Tula: a ruined Toltec capital; a Russian city known for its accordions; Tagalog for “poem.”
Prismatic, startling, rich with meaning yet sparely composed, Chris Santiago’s debut collection of poems—selected by A. Van Jordan as the winner of the 2016 Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry—begins with one word and transforms it, in a dazzling sleight of hand, into a multivalent symbol for the immigrant experience. Tula: Santiago reveals to readers a distant land devastated by war. Tula: its music beckons in rhythms, time signatures, and lullabies. Tula: can the poem, he seems to ask, build an imaginative bridge back to a family lost to geography, history, and a forgotten language?
Inspired by the experiences of the second-generation immigrant who does not fully acquire the language of his parents, Tula paints the portrait of a mythic homeland that is part ghostly underworld, part unknowable paradise. Language splinters. Impossible islands form an archipelago across its landscape. A mother sings lullabies and a father works the graveyard shift in Saint Paul—while in the Philippines, two dissident uncles and a grandfather send messages and telegrams from the afterlife.
Deeply ambitious, a collection that examines the shortcomings and possibilities of both language and poetry themselves, Tula introduces a major new literary talent.
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Praise and Prizes
“In a hypnotic blend of languages and lands, Tula captures the voice of a world we are happy to inhabit. The lines are taut and spare; the scope is intimate and communal. What surprises me most is the ability to move seamlessly between the exterior world to the depths of the interiority of these speakers. Reading these poems feels as if ‘A door opens and your name / is called & all at once you aren’t cut off / from the rest of the world anymore: you are / the rest of the world.’”
“Chris Santiago’s poems encourage us to see English the way an immigrant does—as something different, to be broken and remade. Through this difference in language, Santiago makes readers aware of both the poet’s otherness and their own. This is a book that both transports us and transforms us.”
“Mesmerizing . . . Chris Santiago seems to recognize that words will always hold power, even as their meanings evolve. Through everything, Tula delves into these nuances of language: how it is suppressed, how it is weaponized, how it loves, how it informs, and how it is often as fleeting as a birdsong. Tula is therefore a celebration of the ephemeral and the permanent, a lovely testament to the beauty of contradiction.”
“A spare, elegant engagement with language. Tula is replete with echoes of Tagalog, as well as lullabies, the trill of birds, and fragments of family lore. . . . Chris Santiago’s linguistic savvy and precision truly stand out.”
“This haunted (and deeply haunting) collection makes us aware of the spectral legions who might otherwise be lost to historical feeling in our time. Interweaving personal reflections with diasporic etymologies, a fractured family history, and close ecological observation, Tula discloses the many ways that our nation’s incursions into the Pacific Rim region may contribute to the political unconscious of contemporary American poetry.”
“The mysteries of language, the vagaries of sound and syntax, the reverberations of alternate meanings as words flood the ear: these are the subject of Chris Santiago’s gorgeous debut collection. ‘It was homegrown and inequitable’: this poet’s imagination, testing at every moment the relationship of his American present to his Filipino family’s past, creates a rich complex of memory and desire. Santiago’s verbal magic is as explosive as his verse forms are carefully restrained.”
“In Tula—the word for poem in Tagalog—Chris Santiago pursues the language and experience of the immigrant, engaged with dreams, wonder, oppression, and heartbreak. Exquisitely lyric, fierce and delicate, the poems often are fractured in form and charged with suffering. Whether set in Manila, Japan, or Minnesota, these poems, lit with imagination, reveal what poetry can be in life and the sweet and searing moments of life itself.”
“One of the fiercest voices I’ve come to love these days . . . Santiago’s heritage threads through the Philippines, and in his hands this homeland itself is mined for metaphor: the colonized archipelago is fragmented, misremembered, and fleetingly recaptured Santiago’s string of poems. This book is dazzling.”