LONGLISTED FOR THE 2020 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR POETRY
The astonishing second collection by the author of Slow Lightning, winner of the Yale Younger Poets Prize
Guillotine traverses desert landscapes cut through by migrants, the grief of loss, betrayal’s lingering scars, the border itself—great distances in which violence and yearning find roots. Through the voices of undocumented immigrants, border patrol agents, and scorned lovers, award-winning poet Eduardo C. Corral writes dramatic portraits of contradiction, survival, and a deeply human, relentless interiority. With extraordinary lyric imagination, these poems wonder about being unwanted or renounced. What do we do with unrequited love? Is it with or without it that we would waste away?
In the sequence “Testaments Scratched into Water Station Barrels,” with Corral’s seamless integration of Spanish and English, poems curve around the surfaces upon which they are written, overlapping like graffiti left by those who may or may not have survived crossing the border. A harrowing second collection, Guillotine solidifies Corral’s place in the expanding ecosystem of American poetry.
The devastating and electrifying second book from Corral (Slow Lightning) features an imagined multivoiced narrative at the U.S.-Mexican border and its surrounding deserts. The speakers are desperate, thirsty, bleeding, their plights depicted with urgent, stream-of-consciousness fragments blending English and Spanish. Bleak circumstances are rendered hauntingly melodic: "Walked toward a mountain./ Coolness fell through the heat./ Guillotine./ Rested./ Fought off the oldest smuggler./ Yellow teeth." One speaker cleans the sores on their feet with nail polish remover while dwelling on the carnage that litters the Sonoran Desert: "A headless corpse/ sporting a T-shirt/ that reads Superstar'." Beyond the "Testaments" poems, Corral reckons with a queer awakening in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, most strikingly in "Autobiography of My Hungers," in which the young speaker states: "Thinness,/ in my mind, equals the gay men/ on the nightly news./ Kissed by death & public scorn." The speaker's mother remarks on his slim appearance, causing him to consume an entire cake alone in his room, a symbol of shame and existential terror. Shot through with the dark realities of human tragedy, Corral's latest is a virtuosic compendium of grief.