Mexican-American poet Esteban Oloarte conducts us on a magical mystery tour through a Mexico City of the mind.
“Got lost in the sphere of fear we dwell in but / cannot see all of, as the aerial view of the plaided / city street pattern doesn’t catch the de-centered / focus of changing one’s focus for the variety of / things to focus on; the whole-sphere of fear / you are and cannot see all of, like a recidivism that makes no sense but is pre-given.” Is there such a genre as the graphic socio-philosophical discourse in verse / psycho-geographic walking tour for mental tourists? If not before, there is now, because Esteban Oloarte has created just that (and more) in this head-spinning hybrid work of art and poetry. The title suggests the Buddhist transitory state between lives on Earth, and that meaning applies to the wandering soul who narrates this journey across precincts of old Mexico City, a place both real and contemporary, and timeless and of the mind, with the spirit of Lacan a frequent companion. (One may be reminded of a similar soul wandering across Dublin.) But appropriately for this Mexican-American poet, BARDO is also Spanish for bard – which Oloarte most certainly is – and sometimes slang for trouble, a mess or tangle (like the best poetry so often is), and what a delightful tangle this book offers the reader ready to surrender to its charms and challenges, of “things to focus on.”
“Urgent, inventive and sorrowful in turn, poems wrenched from some existential plane, mournful in their trajectory yet fascinating in their strangeness, like black flowers blooming along a crooked path.” —Estill Pollock, author of Entropy
“A mind in conurbation: Esteban Oloarte’s BARDO grounds poems in the finite, the milk aisle, searching for cilantro. The next lines raise Baudelaire and Heidegger into explosions of cityscape. Oloarte ‘souvenir[s] the sight’ of objects, patterns instead of definitions. Each poem is framed in boxed segments as if from a textbook, becoming jouissance in fractal sets. Reaching back centuries, Oloarte proffers a present state in which the poet is pierced as the ‘monk […] fingers thin as sun beams / his mind full of incense.’ Fill your mind with incense, sun beams, see stubble as hoar frost, each repetition mocking the ‘pseudo subject in I’ and refusing to clarify Lacanian theory and Foucault's ‘attempt at wholeness.’ Instead, conscious of existence, form and body, Oloarte translates the single design into total art: ‘figure eights with psychological states.’ This is not one pill to swallow, but an invitation to ‘sigame, follow me’ and smash surrealism, the intermediate stage still with spring flowers and shadow box saviors; rooted catatonia to blooms of metanoia. To read Oloarte is to nourish the self with surcharged squash flowers and stink bombs, orange tinted flashes pulling the reader “where the place we were placed is displaced.” —Sara Cahill Marron, author of Call Me Spes
“In this dark, ebullient, compendious tour de force, Estaban Oloarte leads us on a manic, devotional pilgrimage through the cornices of a Mexico City that is both hyperreal and phantasmagorical, a place of ‘aluminum flowers’ and ‘taco stands under tarps’ and ‘candles in hobbleskirt coke bottles’ and ‘gentrified upper class condominiums.’ But BARDO is no catalogue of shards. Beneath the Joycean profusion beats a vatic thrum, where ‘the sunbeams on Sinaloa are as thin as a drunk’s blood.’ Like the metropolis they conjure, Oloarte’s poems yearn toward the unsayable. Nor does BARDO confine itself to the alphabet: its pages are runed with glyphs and koans, as if from the hand of an ancient sea-crazed monk. This is not just a literary, but a sacred and demonic text, fed by celestial, sublunary, and subterranean powers. Read at your own risk.” —Philip Brady, author of The Elsewhere: Poems and Poetics
Poetry. Hybrid. Art.
Esteban Oloarte is a Mexican-American poet. He grew up in a trilingual household, having lived in all three North- American countries. His chapbook, Transitions, was shortlisted for The 2020 Frontier Digital Chapbook Contest, and his poems have appeared in The Michigan Quarterly Review, The Massachusetts Review, and Arc Poetry Magazine. His first full-length collection TRANSISTOr was published by Broadstone Books in 2021. He currently lives outside of Mexico City with his partner Noriella, but, like David Lee Roth, can't wait to get back to the States.