Criticism & Features



By Rigoberto Gonzalez

Delivered, Persea Books, 2009.
Sarah Gambito is the author of a previous collection, Matadora. She is co-founder of Kundiman, a non-profit organization that promotes Asian American poetry, and is Assistant Professor and Director of Creative Writing at Fordham University.

Delivered opens with the poem “Immigration,” and a few pages later another poem appears with the same title. There are two other pairings in the book, in which both poems have the identical title, though they are not identical poems. These pairs echo a number of lines in the book that deal with negotiation and perspective: “Let go. Let me take”; “Rosa is an immigrant to the U.S./ Rosa is an émigré from the Philippines”; “Let me. Give me” and so on. This also touches on the complexity of definitions suggested by the title. Everything (including position of power) depends on context. Was this a way to extract immigrants and people of color from the category of victim but without denying that victimization exists? Why is it important to expand and explore the nature of the economic relationships between the U.S. and third-world countries?

I wanted to linguistically explore the complexities that exist within the experience of emigration/immigration without giving either experience short shrift.  In my family’s experience (as with so many other families who choose to immigrate) so much is focused on what there is to gain with immigrating.  I wanted to write the reverse song.  What do you lose upon emigration? What has to remain broken?  To try and answer this, I wanted to bring in the connotations of “delivered” as in salvation and commodification.  How so often the American dream is colored in both circumstances.

A number of poems read like sound bytes, a litany of startling images and lyrical moments that eventually add up to a portrait of grief or violence or loss. These pieces give the impression of emotion without necessarily divulging all the details, so in the end, it’s the reaction or effect that matters more than the action or cause. In other words, the complete story is never there, only parts. Is this a commentary on the post-modern narrative and how in this era readers have learned to read and receive elliptical and fragmented story? Or is there some other insight or guidance you can give the reader in order to fully appreciate your work?

The book is a transcript of a sort—imperfect but this is the history that is often given to a diaspora.  What is the willful amnesia that has to exist for a person that chooses to leave their own country—especially with this decision is coupled with trauma? How does one attempt to fill in the blanks?  I wanted the blanks to pulse with their own right.  I wanted a reader to long for the whole story.  And then to make that longing, itself, the story.  To help a reader along this journey, what I wanted to offer a bridge of an emotional (rather than narrative) center that tethers the poems. 

You were recently honored with the “Writers for Writers” Award from Poets & Writers Magazine because of your work with Kundiman, an organization that nurtures young Asian American poets. You’re a young Asian American poet yourself, and now you’re a program director at a university as well, how does this level of commitment to others influence the tone or sensibility that appears in your work, if at all? And is it too early to start thinking about book three and how it will be different than the previous two?

These different identities definitely inform each other.  In any of these roles, I’m always thinking that it is important to go where it is you believe you cannot or should not go.  Else how can a way ever be lit.  It’s early to be thinking about book three.  But I already love it.

BONUS QUESTION: What recent small press title do you recommend to Critical Mass readers? 

I’ve just gotten a copy of Ronaldo Wilson’s unrelenting Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man.  I highly recommend.