"Marcelo Hernandez Castillo is a breathtaking contribution to this wave of recent Latinx poetry. This poetry is a strange loop of border crossings—geographical, psychological, social, racial, and gender— into and out of violence and ecstasy, a configuring and reconfiguring of Latinx identity. Cenzontle is a book of songs within songs about the end of borders and binaries, songs of undocumented mothers and exploited farm workers, about the myriad routes of love, songs of birth and rebirth. It is a meta-chorus that achieves a most radical empathy for the countless voices that live in the mouth of a single bird." -Vincent Toro
Castillo crafts evocative scenes that draw readers in, but then, after a section break or sometimes even a line break, the focus changes. Readers are thrown into a new scene, equally compelling but seemingly unrelated. This juxtaposition prevents Castillo’s work from offering the comfort of logic or predictability. Instead, they twist away from you:"After the first boy called me a wetback, / I opened his mouth and fed him a spoonful of honey. / I like the way you say “honey,” he said. / I made him a necklace out of the bees that have died in my yard. / How good it must have felt before the small village / echoed its grief in his throat, before the sirens began ringing."
Several of his poems evince a frustrated desire to be able to tell a life story and be understood. Describing the men of his family who share his given name, Castillo writes: “And all of us in one suitcase that hasn’t been opened. / I haven’t been opened.” Other, more abstract poems show the distance between the language of documented Americans and that of undocumented ones. In a poem titled “Immigration Interview with Jay Leno,” a stern interviewer asks immigration questions such as “how long do you plan on staying here?” To this, the immigrant responds, “We would have drowned / even without our laughter.”
"Within Cenzontle, binary oppositions—of gender, socio-political difference, and even of human or non-human—are merely the banks between which the potential for the creative play flows, ultimately culminating in political resistance."
"With its lyrical imagery that will be dancing around your head for days afterwards, it’s hard to believe Cenzontle is Marcelo Hernandez Castillo’s debut. Castillo weaves a nuanced narrative of his life as a queer undocumented immigrant in a heteronormative marriage, navigating the intersections of his identity in a universal search for belonging."
"Castillo’s lyrically rich and cinematic debut compresses the emotional resonances of lived experience into poetic narratives of devotion, eroticism, family, labor, and migration. The poems make displays of fragility and power by turn, a duality drawn into relief by the precarious condition of the undocumented immigrant."
"Castillo embraces an expansive ambiguity — of language, of gender, of nationality — that can sound celebratory and mournful at once."
"His fervor is not man-made, but comes from centuries of suffering, loving, witnessing. There’s horror here and sadness but always muted with the elegance of a gifted writer, one who will be remembered after his time. His journey is in geography but not of geography; it is instead the seeking and searching for one’s very soul, with the recognition that the price to pay is great. One has to feel what no one has felt the same before to write like this, for the poet composes as if he imagines words from another world and births them into form. This man writes as if no one is listening, the best kind of imaging because there are no borders barring his imagination. Menstrual blood, chemo, life’s boldest most basic elements become holy charms."
" “Cenzontle” is both spare and lyrical, communicating the reality and emotions of the immigrant experience in the U.S."
"Melancholic and sensuous, the speaker in most of these poems addresses another kind of geography, his own interiority and a rising allegiance to himself—flaws, desires, imagination, and all."
"Mama never said there’d be debuts like these, presenting new poets who arrive with unforeseen, indescribable gifts."
"It's through Castillo’s use of symbols of light, fields, shapes of water, and hands that he exposes and dismantles notions of intimacy, displacement, and the desire to be found."
" In these pages, the body becomes a powerful testament to resilience and individuality, allowing for a deeper connection than words can provide. This expansive physicality illuminates the foolishness inherent to the very conception of a “border” and gives access to a sincerity that speaks past societal categories to the ineffable beings that those categories can never hope to contain."
"Cenzontle is a highly personal trip into the often conflicted and confused heart of a man forced to subsist in the shadows of citizenship, race and sexuality where, like the mockingbird of its title, his poems replicate the songs already ringing around him and are shaped by "the echo/ and its echo."