Raft of Flame (Paperback)
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A painter and poet, Desirée Alvarez engages with the powerful forces of lyric and rhythm to create a collection that moves across time and place. Inspired by Lorca’s passionate cante jondo, or “deep song,” and her own family history with Andalusian flamenco, Alvarez weaves together a time-travelling epic that searches through myth, culture, and nature for the roots of identity. Navigating both her Latina and European heritage through works by artists of the ancient Americas and Spain, Alvarez maps intersections between personal and political history. Searching narratives both fictitious and real, Raft of Flame includes imagined conversations between a conquistador and an Olmec sculpture, between Frida Kahlo and Velazquez, and between The Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy and Glinda the Good Witch.
In Raft of Flame, Alvarez constructs and fleshes out a fantastic narrative of personal and cultural history, offering glimpses into the art, history, and land that comprise her story. Her narrative explores how both nature and human populations continue to be trapped in the violence of colonialism. Vivid lyrics interrogate the complexities of mixed race, digging the dualities, upheavals, and casts of characters that underly Alvarez’s identity.
Raft of Flame won Omnidawn's 2018 Lake Merritt Prize.
About the Author
Desirée Alvarez is a painter, poet, and the author of Devil’s Paintbrush. She teaches at The City University of New York and The Juilliard School.
"The powerful second collection from Alvarez explores the remnants of Central American cultures after the 16th-century Spanish conquest, examining what endures and what doesn’t after plunder, colonization, and the destruction of a civilization . . . Alvarez’s images are startlingly potent: 'the lavender moon guts the highway with her audacious harvest,' and her language has a distinct artistry . . . Alvarez brings the reader to an ancient world that is, in fact, still alive."
— Publishers Weekly
"Painter/poet Desirée Alvarez’s In Raft of Flame uses Lorca’s cante jondo ('deep song') and family connection to Andalusian flamenco to plumb cultural identity."
— Library Journal
"The poems in Raft of Flame address inheritance haunted by colonial violence and genocide. The ghosts in the archives speak inside the poems, addressing heritage next to loss. 'I don’t see my face, owl says before soaring, / as the future is born of slave and colonizer / on the ledge of the window.' Here we have the mysteries of mixed culture through the art made by the artists of the ancient Americas and Spain. Here a speaker asks, 'I’m here to see where / I come from to stop the din of not knowing.' The poems time-travel across regions, cultures, and centuries. Alvarez frets history, speaks to historical image-making, religion, and art. The poems invent new perspectives, speak in masks, present cinematic panoplies, are many-tongued, always clear-eyed. Richly they assemble, speak to story with mythic address as they sing and range. These poems are fire."
— Hoa Nguyen, author of Violet Energy Ingots and Judge of Omnidawn’s Lake Merritt Prize
"A blazing vessel of insight carries us through the lush, devastated world of Desirée Alvarez’s Raft of Flame. This book is propelled by questions—urgent questions that camouflage as ordinary ('And what time was dinner?' 'How would a family look?'), and those that immediately chill: 'Tell me why someone must always be sacrificed for the future to be assured?' Throughout, there is a dialectical heartbeat of desire and refusal. The gorgeous series of poems with 'cante' in their titles weave Spanish with English. Alvarez knows and sings how both lineage and etymology carry relationships tender as well as coerced. These poems revel in and expose our sonic becomings: 'Worship of ships now. Warship.' And though the book is populated by other artists (Velázquez, Kahlo, Goya), it is Alvarez, here, who expertly wields both brush and pen."
— Stefania Heim, author of HOUR BOOK
"Aboard this multilingual poetic vessel, Desirée Alvarez crosses the thresholds of time and space to enter ancient America and its conquest. On this journey, she examines the violent relations between the colonizer and the colonized, as well as her own entangled Latina, Spanish, and European heritages. A visual, eckphrastic impulse indelibly colors this collection, while a fertile lyricism echoes in its cante, its singing. In the end, the Raft of Flame carries us to the place where we can look––entranced––into historical and genealogical 'depths that cannot be uttered.'"
— Craig Santos Perez, author of Habitat Threshold