I Was a Bell by M. Soledad Caballero
In this collection, Caballero imagines how memory frames and reshapes the present, how memory illuminates and limits the stories of ourselves, and how, despite the passage of time, primal moments in the past are the ghosts and echoes of our present. These poems interweave an early childhood lived in another country and in another language with experiences of immigration and family histories in the United States. They create connections between a child’s naïve perspective of dictatorship and an adult perspective informed by bodily illness and political knowledge. Ultimately, Caballero traces a lineage of memory, exploring how present moments unearth the past that ripples through them. This collection does not reconcile the past and the present. Instead, these poems remind us that how we ask questions about ourselves, our histories, and our bodies is what creates our identities, our traumas, and our future hopes and possibilities.
“I Was a Bell is a triumph, a gutting cry of love and longing for all that migration sows and uproots in the survivors of exile. In retracing her family’s story of leaving Chile under Pinochet to 1980s Oklahoma, M. Soledad Caballero gives soaring voice to the ways history, memory, and the collective weight of our disappeared lives silenced, but never unheard, in our bodies and hearts. It’s hard to express how much these poems made unnamed parts of me feel seen.”—Natalia Sylvester, author of Everyone Knows You Go Home and Chasing the Sun
Caballero bears unflinching witness to the emotional trauma inherited from war-ravaged Chile to the exiled plains of Oklahoma. As though to witness is to love. These poems negotiate the transitions of language, memory, country, her battle with cancer, counterbalancing the violence from which she fled with a transformative devotion to details.—Richard Blanco, fifth Presidential Inaugural Poet
Soledad Caballero is a professor of English at Allegheny College. Her scholarly work focuses on British Romanticism, travel writing, postcolonial literatures, WGSS, and interdisciplinarity. She is a CantoMundo fellow, has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, has been a finalist for the Missouri Review’s Jeffry E. Smith Editors’ Prize in poetry, the Mississippi Review’s annual Editors’ prize, the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award, and the Ruth Stone Poetry Prize. Her poem “Myths We Tell” won the 2019 Joy Harjo Poetry Prize for Cutthroat: a Journal of the Arts. She is a co-recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities Connections Grant, as well as a Great Lakes Colleges Association Expanding Collaborations Initiative Grant. Her first poetry collection won the 2019 Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award sponsored by Red Hen Press. Caballero splits her time between Meadville and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.