Bodies & Words is an exploration of male-female relationships at different stages of life. The poems range from the frustrations and surprises of early adolescence to the adjustments of early relationships, the desires and anxieties of middle age, and the wisdom and acceptance of later years. Along the way, these poems challenge gender stereotypes about love, women, marriage, desire, infidelity, and aging. The title refers to a Joyce Carol Oates story quotation: “In love, there are two things: bodies and words. The words go along with certain bodies, sometimes the name of those bodies, their ‘names,’ and sometimes the words those bodies exclaim.” The book examines this rather cryptic message by investigating the labels we use to define ourselves and others and the relationships between us. From the opening poem, “Rock Gate Park,” nothing is what it seems—love is cruel rather than tender and just as much a desire for dominance as a yearning for the beloved. Early relationships are unstable and based on fantasy; later relationships are also unstable, but bear the weight of guilt and disappointment. The collection leaves us questioning whether men and women ever truly see each other as what they really are.
Early Praise for Bodies & Words
Celia Lisset Alvarez writes of more than Bodies & Words, in her book of poems of the same title taken from a Joyce Carol Oates quote—though words are her forte and bodies of love her theme. She tells fascinating and gripping stories in free verse narratives, rich with details and pointed observations. Her narratives are plush with description, poetic scrutinies, and philosophical reflections that immediately pull the reader in. Often, she leads us into ironic truths that are sometimes stranger than fiction. Celia Alvarez is a skilled, honest, clever, and entertaining writer well worth the reading.
These poems refuse to be ignored. They grab you by the collar, pull at your cuff if you dare to think you can just walk away, eye the sweat beading your bared throat, and insist you pay attention. Celia Alvarez’s poems define the relationship between bodies and words with an unflinching eye. The accretion of detail forms new stars and creates new planets to adorn new galaxies. We recall our own faults without regret.
We remember that red dress.
Alvarez writes with an abundance of wisdom but not a lick of pretension, exploring what it means to be a woman, a writer, a Cuban-American, a Floridian. She faces contradiction head-on—revels in it, in fact, with observations that both disarm and delight and language that reveals a poet in her prime.
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Now a Finalist for the 2021 Best Book Awards in Narrative Poetry
Imagine going through two miscarriages. Imagine then having a beautiful baby girl, so beautiful and perfect that you decide to have another baby. Imagine being told you’re having twins, a boy and a girl. Then, imagine going into labor at 24 weeks, and losing your baby boy. And then, imagine it all away. What happens when you pull a single thread out of a braid? Multiverses, a speculative memoir in verse, explores that possibility, telling the real story of what happened to one family over the course of just four years, and then untelling and retelling it in various different ways.
“Multiverses is a moving account of the tragic loss of a child. By drawing on the current physics theory of parallel universes, these poems explore the heartbreak, anger, regret and challenges of contemporary womanhood. Along the way, the poet deftly weaves in telling details that bring a multigenerational Miami Cuban family into focus. Multiverses is an unexpectedly moving family chronicle. Brava!”
—Vasiliki Katsarou, author of Three Sea Stones and Memento Tsunami
“Multiverses, Celia Lisset Alvarez’s debut collection, is a tour-de-force memoir-in-verse. In it, Alvarez tethers grief to hope, rendering multiple, braided stories of a family dealing with great loss. Grief takes center stage in the primary ‘universe’ of the poems, the ‘real world’ in which the death of the poet-speaker’s infant son, as well as of her father and beloved uncle, must be confronted. Yet hope inflects grief, continuously: in the speaker’s faith in her role as poet-archivist, “keeper” of the past in its many forms; in the poems’ witness to the love that sustains this family and spans generations, countries, and languages. Multiverses’ personal narrative is powerful and moving. Equally so is the poet’s skillful treatment of memory and time, which in the depths of grief might be our only source of salvation.”
—Shara McCallum, author of No Ruined Stone and Madwoman
“In her debut collection of poems, Multiverses, Celia Lisset Alvarez chronicles the quotidian struggles of a grieving mother in this remarkable meditation on mortality. Throughout the collection, Alvarez employs a mixture of startling metaphors and sometimes macabre humor to explore radical possibilities at crucial moments in her relationships with her parents, husband, children, and late uncle, Arturo, after whom she’d named two sons who died before their first birthday. Multiverses, untethered from chronological time, creates a portal for readers in which the recording of events becomes an event.”
—Geoffrey Philp, author of Garvey’s Ghost.
“From the very first line in Celia Lisset Alvarez’s Shapeshifting, ‘Clotheslines always made my mother sad,’ the reader is shown a sacred realm, the real world with its sirens and strawberries, its laundry and lovers. Alvarez’s language is sure-footed, precise and unflinching in her descriptions of domestic life. Many of the poems, such as her sonnet crown gem, ‘Mother,’ examine women’s societal roles. In the scathing poem, ‘Papi,’ an homage to Plath’s ‘Daddy,’ Alvarez takes on the establishment in the person of Cuba’s Castro. In a masterpiece that records the poverty and despair of modern life, ‘Hialeah,’ Alvarez describes the road into the city this way, ‘All day long the traffic groans / like a birthing woman.’ Shapeshifting skillfully encompasses the brutal and the beautiful and makes me long for more work from this gifted poet.”
–Lana Hechtman Ayers, author of Love is a Weed, editor of the Concrete Wolf Chapbook Series.
“Whether through the crown of sonnets or the free verse poem, Celia Lisset Alvarez tells us that the truth we already know is as valuable as anything she could imagine; yet her
reflections on her Cuban heritage, and on poetry, love, ambiguity, and contradictions indicate how limitless her imagination is. Her work offers beautiful imagery and provocative commentary from a voice many Americans seldom hear.”
—Ann E. Michael
“At once exact and sensual, ‘mixing memory and desire,’ Celia Alvarez writes poems whose rooted truth is a seed that ‘bursts on the tongue,’ whose glowing fire catches the reader in love’s burning house. This is a poet to watch and watch out for: Shapeshifting is an open window full of light.”
“Writing with candor and conviction, and showing a fine eye for the telling detail, Celia Lisset Alvarez takes the reader on a fascinating, sometimes wrenching, trip through family, history, relationships and comic books. A strong, promising debut by a gifted young poet.”
–Gustavo Pérez Firmat, David Feinson Professor of Humanities at Columbia University and author of The Cuban Condition, Next Year in Cuba, and Scar Tissue.
“In The Stones, Celia Lisset Alvarez writes with the unique voice of a Cuban-American woman, weaving this group of poems from a mother’s pregnancy, through coming-of-age poems, to old men at a race track, mingling the imagery, sounds, tastes and smells of South Florida and the Caribbean. By the end of the book, I could hear the pounding hooves at Hialeah, and had the aftertaste of conch fritters and beer in my mouth. Here is a strong collection of poetry to savor.”
–Jonathan K. Rice, editor Iodine Poetry Journal and author of Ukulele and Other Poems.
“Alvarez breaks open the rituals of living to reveal histories personal and unrenowned; every poem tenders the untasted pith of seed and stone—our most unfamiliar and truest selves.”
–DeAnna Stephens Vaughn, editor Tar Wolf Review