Aditi Machado’s lush poetic investigation of transnational and trans-lingual modes which received the 2019 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets.
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In Emporium, Aditi Machado follows a merchant woman as she travels a twenty-first-century “silk route,” trading her wares while becoming “lost” in un-monetizable reciprocities and the sensory excesses of the marketplace: coins changing hands, the odors of food and sweat, the “noise” of translation and multilingualism. Is this tradeswoman in control of her “destiny”/ business or is she the product of impenetrable global forces? These investigative, itinerant poems interrogate our entanglement in the irresistible threads of language, history, and money.
Aditi Machado’s Emporium takes us on a tour of the development of mercantilism that gradually and deftly
builds up into a critique of capitalism and its plundering. Her response to the resulting ‘emporium’ and its inevitable clichés is a language of resistance, but also one of delight, pleasure, and profound discovery.
These poems rearrange and reorient the social and the political, making room for the ineffable, exposing a commerce of both oppression and expression in pieces that are alternately meditative, cinematic, playful, and searing—and always linguistically surprising. Never didactic, it’s a work that comes from the margins—and from many of them simultaneously, decentering her center of trade and commerce, and leaving us with an emporium of possibility made by a magician’s hands and a visionary’s eyes.
“Wordplay” isn’t quite the term for what’s going on here; it’s more like linguistic athleticism. If you always choose Scrabble over Risk, crosswords over sudoku, you’ll get so much pleasure from the rhymes and slant rhymes (“The body is pronounced bawdy”; “It’s like innocence way off / in the distance”), double and triple meanings, conjugations and declensions, repetitions that evoke a sense of déjà vu.
In this gorgeously rendered work from Machado (Some Beheadings), the speaker travels a reimagined contemporary silk route, suffused with a sense of unbelonging (“I came low like low things…barter[ing] my socialisms for some mastic or gâteau”), and arrives at the rich temptations of a vast emporium… VERDICT A Laughlin Award winner; stunning work for sophisticated readers.
Winner of the James Laughlin Award, the expansive collection from Machado (Some Beheadings) is both luxurious and cerebral, funneling her debut’s torqued syntax into a fever dream of “the silk route upon which I came.” … This delightful book is full of depth and discovery.
Hers is an expansive lyric, one that exists as a sequence of sections broken into postcard collage, lyric fragment, prose exploration, billboard phrases and doctor’s notes… Emporium is a story told through the collage, the accumulation-collage of fragments, lyrics and prose-structures, one with not even a narrative centre or even the character of the merchant woman, but a seeking, searching, lyric heart.
Machado weaves together the financial, social and political in this poetic traipse through the market. She encourages us to meditate on our own livelihood and purchasing patterns, to think about what truly benefits us in our survival. These poems ask deep questions rooted in worth – what is comfort worth, what is money worth? What is monetizable, and what should or should not be? Where are our coins, and our happiness, going when we buy something? Whatever answers we find have both individual and global importance.
Again, Machado leaves me thinking about the possibilities of language and a translator’s genius brain, the folds of the “royal mantle.” What I’m trying to say is that Aditi Machado is a genius! I consistently feel challenged by her work. Winner of the 2019 James Laughlin Award, Machado’s Emporium is a sustaining book of rhythmic, unwavering poems, sharp-eyed in her interpretations of silk, gender, and purity, discerning in her understanding of the strangeness of language.
Machado’s sensuous intelligence is richly complex and always grounded in the everyday of things, in seeing and in touch. And with her cadenced fugal voice, she speaks to the troubles of our time… Machado works a magic of sound and sense, reveling in things and revealing all the ideas they incorporate.
Read “Herewith the Prologue:” from Emporium featured in The Brooklyn Rail!
Emporium is a key contribution to an emerging phenomenon in contemporary poetics—the development of what I am calling a silk poetics. If this phenomenon is small in scale, it nonetheless encompasses some of the most vibrant developments in recent poetry—and its very smallness suggests a shift in the dynamics of avant-garde work, indeed, of poetic innovation.
Machado refuses the impositions or conventions of how we understand narratives… The intention then is not to end in the way we understand endings, but to keep it open-ended, so that we may grapple with what an ending is. And in this grappling, Machado and her madwoman merchant want to “watch [our] interior grow.” What could be more intellectually invigorating than this?
Seasoned with multi-lingual knowledge, served with love and profound empathy, Emporium is a delicious, honest, and congenial offering, the likes of which one rarely encounters.
A thickly-textured, richly-sensed collection, Emporium is porous and deft, as aware of the limits of the self and language as it is the potential to be alive and awake to the physical world and the powers pulsating through it.
As an artist you have to be very lucky or very gifted to create anything so compellingly amiss. If you can do it three times, you are more than lucky. Machado’s is a career to follow.
Q: Could you talk about the folding that occurs in the book – landscapes are folded into tapestries into postcards, then, a report on a nation unfolds under a ‘continual and cheapened light’, hands fold, a woman’s body folds, a film folds – I love how you have made this small but potent verb mess with time and space throughout the narrative…
A: I’m glad you liked it! It was likely a minor formal decision that gained … in currency (shall we say) as I kept working on the manuscript. It’s a wonderfully suggestive verb, sartorially and otherwise. Folding would seem to increase the surface area of a material without actually doing so; it creates an exterior and interior, a public face and an inner recess out of a plane.
Aditi Machado is an Indian poet whose books include Some Beheadings (The Believer Poetry Award, 2018) and a translation of Farid Tali’s Prosopopoeia. Her two most recent chapbooks are …