- Read Red
On June 14, 2011, Switchback Books hosted a launch party and reading at Pete's Candy Store in Brooklyn, New York for its latest release, Red Missed Aches Read Missed Aches Red Mistakes Read Mistakes by Jennifer Tamayo, chosen by Cathy Park Hong for the young press' Gatewood Prize. I was curious and interested to see Tamayo present a work that is more than poetry and not just memoir. Prior to Tamayo's entrance, the founding editors, Hanna Andrews and Becca Klaver, were visibly excited during their introduction, and were followed by an equally exuberant Hong. What Tamayo provided was not a reading but a performance in which she read to the audience while a second voice, a recorded Tamayo, contributed the other half of a double Tamayo monologue. For the finale, Tamayo covered her head with a roughly quilted white hood covered in black and red text in which "Red Miss Takes" was the only bolded emblem, and magically this now faceless Tamayo began to dance to a spliced R&B song, and she danced like a teenager in her bedroom, a private and endearing groove. It was an unexpected and welcome presentation of a text that is difficult to contain and antagonizes language to create poetic narrative from cultural and sexual conflicts.
The Spanish word for "memory" is "memoria," both rooted in the Latin "memoria." Words contain history, lineage, and they can reveal the migration of a people. This is the fragment's ability to relate to the larger whole and to tell its own story. Language is an everyday performance of our cultural roots and our personal and familial narratives, and we are judged not by what we say as much as how we say it. Herein lies the fulcrum of Tamayo's new book. It is at once a revelatory narrative and performative memorial composed of word and image, and a living red thread that knots and connects the pages and that seems to have an energy all its own. In many ways, Tamayo's memoria transcends its minimal white cover.
Before we get to the title page, the dedication, just after the illuminating introduction by Hong, and before the pages are numbered, a collage (now black and white image) sits crooked on the page. The photo of a little girl torn in half has been attached by red thread (the only color on the page) to what looks to be the cover of a US pamphlet for new immigrants. Her head is torn in half and sewn to the masculine "head" of the Capitol Building. The lower right corner of the "Guide for New Immigrants" has been replaced and sewn to a piece of paper with both handwritten and typed text. The stitches are not carefully sewn, and the fragmented images and text do not hold the place on the page peaceably. The hand of the artist is apparent; this is not an image that has been mastered in Photoshop; the seams are pronounced. A story is told in the construction, or in this case, the misconstruction, words scribbled in the corner do not read, instead they say "play w/ this." This is not only a book of poetry, it is also a moving performance that begins as soon as one reads (reds) the title. The voice and the hand of the author lead you from one page to the next invoking the complicated mathematics of the hybrid outsider: the child, the daughter, the mother, the immigrant, the woman, the number, the voice, the name, and the artist who is arranging for the collision of these inciting elements.
I refer to Tamayo as the artist as well as the author and the poet. The hybrid nature of the book requires that I adopt a title for the creator that represents all of the elements present. The poems themselves assimilate various forms that perform the work of the images, imitate the sounds of the Spanish tongue speaking English, illustrate and transform the surreal symbols that Tamayo has adopted...