Synopsis and keynote:
Selected by Vijay Seshadri as the winner of the 2019 Gaudy Boy Poetry Book Prize.
“Unimpeachable . . . round and rich and exfoliating with intuition, hesitation, self-questionings, and personhood.” —Vijay Seshadri, Pulitzer Prize–winning poet, 3 Sections
“If you were made to speak a language you labored to make yours, I wrote it for you. If you wished you could unwrite, rewrite, or write in stone or water any number of lifetimes you’ve endured, I wrote it for you. If you felt that the only home you’ve known was inside words; if you have written the names of lovers on pieces of paper and burned them in spells; if you understand which words hurt and which heal; if you’ve begged for more and for mercy, I wrote it for you.”
In her blistering debut, Paula Mendoza wields the weapon of language as she dismantles the longstanding traditions of the colonial narrative, male speech, and the sentimental love poem. Taking on the forms of historically polarizing figures—the witch, the femme-dom, Eve—the speaker of her poems is both submissive object and powerful agent that wills herself caught between pirate and plunder, that rewrites linguistic scripts to survive oppression, that self-immolates into a state of rebirth, that asks what use or meaning can be made of brokenness and displacement.
Playful and deliberate, innovative and strange, Play for Time, Mendoza’s debut collection of experimental lyric poems demolishes the literary commonplaces of “universality” and provides a timely introduction to an explosively original voice in poetry.
Paula Mendoza earned her BA in English at the University of Texas and her MFA in Poetry at the University of Michigan. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Utah. She is the recipient of the Yalobusha Review Poetry Award, the Hopwood Award in Poetry, and the Michael R. Gutterman Award in Poetry. Hyphenated, she's Filipino-Canadian. Regionally, an Austinite. Mostly, her home's in words. She lives and writes in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“The poems in Play for Time are unimpeachable in the rigor and mathematical clarity of their forms but are also round and rich and exfoliating with intuition, hesitation, self-questionings, and personhood. Everything about them—their image-making, their quicksilver intelligence, their ability to capture the movements of the mind—partakes of this double nature, this double consciousness, and by doing so rebalances and makes exquisite our human position.”
—Vijay Seshadri, Pulitzer Prize–winning poet, 3 Sections
“In these strange and unsettling poems, Mendoza catalogues how bodies become objects of consumption, voyeurism, and desire, and uses the imagery and politics of climate change to describe the immigrant and female body. This body, threatened with radical alteration and even collapse, reimagines itself through Mendoza’s highly inventive language, and turns itself strange, mythic, and new. Mendoza’s mordant, playful poems upend the ‘conventional’ narrative of racial and gender identity and radically rewrite our ideas of syntax to reframe the reader’s gaze.”
—Paisley Rekdal, Utah poet laureate and author of Nightingale
“Cerebral, sensual, utterly cinematic, Paula Mendoza’s book calls to mind the silken, glassy pleasures of backstrokes through the surface of observations by writers who raise the spectre of the eroticized body and strip it down to its political stakes. This book cracks open the lyric into Barthes’ ‘loquela’, a loquacious and charged form of explanation and recounting, through which Mendoza wades in language, and ‘tirelessly rehashes the effects of a wound or the consequences of an action’. . . . Mendoza’s language, too, gyrates, mercurial and still damp, at the border of affect and hallucination. Except this hallucination renders the formation of the subject, the woman, ‘between two roars,’ swinging between her own sovereignty and her status as object, at the ‘crotch of a river’s fork.’ One speaker in this book darkly accedes: ‘I can be backlit by lens flare / for you,’ keenly aware that the poetic and filmic composition of the female subject—to be seen at all—so often needs a state of emergency produced by patriarchy’s distortions. But Mendoza retorts, offering ‘Scene Rewrite[s],’ new ‘Storyboard[s],’ ‘Alternate Ending[s]’—an eloquent cinematography for our collective, long, lyric ‘no’.”
—Divya Victor, author of Kith (Fence Books, 2017) and Curb (Nightboat Books, 2021)
“I arrogantly imagine I know what Paula Mendoza did to create the poems in her lush and charismatic debut. She loosened all of the words from the pages of the fattest English dictionary that she could find, tossed the words up in the air, and let the words fall around her in a disorganized heap. She then plucked-to-choose and combined words at random. . . . the result becomes whole through music. . . . What makes this poetry stellar is how Mendoza’s rigorous diction leads to fresh ways of saying those things-said-before-but-not-often-heard, and this is even before she disrupts English with non-English. . . . These poems are not just gems—they’re gorgeous. . . . Mendoza did not just structure a play (as in a theater production). She also made a verb-bid to, literally, play for time that among other things erases/dilutes diasporic longing. Indubitably and ineffably, the result is Poetry.”
—The Halo-Halo Review, Eileen Tabios, winner of the Philippines’ National Book Award for Poetry
“Play for Time snips narrative’s connective tissue, unravels arcs, knots, filmstrips, secrets, and viscera. We ‘don’t want to go back in time to cohere or arc elsewise,’ but to cauterize time. Hold a gear or ‘a burning in the hand’ and ‘knock something living / out of a tree.’ It teaches us to ‘love / licking the raw seam,’ if we don't already. In a nod to Dickinson, Mendoza not only gestures behind the shelf, to exactly that which we cannot know, but tugs the shelf aside to show us the uncanny ‘sops of greymeat’ and ‘blood’ coursing beneath. She writes, ‘Of course I make it about the body. / What else will measure?’, and so this book is one such thrilling attempt to measure. For that is life, and life was over there, but now it is here, in Mendoza’s poems—‘wilder, as in weather.’”
—Danielle Pafunda, author of Spite (The Operating System)
“Mendoza’s writing is at once a sublanguage and a superlanguage: she draws from sentiments so deep they claw up to us filthy and estranged yet intimate; but she also regards them from within an icy, alien, analytical calm. When she notes that ‘Whole, it wasn’t right,’ she might as well be talking about the corpse of standard discourse, which she atomizes to once again enliven. You’ll turn this book over and over, unable to determine if it’s a weapon or a toy, undulant artifact from another world that is—thanks to Mendoza’s craft and force—now alarmingly and gorgeously our own.”
—Raymond McDaniel, author of The Cataracts (Coffee House)
Gaudy Boy (USA): https://singaporeunbound.org/gaudyboy
Play for Time