Hlava Ceballos’s polyvocality, thematic focus, and kaleidoscopic vision make banana [ ] unique. Through a litany of primary sources, art, persona poems, and more, [Hlava] Ceballos’s voice emerges in this intriguing debut.
Winner, Donald Hall Prize for Poetry Finalist, 2022 NBCC Award for Poetry Winner, 2023 Poetry Society of America Norma Farber First Book Award Finalist, 2023 Washington State Book Award in Poetry
The poems in Paul Hlava Ceballos’s debut collection banana [ ] reveal the extractive relationship the United States has with the Americas and its people through poetic portraits of migrants, family, and personal memories. At the heart of the book is a long poem that traces the history of bananas in Latin America using only found text from sources such as history books, declassified CIA documents, and commercials. The book includes collage, Ecuadorian decimas, a sonnet series in the voices of Incan royalty at the moment of colonization, and a long poem interspersed with photos and the author’s mother’s bilingual idioms. Traversing language and borders, history and story, traditional and invented forms, this book guides us beyond survival to love.
Hlava Ceballos’s book seeks to intervene in our collective ignorance, to illuminate dark chapters of our interconnected histories. His artwork challenges us to look more closely at the fruit occupying our grocery stores and breakfast tables.
banana [ ] assuredly interrogates the systems and dead philosophies in the grip of which we find ourselves. Only by addressing these forces will we make the necessary and existential progress in an effort to salvage a livable and equitable planet.
The first poem in this book completely swept me off my feet. As pages of this book turn, one quickly realizes that the whole manuscript is filled with invention, passion, and skill. I love the restlessness and the attentiveness to language. But most importantly: the invention and lyric textures in this book aren’t here just for the show; they are setting to music the urgency of our time. That is a hard thing to do, and this poet does it again and again.
Paul Hlava Ceballos’s banana [ ] renders personal and cultural histories. The personal and naturally political, Eden and Hades converge into a landscape of experimental form that propels us forward. Names and places pay tribute in the languages of everyday life to bear witness and celebrate human rituals—familial and communal. In banana [ ], Hlava Ceballos exacts these poems with such caring precision, fully resonant, lit by earth and sky.
The poems in Paul Hlava Ceballos’s banana [ ] are elegy, labor, and repair. The title poem is one of stripping away and accretion constructed from the words of others. It is made from racist emails, racist popular culture, from interviews, declarations, from reports that detail or obscure violence and living. An entire grammar emerges across the poem’s three sections.
Three texts exist simultaneously within banana [ ]: one is curated and is clearly visible, a second has been strategically redacted, and a third the reader puts together in imagining the text whole again. Using this strategy, Ceballos creates a house of mirrors in which the legal, historical, anthropological, and agricultural language of violence employed by the US empire across Central America can be dissected. A master at the enthymeme, this collection’s contributions to inventive forms astounds.
Paul Hlava Ceballos has received fellowships from CantoMundo, Artist Trust, and the Poets House. His work has been published in POETRY, Pleiades, Triquarterly, Poetry Northwest, and BOMB, among other journals and newspapers. His collaborative chapbook, Banana [ ] / we pilot the blood shares pages with Quenton Baker, Dr. Christina Sharpe, and Torkwase Dyson. He received his MFA from New York University and currently lives in Seattle.