Curb is more than a personal poetics of loss and identity. It is even more than a well-written eulogy of five murdered South Asian Americans. It is a profound act of poetic debridement for the South Asian American diaspora, and an insistent plea to resist erasure by first acknowledging, absorbing, processing, and remembering our own communal histories.
This stunning collection challenges readers to reconsider the fragile boundaries people share with one another as well as the reduction of bodies to mere scapegoats.
This is an incredibly well-crafted collection by a globally minded, locally rooted, exceedingly brilliant poet.
In poems of brilliant aesthetic diversity and haunting imagery (‘Stop bath & rinse,/ then hang up this feeling/ by its arms’), Curb illuminates and challenges the boundaries that divide and discipline us.
Curb highlights an ongoing injustice in this country: that the only thing that connects an immigrant to the American land after their death (or murder) will be a “written/ . . . scrap tied to a place / which holds your feet / to the ground.” Victor’s collection is thus a must-read, in its offering of a moving critique of the South Asian immigrant experience within post 9/11 America.
The lush, slightly off-center diction in Divya Victor’s CURB is immediately striking. In a poem set in a consulate, we read that “they first lift / serosa from serosa.” Later, we learn how “to pleach a tree,” and to distinguish between “aloe, an organ; saffron, an ovary.” This sparkling lyricism helps orientate us as we navigate and attempt to cross the book’s multiple thresholds.
The curbs in this collection serve many purposes: to show suburban life, the peripheral nature of South Asian belonging and inclusion, and the structures (and infrastructures) of (white) power that threaten us every day. This is poetry as documentation, a testimony to the endurances of white supremacy.
CURB is a literary milestone that may initially feel minimal in structure (its table of contents includes only fourteen items), but when read it extends to the farthest reaches of the heart. Victor channels the suffering and persistence of her subjects, and through a posthumous revisiting at once ritualistic and humanely revisionist, she builds a broader story that both honors them and includes us all.
Victor ends her verse with her own explanation of placing coordinates at the dog-ears of the pages, marking the presence of immigrants, leaving a trace. She explains the symbolism of the snail, carrying its home on its back.
The poems in Curb break down isolated incidents of violence into rich, palimpsestic exploration of belonging. They remain, reverberating, in the reader’s mind.
Both map and archive, Curb locates the quotidian, the immigrant experience, and the racialized body in a period of violence against South Asians… and reveals the bonds that hold familial grief and care.
Curb, layered with reminders of immigrant survival, memorializes the pure potential of a life — and its right to live outside of one singular tragedy.
Readers will feel like they have pressed and been pressed by this remarkable collection, which uses language as a weapon, as comfort, as demand, as identity, as gesture, and always, as connection
Always at the edge of war and friendship, Curb reminds us that in brutality we still manage to lift, salvage, hold the beautiful things, not least of which each other.
“As Victor explained to me over Google Chat, writing Curb was her way of remaining in the eternal cycle of debt to those she learned from; a debt that can never truly be repaid. This is also her way of creating coalition in the imaginary which, according to Victor, is a much needed coalition of the collective.”
Click here to read an interview between Sanchari Sur and Divya Victor!
Divya Victor: “Solidarity is the truth that historical debts never get paid in full. As an immigrant, I am standing on the shoulders of Black and Asian American civil rights leaders. … I feel morally and intellectually called to constantly honor this.”
Click here to read Divya Victor and Mathangi Subramanian in conversation in Ms. Magazine!
“I had to grow a new tongue so I wouldn’t speak, compulsively, only about myself. I wanted to imagine how lyric poise, when accompanied with documentary rigor, could refuse the market’s mandate that minorized writers commodify their own trauma. CURB helped me do that; CURB helped me imagine how I could accuse and admit, witness and be vigilant while also calling myself in.”
Click here to read the full interview between Divya Victor and Mary-Kim Arnold in Tupelo Quarterly!
After 9/11, hate crimes rose against members of the South Asian community as they were racially profiled as suspected terrorists or as “un-American.”
Now two decades later, Michigan State University professor Divya Victor has reflected on how this violence has impacted the ways South Asian immigrants navigate public spaces in a new book of poetry called CURB.
Curb is constructed in thirteen poem-sections blending the lyric with prose, blending the personal with documentation, writing out responses to both general and specific instances of racial violence. Writing discomfort, grief and trauma, Curb is document, testament and testimony; naming the victims, the assaults and the assaulters.
“When I am composing, I am wrangling a tenuous and tense relationship with whitespace. This wrangling produces a durational charge for the language, controls lineation and modulation of volume. It controls texture or density, shapes my maneuvers through pacing and rhythm. I often map these out as a sketch before I begin, working out zones and columns on grids, working out recto-verso relationships between stanzas. As you’ve noted, CURB sustains both lyric and documentary forms, and even conceptual elements, in the same poem or series.”
Click here to read an interview between Divya Victor and Dorothy Chan in Honey Literary!
Click here to listen to Divya Victor in conversation with Daniel M. Lavery on Slate’s “Big Mood, Little Mood” Podcast!
Divya Victor on “Milestone 1 (We speak about your daughter)” in Poetry Society!
Featured in Poets.org as part of: A Poetry Reading List for the 25th Anniversary of National Poetry Month
Eye-opening, educational and heart-breaking are only a few words to describe Victor’s work “Curb.”
Featured in Poetry Unbound podcast! Host Pádraig Ó Tuama reads the poem “First Petition.”
For this new episode, Al Filreis convened Timothy Yu (who had traveled to Philadelphia from Madison, Wisconsin, for a day of programs and recordings), Josephine Nock-Hee Park, and Piyali Bhattacharya to discuss a selection of poems from Divya Victor’s book Curb (Nightboat Books, 2021): three poems from the titular “Curb” series in the middle of the book (“Curb” 3, 4, and 5) and another poem, “Frequency (Alka’s Testimony).”