Reconstruction of the Father and Other Writings by Iris Kiya
Reconstruction of the Father and Other Writings. Iris Kiya. Reina Jara Barrientos, tr. Dallas: Dulzorada Press, 2020. 180 pages.
In this context, the choices made by the young Bolivian writer Iris Kiya, as revealed in the texts included in this collection, are particularly fascinating: she has taken on a quintessentially male subject; the relationship between fathers and sons, refracting it in these brief poems and scattered texts through several other apocryphal male characters described as “compilers” who supposedly chanced upon them and felt compelled to gather them together. It’s an unnecessarily romantic trope (there’s really no need for the artificial ambiguity, the texts are plenty ambiguous in themselves) and while we’re criticizing I should note that I had to read the book in the original Spanish—the translation doesn’t appear to have been done by a native speaker.
But back to fathers and sons: once one has cut through the layers of introduction and misdirection by writers both real and invented, the texts typically begin with prose paragraphs recounting vivid scenes from the narrator’s past that seemingly collapse through weight of emotion into poetry. The first section, “Reconstruction of the Father,” recounts, with bitter, caustic humor (“I come from a family of nonentities”), the narrator’s pain and resentment over having been abandoned by his father and its consequences, combining a laconic prose style with powerful imagery, while the second two purport to be collections of poems by writers heavily influenced by mid-twentieth century American writers and artists (Robert Capa, Chet Baker, E.E. Cummings, and William Carlos Williams all get a mention, among others), but themes from the first section keep intruding amid the more atmospheric references, especially that elusive father. Also striking throughout are the writers’ continuous dismissals of their female relatives and other women with the honorable exception of one Javiera, who gets the full pedestal treatment.
So what’s Kiya getting at with all these meta-textual fun and games? The answer would appear to lie in the uses of pastiche, an oft-overlooked literary form that can be both affectionate and cruel, loving and angry, a means of acknowledging a debt but also protesting an injustice. In Reconstruction of the Father, Kiya is doing all these things, establishing a dialogue with different iterations of the father, perhaps most pointedly with the idea of literary forefathers with all their faults and virtues, the kind of dialogue that will ultimately be familiar to many readers wrestling with pasts both personal and universal.