Eloisa Amezcua’s From The Inside Quietly arrived on my doorstep earlier this year and I almost did not read it. I was terrified. It sat on my nightstand for days, unopened. This was my first time requesting an advanced review copy of anything and the endless possibilities of what could be inside filled me with a very specific kind of professional, and personal, dread. What if it’s written in high style and I don’t understand the words? What if I hate it and I can’t find nice things to say? What if it’s….just okay and I have NOTHING to say about it? I’m pleased, reader, to inform you that none of these concerns ended up being the case.
The book opens up with a poem called “E Does Ballet”. Right away, I was pulled in. With the lines “little-bodied in a pink tutu/ and matching leotard/ a mirrored room/ chubby mother says,” Amezcua entices you with your own curiosity and you stay for lines like “chlorine water rushes/ into her mouth as she sinks/ legs akimbo to the pool floor/ screaming words she shouldn’t know,” because these poems make you FEEL. The meter and enjambment control the lyricism and mood of this particular poem and produce a musicality that mimics ballet music; the words seem like merely a vehicle for the speaker’s heartbeat, as if they are easing you into the feelings they wish to evoke. The poem seems to say that when other people, especially parents, project their insecurities onto young children, it can result in them growing up accustomed to discomfort, negativity, and insecurity. The majority of the stressed syllables occur in words that pertain to time and to the speaker’s physical appearance. In fact, many of the poems in the book carry their stressed syllables like birthmarks—accents to an already whole majestic work. I loved this poem and many of the others resembling it.
Physical insecurities and interpersonal relationships are a recurring theme in Amezcua’s work but as far as their crafting goes, it is the musicality that truly stands out. On her musicality, Eloisa Amezcua had this to say:
K: All your poems lend themselves to musicality. Is that a poetic convention you have deliberately invested time into honing or is it an innate element of your writing?
E: My poems usually begin with a line—a phrase or sentence—that I hear and see in my mind and build around. I tend to enter a poem having an idea of how it’s going to look on the page, but it’s the music and sound that surprise me as the words meet the page.
From its honesty, to its rhythm, to its precision—this book is stunning. Amezcua’s work is musical, wondrous, and vulnerable. Most of all it is beautiful and many elements of the poems themselves are deeply enthralling and well-crafted.
In a few of the poems such as “Car Talk” and “E Walks Home Alone: An Inner Monologue”, lines like “When our small mouths/ open, we sigh,” and “wear nothing/ that clings to your shape” make an interesting use of physical space. I noticed in several poems like these that the speaker, when pointing out disparities in treatment between men and women, illustrates differences in the physical space they’re allowed to take up and what they choose to do with that space.
K: In a few of these pieces, the speaker explores physical space with regard to agency and sometimes movement as very real and singular manifestations of emotions the speaker experiences and inequities they are confronted with. Was this a choice you made or have you always seen these things informed by each other?
E: As a woman, particularly a woman of color, I am constantly looking for agency in spaces, both physical and abstract. I consider the page to be a space where I am in control of my agency or the agency of the speaker(s) in the poems—a place where I can be vulnerable and mean and happy and angry and and…I think this is not unlike form informing content, right? Like, the space we are in informs our reactions, both physical and emotional, to the space and to how we are perceived and how we perceive ourselves in that space.
Speaking of space, Amezcua’s work has excellent enjambment throughout. In the poem “Defenestration”, she uses enjambment to illustrate the powerlessness of falling in love and compares it to that of skydiving:
“…I fell once, from an airplane,
on purpose. I didn’t love the man
strapped to my back but for a moment
I might have…”
The line breaks here are very precise. She couples the act of falling with love and uncertainty, as well as fear. However, by aligning the phrase “on purpose” with the rest of the stanza, the speaker indicates that succumbing to love is much like gravity in that it is a choice to fall but where one lands is indeterminate.
I asked Amezcua about her line breaks and here’s how it went:
K: In what ways have you explored line breakage as a means of emphasis and/or storytelling? Do the shape of your poems contribute to the messages you wish to convey?
E: Jericho Brown was the first person I studied poetry under and there’s a phrase he used in class all the time, something along the lines of “the form should inform the content.” That idea, a mantra of sorts, has stayed with me and I think about it every time I sit down to read or write. I’m very interested in how form plays a role in the reading of a poem, how a reader learns to take in a poem based on how it appears on the page. I approach line breaks very seriously, perhaps too seriously, but I love the idea that in a poem, the world can hinge on the space between words from one line to the next. So I guess I hope that the shapes of my poems contribute to the content because it’s certainly something I’m aware of as I’m writing them, but I think a reader would be better qualified to truly answer that.
From The Inside Quietly is a stunning collection and I cannot think of a better introduction to Eloisa Amezcua’s work. She is a force and, after reading these poems, I am a fan. Highly engaging, accessible, and beautiful—this book will stick with a reader for a long time.
I got the opportunity to ask Ms. Amezcua more questions beyond the scope of her writing which can be read below:
K: Along with being a writer of poems, you are an editor as well, being the sole curator of a weekly one-poem publication called The Shallow Ends. In what ways have these two processes informed each other for you?
E; Being an editor hasn’t informed my writing as much as it’s informed the ways in which I approach getting my work published—submitting to journals with editors whom I trust, submitting to journals where my work won’t be tokenized, etc. I recently decided after receiving solicitations from a few journals that I wouldn’t submit work to places that haven’t published a female/femme-identifying Latinx poet in their last three issues. Being an editor has taught me that it’s important to hold each other, both as writers and editors, accountable and to help each other grow and build communities where our actions (publishing) and our intentions (wanting to create inclusive spaces) meet.
K: If you could offer any advice to a famous writer of THE PAST, who would it be and what would you say to them?
E: I’d advise Sappho to hide copies of her writing anywhere and everywhere.
K: Who is your favorite cartoon character and what is their biggest weakness?
E: Helga G. Pataki from Hey, Arnold! Her biggest weakness is her fear of being vulnerable in front of others. I feel you, Helga.
The irony of that last answer always makes me laugh as, again, I do feel the collection lend sitself to vulnerability very well. Reader, bless yourself with this book!