Colorado State University Center for Literary Publishing

Book Review

Thrown in the Throat

By Benjamin Garcia

Reviewed By Kelly Weber

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During a recent reading of his debut book, Benjamin Garcia said, “Language can steamroll you.” Language­—and how people use it to steamroll others through racist and queerphobic discourse—certainly lies at the heart of Thrown in the Throat. Yet as Garcia’s stunning, luminous poems illustrate, language can also overwhelm and knock us flat in ways that are healing and transformative. Thrown in the Throat is the book we need right now: playful and gutting, queer and formally extensive, Garcia’s work resists the colonization of language. Garcia has crafted a visceral book that celebrates Adam Rippon’s butt and eating cheese—that exposes and pushes back against homophobia, colonialism, and white supremacy. It’s a tour de force that grabs the throat and delights the senses.

Thrown in the Throat formally enacts its concerns around language through sonic play and slippage. The opening poem, “The Language in Question,” uses internal rhymes and sound play to question and sinuously twine inside of language:

the language gets twisted // the tongue gets tired // I’d bet it’s kinky and likes to be tied // likes every bit of itself bit // this tongue bids adieu // holed in the mouth // ah-dee-ose // ah-mee-goes

The sound play and word mutations here build momentum and thrilling energy. They also push on and search within language to undermine its use as a colonial and queerphobic tool, and to find beauty and sexiness within language. “Huitlacoche” is an example of the way Thrown in the Throat works to reclaim language:

Though it looks like a prostate rolled in soot, huitlacoche
            at the farmer’s market sells as Mexican Truffle.
Yet farmers in your heartland treat it like a sickness.
            And because disease can decimate a monoculture,
they are afraid…

Words have their luggage like immigrants
            have their customs. Huitlacoche, mariposa, maricón.
Now that I have put it in my mouth,
            I am proud to be a faggot.

As each syllable and each word is put in the mouth and on the page, it is reified as beautiful and powerful, reclaimed by the speaker. “Tongues make mistakes / and mistakes / make languages,” the speaker says in this same poem, using assonance and wit to do just that. In this poem and the whole collection, the tongue makes a new language in opposition to (and in reclamation of) the language of systematic oppression those in power use to maintain the monoculture.

Thrown in the Throat is also tongued in other ways—it is marvelously corporeal. In “Ode to Adam Rippon’s Butt,” the speaker uplifts “that show stopper // champagne top popper // better wear your best seer sucker” in a way that’s sonically playful and celebratory of queerness and the body. In another iteration of “The Language in Question,” the speaker meditates on the mouth: “Goddamn, my mouth has many uses: / eat, sing, bite, kiss, but most of all / insinuate. Have you ever been sucked.” The body is a source of sensual pleasure and joy, including language—“If some words don’t belong in poems, then / I say some people can go fuck themselves.” Here, Garcia amplifies the pleasures of the word “fuck” in all its fierceness and stakes a claim for all that can belong in poetry­­—including the queer body of color and “vulgar” words. Butts, tongue, vulva, cheese, cake, huitlacoche: these sensual delights are worthy of poetry—are poetry. Garcia explores them with gorgeous wit and imagery and sound.

The poems in Thrown in the Throat tongue the intersections of immigrant and gay experience with tenderness and incredible formal range. Poems like “Mutual Monogamy” and “Nonmonogamy,” for example, use the form of the prose poem to conduct almost a treatise on these terms, to explore their definitions through prose. The poem that follows them, “Bliss Point or What Can Best Be Achieved by Cheese,” staggers lines back and forth across multiple pages, using the whole field of the page. Nearly all the poems use long lines, sometimes with multiple backslashes within them, so that the whole page field feels filled with breath. The result is a striking variety of form in a book that feels totally cohesive and clear in its arc across language and body. It claims space in every sense of the word.

Indeed, this book’s fierce ethos feels deeply tied to the throat: making space for it, owning it as corporeal in staggeringly beautiful and quick-witted ways. As the speaker says in the opening poem, “the tongue desires // the language // acquires,” and Thrown in the Throat works against colonial conquest and violence with desire, with positivity toward sex and sexuality. It explores family and complicated silences and acts of tenderness within those family dynamics. (“[My father’s] so soft my child’s hand / could crush his skull like a tulip.”) It’s a book that makes space for us to binge watch TV on the couch and eat cheese with the speaker. Garcia’s poetic voice is a necessary bliss, sweetbitter and stunning, pulled through the body. Milkweed is totally right that this book is for fans of Danez Smith and Eduardo Corral; to that I would add that like Sam Sax’s bury it and Hanif Abdurraqib’s A Fortune For Your Disaster, Garcia’s poems traverse the page with desire, humor, and incredible formal range as they resist violence. It’s a phenomenal debut that proves Garcia’s “throat is [a] throne,” a poetics of reclamation and sensual pleasure. Yield to and rejoice in this ferocious, life-affirming voice.

 

Kelly Weber is the author of the chapbook The Dodo Heart Museum: A Fabulist Curiosity Cabinet (Dancing Girl Press, 2020), and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in DIAGRAM, Ruminate, Timber, Fourth River, Qu, and elsewhere. She has been a finalist for the Frontier Chapbook Prize, the Two Sylvias Chapbook Prize, has been longlisted for the [PANK] Book Contest, and her work has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize. She has received professional support from the Bread Loaf Environmental Writers’ Conference workshop and served as an editorial assistant for Colorado Review. She holds an MFA from Colorado State University. More of her work can be found at kellymweber.com.