The poems in Eduardo Corral’s Slow Lightning, 2011 winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets award, explore such topics as sexuality, desire, identity, heritage, immigration, freedom, and entrapment. Corral investigates the pain and beauty found at the borderlands of our imagination and our society. Restless both linguistically and formally, the poems in Slow Lightning switch seamlessly between English and Spanish, between narrow justified columns and lines that range across the page.
Priyanka Alluri: Although his poems are primarily in English, Corral incorporates Spanish into his writing. The Spanish gives insights into his Mexican culture, the speakers’ relationships, and experiences of Mexican immigrants. Code switching portrays meanings lost in translation to English. He employs a variety of forms and phrases that often works with his code switching. In one poem, “Hoy me voy” is emphasized through the white space on the page. The Spanish is spoken through the English with Corral’s organization. Poems are written vertically and horizontally. The structure acts as a visual representation in some of Corral’s poems.
Natalie Einselen: Corral’s “Border Triptych,” a crown of three sonnets, is the only poem that contemplates the struggle of female immigrants. The first and third sonnet include lighthearted interactions between two men: one passing through a checkpoint admits to the guard that he’s been smuggling bikes, and two friends struggle together through the desert towards the border. The second sonnet stands in stark contrast to its companions describing one woman who sees her nine companions raped—a fate she narrowly avoided through maternal advice. She does not share her mother’s advice with her companions; the camaraderie found in the other sonnets is absent. Corral does a disservice to immigrant women in Slow Lightning by not including more of their stories and perspectives.
Neha Indoliya: In “Variation on a Theme by Jose Montoya.” the reader is forced to decode the language in order to grasp some understanding. This poem glides from form to form, portraying the unsteady and unreliable journey of crossing the border. Corral forces the reader to struggle to understand this poem mirroring that of the immigrants. Also, Corral grapples with letting his past define him and not losing his heritage as he attempts to fit in. Lines such as, “I was one of ten women. Our mouths were taped. / I was spit on. I was slapped. The other women were raped,” delve deep into the reader’s conscience.
Moet Kurakata: Eduardo Corral’s speakers move through the separation from loved ones and experience the fluidity of life. Corral uses the recurring image of a heart being pulled out of animals and musical instruments to observe life in its purest form, no longer in its natural habitat; the musicality of life is lost in the constant struggle of finding one’s home, because our identification is rooted in our heritage and loved ones. His speakers adapt to the loneliness by creating a new generation that is independent and communal. By doing so, they form a home away from home.
Sammi Myers: Although we tend to group all Mexican immigrants together, they are all individuals with different stories to tell. In “Border Triptych,” Corral sews together three accounts, one of a border patrol agent, another of a girl trying to enter the country, and lastly of two people three days past Mexico. In this triptych, Corral captures the frustration of someone trying to apprehend a biker for smuggling, terror during the border crossing, and the small humor immigrants can find in their situation. “Border Triptych” is only one example of the many immigrant stories Corral weaves in Slow Lighting.
Ramya Ravindrababu: Corral uses formatting and imagery to portray how the ideal of a situation fragments into “what could have been”. The poem “Velvet Mesquite” creates a perfectly rectangular shape, save for the crack running through the center – a representation of internal failings beneath a seemingly ideal picture. Throughout the book, the reader is jarred by the juxtaposition of innocent yearnings (a boy yearning to be like his father) against vivid cruelty (the boy’s identity being torn apart by his father). Corral approaches taboos with refreshing honesty; he tears past the ideal and unveils true struggle. [Read the full review here.]
Hunter Stetz: Often overlooked, Corral addresses traditional themes in his work. Nature plays a sizeable role. His characters are often situated in the desert with no place to sleep but the earth beneath their feet. Corral’s speakers are ostracized – living at the fringes of society, whether it’s because of ethnicity, sexual orientation, or both. Nature serves to counter some of that sense of rejection. The brutality of living exposed to the elements is paired with a magic-esque environment, consisting of deer, wolves, and coyotes, amongst others. The magical realism illuminates abnormality, most vivid when exploring sexuality. Both flora and fauna are the glue that holds these tales together, grounding the characters’ lives in reality, even when it seems so unreal.
Anant Sultania: “No tengo papeles” – a serious pun used by Corral in Slow Lighting, has more meaning than just the humor that is evident in the poem “Border Triptych.” Corral uses humor to present the identity loss that an ‘Illegal American” faces. He covers a wide range of themes in his book, by adopting various personas. A very distinct persona poem is “Self Portrait with Tumbling and Lasso,” where themes like grief, isolation, and vulnerability are shown. Moreover, there is rich contrast present in Corral’s poems, which he shows by drastic variations in the form of his poems.
Alicia Winton: “Am I not your animal?” The question from “To The Angelbeast” encompasses Corral’s use of animal imagery to represent searching for identity in a world that is not one’s own. When asked of a lover, this not only conveys a theme of submission, but also an idea of animals being used as a symbol of intimacy, a typically unsettling concept. Bestiality is a concept explored in many of Corral’s poems, and one wonders if it is representative of Corral’s own search for the correct partner or the idea of breaking the walls of closed-mindedness about relationships. The frequent discussion of animals with human emotions, desires, and identity questions in Corral’s work truly compels the reader to ask: are humans and “animals” so different after all?