The first poem Eduardo C. Corral ever wrote was a response to Beowulf in rhyming couplets. Corral’s high school English teacher, who assigned the poem, thought his response was so good, she read it aloud to her other classes.
More than a decade later, Corral’s poetry is winning even higher praise. In the last twelve months, he became the first Latino poet to receive the Yale Younger Poets Prize, won the 2011 Whiting Award, and now has published his first book of poetry, Slow Lightning, new from Yale University Press this month.
A profile of Corral in the Arizona Republic describes the years between that Beowulf poem and Slow Lightning, the manuscript of which was completed last year in a Starbucks in Corral’s home town of Casa Grande, Arizona. Corral, who grew up speaking Spanish at home, was greatly influenced by the Chicano writers he studied as an undergraduate at Arizona State University, a fact that is obvious in the mixture of English and Spanish that appears in his poems. “I don’t use Spanish as ethnic embellishment,” Corral said in an interview earlier this month with Publishers Weekly. Instead, “It mirrors the way I think…If the Spanish is taken out, the poem collapses.”
Corral’s subject matter is weighty: his poems deal with Mexican-American border politics, AIDS, and broader themes of identity, erotics, and family connection. Yet his poetry is not easily summarized. Indeed, in the foreword to Slow Lightning, Carl Phillips begins his tenure as judge of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, explaining how Corral’s distinctive bilingual style is just one symptom of the way in which the poet “resists reductivism. Gay, Chicano, ‘Illegal-American,’ that’s all just language, and part of Corral’s point is that language, like sex, is fluid and dangerous and thrilling, now a cage, now a window out.” Corral navigates this fluidity of language with expertise, evoking not only “intimacy, humor, outrage, longing, fear,” but also “quiet beauty” and a “joyful exuberance” Phillips locates in the following excerpt:
…At my touch,
melts like a slab
of black ice. I’m
dissipating. I’m a ghost undressing.
I’m a cowboy
My soul is
above my head like a lasso.
My right hand
a pistol. My left
automatic. I’m knocking
on every door…
Excerpted from “Self-Portrait with Tumbling and Lasso” by Eduardo C. Corral in Slow Lightning Copyright © 2011 by Yale University.