In Gabriela Anaya Valdepeña's latest book, Welcome, Eavesdropper (Darkness Visible Books/dPress), the poet invites the reader to "rub my ass as if it were a magic lamp." The collection, which won the 2006 San Diego Book Award for poetry, is often raw and unflinchingly sexual.
The poems comprise a semi-autobiographical, semi-fictionalized accounting of Valdepeña's life. She's been a hairdresser, exotic dancer, belly dancer, stockbroker, mom, mechanic (she used to rebuild carburetors) and "Poet in the Schools" for the Border Voices project.
The book is divided into six parts and includes photographs, mostly self portraits: Valdepeña's "self-aggrandizing" buttocks; a subtle, charming photo of her daughter; and a stunning, somewhat oddly placed photo of Valdepeña's breasts and belly. (The photo follows a poem about losing her grandfather as a child and asking Santa to bring him back.)
While the poet hits you with some great lines-"From the screened porch, the lake is calm as a bride on Valium"-some of the poems are facile in both content and structure, A-B-A-B rhyming quatrains that will most likely leave the more sophisticated and progressive reader of poetry looking for more.
Valdepeña wrote some of the poems in Spanish and translated them with the help of Lita Anaya and her husband and editor, Douglas James Martin. The Spanish poems have a hint of Neruda influence and perhaps some shades of Sandra Cisneros. While the translations are well-crafted and accurate, they do not (and this is difficult, if not almost impossible) match the lyricism of the originals. So bone up on your Spanish.
T.S. Eliot said, "There is only good verse, bad verse and chaos." In the case of Welcome, Eavesdropper, you get the good, the bad and just enough flesh and chaos to purchase the book, get between the sheets and spread open its pages for what Valdepeña calls "the beauty I expend, summoning lost ships to the tower of words."