Longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award in Poetry
Winner of the National Poetry Series Competition, selected by Cornelius Eady--an exploration in verse of imperial appropriation and Mexican American cultural identity
"Marvelous, argumentative, and curiosity-provoking" --The New York Times Book Review
The poems in J. Michael Martinez's third collection of poetry circle around how the perceived body comes to be coded with the trans-historical consequences of an imperial narrative. Engaging beautiful and otherworldly Mexican casta paintings, morbid photographic postcards depicting the bodies of dead Mexicans, the strange journey of the wood and cork leg of General Santa Anna, and Martinez's own family lineage, Museum of the Americas gives accounts of migrant bodies caught beneath, and fashioned under, a racializing aesthetic gaze. Martinez questions how "knowledge" of the body is organized through visual perception of that body, hypothesizing the corporeal as a repository of the human situation, a nexus of culture. Museum of the Americas' poetic revives and repurposes the persecuted ethnic body from the appropriations that render it an art object and, therefore, diposable.
Martinez (In the Garden of the Bridehouse) carefully arranges a series of aesthetic objects, stories, experiences, and analyses alongside each other in a third collection a 2017 National Poetry Series Winner that operates as a kind of conversational, hybrid genre exhibit. He begins with a short poem about President Trump ("servant who sweetens/ only mirrors") and ends with poems about the death of a grandmother ("Beside the casket, I collect my tears"). Much of the work in between focuses on the othered, aestheticized bodies of Mexicans and other Latin Americans within American history. Martinez proceeds via an ekphrastic analysis of casta paintings (in which mixed-race people are the subjects), sideshow oddities, photographs of executions in Mexico and the U.S. Southwest, Catholic iconography and prayer, and regional legend. The book operates in a manner akin to Martinez's description of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe: "a poetic where the historical subject traverses through vanishing into the naked color identical in time to its embodied self.' " Martinez employs an incantatory, short-lined lyricism alongside no small amount of prose, mining and appropriating the language of treaties and racialized nonfiction and juxtaposing them with his own poetic theory, personal and cultural experience, and concise examinations of objects, documents, and studies, before spilling back into verse. Martinez's effort is largely a beautiful, personal, well-conceived, and historically contextualized indictment of empire, the aestheticization of biopolitics, and the white gaze.