Reimagining nature poetry
Benjamin Garcia’s ‘Thrown in the Throat’ uses plants and landscapes to think past oppressive structures.
There are many sites of entrapment in Benjamin Garcia’s debut poetry collection, Thrown in the Throat, winner of the 2019 National Poetry Series. Whether a closet or the bellies of carnivorous flora, they work either as places of refuge or the ground from which Garcia questions social structures — racism, heteronormativity, cisnormativity, sex-negativity and classism. Personified plants draw attention to and playfully protest norms; the corpse flower, for example, is labeled a “goddess” and a “corpse in drag.” This disruption is reflected in Garcia’s choice of form, which uses frequent double dashes (//), to create a kind of forced closure and lend a frenetic, leaping and ultimately devastating pace to the work. The poems are funny, sexy, critical and consistent in their attempts to study how narratives can limit identity expression. “We must be confident being more direct,” Garcia writes, addressing anyone who has yet to realize or feel the results of inaccurate language.
Set primarily in New Mexico and the “gut of Texas,” Thrown in the Throat brings urgency to nature and rural life by highlighting systemic forms of violence. Garcia describes Highway 287 as “skewering” the state of Texas, where the speaker’s father refuses to stop for anything but gas, fearing both micro and macro acts of aggression. As a result, one brother earns the nickname “Castrado,” after cutting himself while attempting to urinate in a can. A restaurant owner refuses the family service, an act that magnifies the ways in which the systemic racism of a place can exclude Black, Indigenous and people of color, impacting the body.