Teeth Never Sleep
Poems (CantoMundo Poetry Series)
Finalist, 2019 PEN Open Book Award
Winner, 2019 American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation
Drawing on folklore and fantasy, childhood memory and hallucination, and marked by a tone of piercing divulgence, Teeth Never Sleep nimbly negotiates the split consciousness a culture of dominance requires of men (especially men of color), highlighting the fissures in selfhood created by the pressure to seek submission over intimacy while still wanting desperately to be loved, and tracing the contorted route by which emotional pain finds expression in violence. “The night my girlfriend tells my mother I beat her, / I feel betrayed. This was a secret we kept between us. / That night, I was no longer my mother’s loving son,” the speaker in one poem confesses, and later “I never wanted to be this kind of animal.”
And yet, through the lens of Ángel García’s sharp imagining, men frequently appear as beasts (sometimes literally)—as hybrid beings both tender and brutal—that he steadfastly refuses to let off the hook as he obsessively catalogs the origins of toxic masculinity (the first time I made my mother cry, the first time I pitied my father, the first time I saw a girl bleed) and its quiet, lasting effects: “Still a part of me believes a / man shouldn’t cry in front of a woman, even in the dark.”
In a culture of weaponized masculinity, the poems in Teeth Never Sleep make a doorway of a wound, inviting readers to walk through and sit down inside the raw pain they harbor to meditate on two central, urgent questions: what it means to be a man and how, as a man, to love.
Praise For Teeth Never Sleep: Poems (CantoMundo Poetry Series)…
—Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate of the United States, 2015–2017
“Toxic masculinity” has become a hot topic in debates over gender and culture, yet one might not think to turn to contemporary poetry as an arena rife with this discourse. And yet, in his uncompromising debut collection, García lays bare the routines of abuse that often repeat themselves over generations: a father walks out on his family; his son becomes a father (twice over by 21) who then treats the women in his life miserably. The result is a speaker who is deeply flawed, often unlikable, at times despicable, yet whose voice is marked, paradoxically, by silence: “my throat / a casket closed and rusted shut.” In response to this silence, the speaker must confront his own urge to flee. When he is discovered cheating on a girlfriend, the speaker’s frailty is revealed: “the shell of me, hung / from a metal hook behind the door, trembling.” Elsewhere, the speaker cleans the apartment while his partner sleeps and recalls his father cooking dinner and crying. In these ways, García’s speaker exposes his own vulnerability and, perhaps, moves toward redemption.
—Diego Báez, Booklist, August 2018
“Teeth Never Sleep, by Ángel García is an auspicious and daring debut by a poet whose attention to the line and the possibilities of well-crafted metaphors is remarkably accomplished. These are poems that appreciate that risk in poetry demands vulnerability, and the quest for truth requires a willingness to excavate the complexities of human emotion and thought. García’s poems about masculinity, displacement, language and desire are powerful and deeply affecting.”
—Kwame Dawes, author of City of Bones
“Writing in both Spanish and English, García cuts across cultures and aesthetics. While poems like ‘Morning Breath,’ ‘Self-Portraits of a Man as Beast,’ and ‘Elegy for What Once Slept in a Cage’ may make some readers uncomfortable, they are well-crafted and unflinchingly honest.”
—David Starkey, Santa Barbara Independent, April 2019
University of Arkansas Press, 9781682260739, 70pp.
Publication Date: October 19, 2018