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  • Diego Báez

Homeland of Swarms by Oriette D’Angelo translated by Lupita Eyde-Tucker

















Homeland of Swarms by Oriette D'Angelo Translated by Lupita Eyde-Tucker | co-im-press | March 2024 | ISBN: 978-1947918108



 


This bilingual edition of Venezuelan poet Oriette D’Angelo’s stirring second collection takes its English language title, Homeland of Swarms, from a line in one of the book’s prose poems, “I Underline A Title Like I Underline A Country,” which begins:

 

We have become a flat screen. Numbed by the thunder of legs. [blanket full of holes with news from another world.] The corpse that does not belong to us and the obsolete president accused of corruption. The program in another language and the inevitable antenna in each window, each home. They tell us that the right to food is worth more here than the right to life. And we die, but we eat.

 

Amid the collection’s many devastating poems composed in traditionally lineated lyrics, D’Angelo intersperses prose poems that transform lyrical reflections of her beleaguered home country’s fragile state into bidirectional portals, each tight rectangle similar in shape to the phones expat Venezolanos use to communicate with loved ones back home, but also the primary tool used by the wider outside world to learn about Venezuela through social media and algorithmic messaging. As translator Lupita Eyde-Tucker says in a note, use of this form “helps the reader grasp the myriad ways that the city, the country, and the speaker, are diseased” by “hunger, poverty, unemployment, and violence.” That these diseases arise from internal political strife as much as they do from meddling by other nation-states underscores a contradiction central to D’Angelo's collection: the speaker and her people eat but die anyhow. They can’t escape this fate: even if they manage to emigrate, Venezolanos struggle to unburden themselves of the baggage of their homeland.

 

The book’s themes of patria and liberation are dominated by a persistent sense of buzzing embodiment: no speaker can escape the body they’re born in, a body whose needs and desires directly impacts their experiences of culture, psychology, and corporeal health. In “Insulin Resistance,” the speaker laments an apostrophized second person whose “turning to sweets to relieve anxiety” earns a scolding: “Soon you’ll forget that you too, are water. / You’ll scorch your tongue purple / while you chew candy.” This admonishment doesn’t occur in a vacuum: within deteriorating social structures, even the most innocuous infractions require correction. “Anatomy of A Heart Attack” socializes this dynamic, tracing the impact of an individual body’s internal dysfunction to a breakdown between friends:

 

Coronary deterioration. Blood communication problem. Lack of ventricular fortitude.

That this scream is not a howl.

 

There are friends who are arteries, friends that get blocked. Ischemic thrombosis.

 

For D’Angelo, bodies are messy machines of impulse and satisfaction, malfunctioning entities that can scramble or disassociate, swarms of competing desires and constraints.

One question D’Angelo’s collection centers itself around: what happens when a country and its inhabitants find themselves stuck?

 

The book’s original Spanish title, Cardiopatías, offers an explanation and the term finds definitions in two distinctly tight poems. “[CARDIOPATHIES]” opens with a devastating ars poetica (“A poem is a cardiac disease / an unresolved problem in the heart”); as well as the poem simply numbered “VIII,” from the book’s second section, “[ESCAPE ATTEMPTS]”:

 

Cardiopath:

Person in form of a wound

that doesn’t leave us

until another arrives

 

In these poems, art and artist alike are diagnosed as symptomatic of the country’s conundrum: a blockage, a clog, a lack of circulation; an inability to move on. D’Angelo’s lyrics are rich with blistering, visceral imagery (“All bodies ooze infernos”) and punishing scrutiny of the violence endemic to failing petrostates:

 

Have you ever seen a blood stain on concrete? It looks like an oil stain, but thicker,

humbler than petroleum, more sincere.

 

D’Angleo bundles nation to blood and extractive capital in ways that drive home how entangled each of us is—Venozolano or not—to systems beyond our individual control. As much as Homeland of Swarms sings the stinging realities of life in Venezuela, truths of birthplace, identity, and violence persist across borders, as “THIS MUST BE THE PLACE” underscores:

 

What are we apart from an id card?

Can we exist without language

for the hateful coordinate of return?

 

Let’s start the disaster from the beginning:

what a punishment, to remain and endure

inside a limit imposed by blood.

 

D’Angelo’s is an urgently needed voice in contemporary Latine and Latin American poetry. In the fiery translation of Eydee-Tucker, her words can reach English language readers in the U.S. Let us hear them and heed their message.




 

Diego Báez is a writer, educator, and abolitionist. He is the author of Yaguareté White (UAPress, 2024). Poems and book reviews have appeared online and in print, most recently at Freeman's, The Georgia Review, and Booklist. He lives in Chicago and teaches at the City Colleges.

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