“I worry that to be a poet / is to sit and wait for beautiful things /
to die. To exploit distance. To steal / flight. To wring murder into myth,
to retell it”
Saddled with a burden as timely and essential to the subjects of Killing It, Gaia Rajan writes, in a fearless approach to telling. As is typical of confessionalism, the poet flings all caution in the face of the bull. They are the red flag, the matador, and the dust that refuses to settle. As all good books are known to do, this body of work is one that is intolerant of evanescence.
For obvious reasons as one examines this body of work, “Killing it” is the opening poem. In it is a direct representation of the poet’s frustration over having to live in the Midwest. Undoubtedly, this work is a strong contender for the title of the centerpiece. I particularly like how the poem makes me picture the persona, introducing the book by catching their breath in a protest that refuses the tenderness only characteristic of prey— a thing to be tamed that will break any chain not to. What lays written before me is the transcription of a throat emptying the truth of the heart it is a spokesperson for. It screams in the very words, “I was the prodigal / daughter and then the prodigy, the child the mothers prayed for, / spelling bee queen, good at silence”. In this lines is that subtle disdain of being a role model, later proving they are indeed not “good at silence”. The silence of the ‘good girl’, the usual, everyday lady— a songbird stuck with a sheet music that lulls instead of waking the forest.
With a focus on queer Asian American identity, the culture of American achievement, and a body that desires to run unrestrained with all that is free, the poet insightfully examines the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality. Given its deliberate organization and linguistic choices, this book is excruciatingly self-conscious. The recurring motifs, not exempting myths, surrealness and ghosts, is the poet speaking once to be heard twice.
I sighed deeply as I went through this book, expressing my sincere admiration for this method of expression. Any further remarks may trigger a spoiler alert as the many forms adopted scream for recognition. Sonnet, prose, tiara, couplet, and ghazal crown are a few of them. Clarity, originality, voice, cohesiveness, and linguistic skill that shows the evidence of practiced hands transcend form, without reducing its aesthetic appeal.
Here is that book on a self unconsciously erased finding the restoration it deserves— a body full of hands embracing every scar it was meant to be ashamed of. It is a threat to anything less than an obsession for genuine art. The extraordinary method of employing physical violence to depict emotional experiences is compelling. “Killing it” is an altar on which the old self is offered up, killed— each patter of red, echoing through each poem. The deftness of this poet’s narrative has earned a place on my list of highly recommended poetry collections.