The Diaspora Sonnets

Longlist, National Book Awards 2023 for Poetry

book cover for Oliver de la Plaza's The Diaspora Sonnets
ISBN 9781324092988
Liveright / W. W. Norton & Company
Author photo of Oliver de la Paz. (Photo credit: Meredith C. Pugh)
Oliver de la Paz

Oliver de la Paz is the author of six poetry collections, including The Boy in the Labyrinth, a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award. More about this author >

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From the publisher:

In 1972, after Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law, Oliver de la Paz’s father, in a last fit of desperation to leave the Philippines, threw his papers at an immigration clerk, hoping to get them stamped. He was prepared to leave, having already quit his job and having exchanged pesos for dollars; but he couldn’t anticipate the challenges of the migratory lifestyle he and his family would soon adopt in America. Their search for a sense of “home” and boundless feelings of deracination are evocatively explored by award-winning poet de la Paz in this formally inventive collection of sonnets.

Broken into three parts—“The Implacable West,” “Landscape with Work, Rest, and Silence,” and “Dwelling Music”—The Diaspora Sonnets eloquently invokes the perseverance and bold possibilities of de la Paz’s displaced family as they strove for stability and belonging. In order to establish her medical practice, de la Paz’s mother had to relocate often for residencies. As they moved from state to state his father worked to support the family. Sonnets thus flit from coast to coast, across prairies and deserts, along the way musing on shadowy dreams of a faraway country.

The sonnet proves formally malleable as de la Paz breaks and rejoins its tradition throughout this collection, embarking on a broader conversation about what fits and how one adapts—from the restrained use of rhyme in “Diaspora Sonnet in the Summer with the River Water Low” and carefully metered “Diaspora Sonnet Imagining My Father’s Uncertainty and Nothing Else” to the hybridized “Diaspora Sonnet at the Feeders Before the Freeze.” A series of “Chain Migration” poems viscerally punctuate the sonnets, giving witness to the labor and sacrifice of the immigrant experience, as do a series of hauntingly beautiful pantoums.

Written with the deft touch of a virtuoso and the compassion of a loving son, The Diaspora Sonnets powerfully captures the peculiar pangs of a diaspora “that has left and is forever leaving.”

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