The final project for WR 150 “Poetry Now” asked students to translate some aspect of their academic research paper into a collection of poems for a non-academic audience. A caveat was that the poems present a sufficient argument or aesthetic experience, such that readers of the poems need not have also read the research paper for the poems to make sense. Hallie Lazaro more than rose to this challenge. Her research focused on the cultural silences and hidden shames surrounding gender discrimination and immigration, as these topics are depicted in Monica Ong’s highly visual poetry collection, Silent Anatomies. Hallie’s poetry project uses Ong’s book as a model both for creating meaningful intersections between words and images and for contextualizing family history in a larger narrative.

In “The Life Cycle of a Tree: A Cultural Journey,” Hallie’s stylistic choices and varied forms reveal how immigration is a constant and complicated navigation for Lazaro, the narrator based upon her father. Slight linguistic variations enact large emotional shifts, as in the first poem where the meaning of Lazaro, “Help of God,” becomes a plea: “Lazaro is foreign soil on the tongue. / Wet and choking. / God help Lazaro.” Hallie’s poems also present powerful images. In “Growth” a Narra tree grows from Lazaro’s back, a metaphor for the difficulty of assimilation. In the next stanza we see how otherness is often pathologized: Lazaro’s doctor “prescribed [him] an axe and / told [him] to cut down [the tree] and bury it / in the backyard.” As I re-read “The Life Cycle of a Tree,” I was struck by how timely these poems are. When the very humanity of immigrants is being questioned and reduced by the language of policies such as “catch and release,” we need texts like Hallie’s to remind us that immigration always involves a specific individual’s experiences.

WR 150: Poetry Now