracted. As Gonzalez put it: “what is being sought is truth of some kind, but it's probably prismatic and not singular.” This explains why the speaker–whose guilt around having, in her eyes, abandoned her family, burdens her into the present–characterizes her writing with “I tend to brighten the past” in the final poem. Memory is unreliable in itself, and perceptions of the past are, Gonzalez said, “brightened or shadowed” by the present. This fluidity in perception may also explain the speaker’s lie in “To My Twenty-Four-Year-Old Self”: “That woman says, after, Don’t ever leave me…you change her words to Don’t ever forget me.” Gonzalez described this as a preference for “ebbing away” over a “sharp break”; “The poems are a sort of archive of… the inability to forget, even if the leaving is actually accomplished.”


This debut is an inquiry into poetry, romantic love, and the limitations of self and culture that complicate them. Every line can be de- and reconstructed to reveal new meanings, and I am excited to encounter these in my inevitable subsequent rereads of Grand Tour.



 

Brittany Torres Rivera is a bilingual, Puerto Rican writer. She graduated from Florida International University with a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. Brittany is an alumna of the Fulbright Program and currently works as an Editorial and Administrative Assistant at Graywolf Press.

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