Tula by Chris Santiago largely focuses on the ideas of sound and Santiago’s family and heritage. It begins by framing this narrative with a poem describing a scene when Santiago’s son stabbed his cochlea with a pencil.
Throughout the collection, Santiago plays around with the idea of sound. On a conceptual level, Santiago talks about sound through the reoccurring ideas of lullabies, music (Santiago pulls from his background in music), and birds. Additionally, Santiago muses on language and sounds. He talks about how sound can transcend language. This serves to embody this book’s reoccurring theme of communication and interaction between cultures and, subsequently, the idea of being an immigrant (Santiago mentions he is an immigrant’s son). Relatedly, Santiago uses the idea of sound’s being transcendent to draw a connection to his past and his family. This theme of connection continues throughout the collection as Santiago has poems about his family and his history.
Santiago’s style is a unique blending of the academic and artistic. He talks about language and sound with technical terms and facts but also has a whimsical curiosity about how language and sound function and their implications. For instance, in one of the more experimental poems in this collection, “Gloss,” Santiago plays with the definitions of words from another language. Santiago also incorporates endnotes to aid in explanation of some of the more academic or technical subjects of his poems. To match the conceptual musings on sound, Santiago’s style also is attentive to sound and diction from his subtle use of alliteration to his varied use of the word “Tula” and similar sounding words.
Most of the poems in this collection have a relatively standard form, but different poems throughout Tula break this mold by being right-aligned, having white space in the middle of a line, or by having dropped lines. In part of “Gloss,” Santiago places words on the page to take the form of what he is writing about.
As a Collection
The black-colored bird on the cover pulls this work together. Santiago explains that “Tula” can mean “birdsong.” The bird also serves as a symbol for music and aurally pleasing noises.
All in all, by paying attention to sound and language, Santiago subtly acknowledges the power of sound and language.
I recommend Tula to all who like poetry about the poet’s history or poetry about culture or have an interest in or appreciation for linguistics.
Tula by Chris Santiago. 2016. Milkweed Editions.