banana [ ]

banana [ ]

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Author: Paul Hlava Ceballos

Publishers: University of Pittsburgh Press (2022)

The poems in Paul Hlava Ceballos’s debut collection banana [ ] reveal the extractive relationship the United States has with the Americas and its people through poetic portraits of migrants, family, and personal memories. At the heart of the book is a long poem that traces the history of bananas in Latin America using only found text from sources such as history books, declassified CIA documents, and commercials. The book includes collage, Ecuadorian decimas, a sonnet series in the voices of Incan royalty at the moment of colonization, and a long poem interspersed with photos and the author’s mother’s bilingual idioms. Traversing language and borders, history and story, traditional and invented forms, this book guides us beyond survival to love.

“The first poem in this book completely swept me off my feet. As pages of this book turn, one quickly realizes that the whole manuscript is filled with invention, passion, and skill. I love the restlessness and the attentiveness to language. But most importantly: the invention and lyric textures in this book aren’t here just for the show; they are setting to music the urgency of our time. That is a hard thing to do, and this poet does it again and again.”

—Ilya Kaminsky

“Paul Hlava Ceballos’s banana [ ] renders personal and cultural histories. The personal and naturally political, Eden and Hades converge into a landscape of experimental form that propels us forward. Names and places pay tribute in the languages of everyday life to bear witness and celebrate human rituals—familial and communal. In banana [ ], Hlava Ceballos exacts these poems with such caring precision, fully resonant, lit by earth and sky.”

—Yusef Komunyakaa

“The poems in Paul Hlava Ceballos’s banana [ ] are elegy, labor, and repair. The title poem is one of stripping away and accretion constructed from the words of others. It is made from racist emails, racist popular culture, from interviews, declarations, from reports that detail or obscure violence and living. An entire grammar emerges across the poem’s three sections.”

—Christina Sharpe

“Three texts exist simultaneously within banana [ ]: one is curated and is clearly visible, a second has been strategically redacted, and a third the reader puts together in imagining the text whole again. Using this strategy, Ceballos creates a house of mirrors in which the legal, historical, anthropological, and agricultural language of violence employed by the US empire across Central America can be dissected. A master at the enthymeme, this collection’s contributions to inventive forms astounds.” 

—Natalie Scenters-Zapico

Winner, Donald Hall Prize for Poetry

Winner, 2023 Poetry Society of America Norma Farber First Book Award