Every month, we tell you which Latin American writings we are reading. Taking many different forms and featuring writers stretching the whole of the South, Central and North America, we bring to you a wide selection of the modern works that are stirring literary interests. This month, Literature Editor Millie Corp is delving us into Frank Baez…
“I travel to New York with a fake passport.
MARILYN MONROE walking down Fifth Avenue again.
MARILYN MONROE with a three-day beard.”
“Viajo en Nueva York con un pasaporte falsificado.
MARILYN MONROE caminando de nuevo por la Quinta Avenida.
MARILYN MONROE con una barba de tres días.”
From I’m the Marilyn Monroe of Santo Domingo
Frank Baez (1979 – ) is a Dominican-born poet and writer who can only be described as prolific. His first book Jarrón y otros poemas was published in 2004 and since then his many ventures have received much recognition: his short stories collection Págales tú a los psicoanalistas picked up First Prize for Short Stories at the Santo Domingo Book Fair in 2006, and Postales won the National Poetry Prize Salomé Ureña in 2009, amongst others.
His poetry often tackles pertinent questions of identity and marginalisation, weaving in humour, popular culture references and honesty so that moments of extreme vulnerability transform into empowerment. His works have cracked the international stage, being published in Madrid, Costa Rica, Argentina and the United States.
However, this poet goes beyond just the written word. Along with fellow poet Homero Pumarol, Baez co-founded the spoken word band El Hombrecito which has released two albums that mix music, literature and visual art. Baez has also turned his hand to publishing – he is the editor of the online poetry review Ping Pong, which has published poets from Latin America, North America and Europe. This magazine makes readily available the most exciting of recent poetry in Spanish, citing it’s motivation to be a window into literary texts to create a space for debate and conversation that anyone can partake in. So busy is Baez, it is surprising that he even finds the time to write.
In one of his poems I’m the Marilyn Monroe of Santo Domingo, Baez appropriates and transmorphs the figure of one of the most infamous popular culture stars of the twentieth century. Baez’s Monroe is a transvestite hailing from Santo Domingo, awaiting a gender realignment surgery. Her identity becomes pluralised as she is simultaneously a nurse, a churchgoer, a man-eater. She is a busy woman, yet she manages to find the time to advocate the importance of routine AIDS tests. She is unabashedly open and unafraid to be all these different characters, but the poem takes a turn for the darker as it transpires that not everyone is as accepting of these identities. Monroe as the Dominican transvestite suffers from violent mob attacks which ultimately do more than just physical harm, leading her to question the basis of her identity. Baez’s depressing prose gives insight into the hurtful prejudice that Latina transvestites encounter, yet the protagonist is ballsy and resilient and unwilling to give up being the “MARILYN MONROE OF SANTO DOMINGO”. This is a poem that does not overtly call for reform, yet rather celebrates the strength of those whose very being is constantly attacked.
With many of his works readily available in Spanish and English online, it would be inexcusable not to immerse yourself in Baez’s poetry, fiction and non-fiction. Baez’s passion for literature is vivid, and as a result, exploring his writing is an exciting and contagious experience.