I admit, I thought this would be a quick read. It’s well under 100 pages and consists of a piece of digital fine art on one page with a short poem on the facing page. That seems fairly straightforward. But I greatly underestimated the emotional impact of those small, concise verses.
The physical focus of the book is on the Rio Grande, which composes a stretch of the border between the US and Mexico and has long been used as a crossing point for Latin Americans to enter the United States. Because it is made of water, it is a border which is difficult to define and difficult to enforce, yet still quite treacherous for those attempting to traverse it. However, there is also an emotional focus, which flits from one nameless character to another and their various interactions with the river.
To my mind, both art and poetry can be difficult to judge qualitatively. To some extent, if it speaks to someone it can be considered a success. But that is a matter of opinion. To be honest, the artwork did not speak to me. I found the garish colors and abundant use of right angles to be off-putting. I see what Price was trying to do with it in combining and digitally manipulating old maps, photographs, and satellite images of the river. His pieces do provide an interesting visual accompaniment to the poems, and give the reader a stylized impression of the locations to which he refers. While the artwork certainly did not detract from the overall experience, neither did it add to it much, for me personally. Perhaps others will find it more engaging.
The poetry, on the other hand, affected me profoundly. I found myself having to take frequent breaks to blink back tears, or stop reading entirely for a while to recover from the intensity of sadness, longing, fear, relief, and loss. Each one clearly encompasses a particular moment from a different point of view: from those who are making the attempt to cross but fail, or who succeed only to succumb to some later danger, who have triumphed and are living in the new world, or who made it but were caught and put in a cell.
Price’s phrasing is elegant yet visceral, evoking in the reader that most basic desperate instinct of survival in just a few words. He captures the beautiful and the frightful, the surreal and the absurd, and weaves it into a kind of truth, all the while acknowledging that there is no one true story to be told.
For those who enjoy poetry or fine art, or who have an interest in immigration issues and the plight of illegal immigrants, this short volume is definitely worth picking up. I am very glad I did.
I love to read a wide variety of books. I enjoy analyzing, discussing and writing about them. As both a reader and a writer, I know how important it is to be thoughtful and tactful in my reviews, to give useful feedback to the writer and to give an accurate accounting of the story for the reader.