You Ask Me to Talk About the Interior emerges out of the ontological shock and double-bind of there being a world (rather than nothing at all), and inhabiting this world that “depends on violence.” Still, Carolina Ebeid writes, “I have wanted / to make you something // beautiful.” Drawing on influences such as Roland Barthes’s notion of the punctum (the photographic detail that pierces the viewer) to the repertoire of circles and twirls––the veronicas––bullfighters make with the red cape to attract the bull, Ebeid explores a poetics that is at once intricate and intimate. The poems in this book move by way of metaphors and poetic turns that reveal and wound; they cover territories ranging from personal confession and diagnosis to political catastrophes such as war and exile. Witnessing again to the lyric as art of ethical reckoning, each poem in You Ask Me to Talk About the Interior is an ardent fathoming of our most interior selves, each poem in Ebeid’s long-awaited first collection is a momentary “allegory for the soul.”
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Ebeid paints a landscape where ordinary objects possess a luminescent edge in her elusive and airy debut. This brightness works as a sleight-of-hand though, asking readers to focus on origami nautiluses and bee-hives made of glass while something dark lurks: “We live in a copy/ of Eden, a copy// that depends on violence.” Each poem is an act of emotional chiaroscuro, the harsh shadows finding balance with all the blinding light. “Lackofempathy could be a fern,” Ebeid writes in one poem, and in another a flower “resembles a person’s/ cut-off tongue clasped in the teeth of a pig.” Amid a veritable garden of botanical imagery, Ebeid often asks her readers to get between her lines, to ask themselves if the beauty with which they are presented is merely an artifice meant to distract from the cruel reality of a world where humans kill other humans via drone strikes. The beautiful language and images also contrast with the complicated family history Ebeid intersperses throughout. In one of the final poems, she makes her position clear: “I continue to believe that poetry contains revolutionary power.” Ebeid’s shocking metaphors and sharp imagination serve to remind her readers that there is a surprising amount of power that resides within us.
In Ebeid’s poems, the lens is always in motion, sweeping across eras and lighting on artifacts that turn to facsimiles before our eyes. The flowers in “In Lieu of Flowers” are “toy replica[s] of the authentic thing,” the jets are cardboard, haloed angels in the cloister arches become satellites “in their seraphic orbits, taking photographs of us.” Continual metamorphosis and fast-track collaging produce a tornado effect where everything is caught up, and nothing remains unchanged. Scenes from the movie of the mind are projected onto the page while the reader remains stationary, like a museum visitor paused in front of a painting, or the film viewer who arrives primed to see a made world. –– Mary Jo Bang (from essay in American Poets)
Carolina Ebeid’s mesmerizingly beautiful first book, You Ask Me to Talk About the Interior, is a book of the blues discovered in the matrilineal line. “We live in a copy of Eden,” she writes, “a copy that depends on violence.” Autism, illness, and lead lend their traces to these poems that pulse, like all blues, with “world-sorrow,” while rising from the root of that sorrow which is love. The voice of mother, of lover, and of friend spills from every page, charged with fierce and protective passion, a passion that is contagious because it is song. –– Julie Carr
You Ask Me to Talk About the Interior is a book of listening and responding and listening again, “the way a searchlight listens over a lake.” Ebeid’s poems recognize that no question is answered completely by the first words spoken in response, nor by the first glimpse of the discovered thing, but that every response, every glimpse, is itself an extension of the initial question—they seek what is to be found there, in the extended question, when the interrogated speaks back, and so they are as wise as any poems I know. –– Shane McCrae
Carolina Ebeid’s voice is a lament, it is a singing, a mourning, a beautiful and yet sorrow-filled lyric. Her poems—of sons, of husbands, war and flowers, revolution and reading Celan on the subway—are deeply American, while, at the same time, they are not. They are both from everywhere and from nowhere—Ebeid’s voice is both deeply familiar and surprisingly original. These poems are love poems to the world—passionate and essential. –– Cynthia Cruz