It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha! Shovels and lobelias; gardening, violence, flowering plants. Buried secrets and blossoming. There seemed a sense to it all.
Intervenir/Intervene is being sold as a book of poetry. That is true. But then again, this is not poetry that obeys the rules poetry are supposed to follow. I state this in the year 2016, long after free verse and post modernism have done their best to ruin formal poetry. Even in the age of facile “performance art” and hollow “experimentalism,” there is work that reminds jaded readers like myself that there is value in some of what stands under the all too wide umbrella of avant-garde. Intervenir/Intervene is that sort of work.
It’s easy to throw words together in an attempt to confound, to shock, or to demonstrate cleverness. Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez are not doing the reader many favors, but they’re not simply engaging in empty experimentation. They have an impossible task: to articulate what often goes unsaid, the brutal, sanctioned violence of their native Mexico. Translator Jen Hofer calls this Mexico’s dirty war. How shocking to see this term applied to what so many of us might dismiss as political corruption, a term that seems insubstantial in comparison to “dirty war,” which is more often applied retroactively. But this is a contemporary, ongoing dirty war whose victims are largely unacknowledged. Since they cannot speak, Dorantes and Flores Sánchez do their utmost to give them voice and to blend those voices with those of the state, the killer, and the reader. Intervenir/Intervene is a polyphony of these voices overlapping, interrupting—intervening. Readers will likely be disoriented by the fragmented presentation, but the elliptical, overwhelming approach culminates in a sense of understanding. This is not an easy book, but neither is the subject matter.
Intervenir/Intervene surprises. There is the before-mentioned merging of voices, the seemingly free form style, but also, actually, structure. From the apparent chaos, a page of rather direct poetry emerges:
To my urn
To my museum
To my barking
To my pain
To my depth
From a country of ash
From an ocean of blood
From another unfinished city
From my deserted head
From the mouth without its teeth
Here we have anaphora and fairly rooted lines and stanzas, a true oddity among passages like:
The effect is to disrupt the expectations of the reader, even after their expectations have been thoroughly disrupted. Anything is possible in this book, as in a country like Mexico, a place of immense beauty and tremendous suffering.
Intervenir/Intervene is a book of poems and a short study of translation. Jen Hofer ends the text with notes on her process, which are often as elusive as the poetry. It is a dual language book that subverts and embraces both languages. It is a political book coming partially from Dolores Dorantes, a writer in exile from Ciudad Juarez who once resisted her poetry being translated into culturally dominant English. It is a statement of the absurdity of communicating violence and the tragedy of keeping silent in its wake. Few works of art are able to succeed on so many levels.