The Many Deaths of Inocencio Rodriguez
by Iliana Rocha
Winner of the BERKSHIRE PRIZE
“Formally vibrant, Iliana Rocha imagines and reimagines the deaths of the forgotten-Inocencio Rodriguez, AKA John Doe. Through multiple tellings and retellings, the author attempts to perform last rites for those who have received no ceremony. Indeed, the unceremonious deaths of the innocents and of innocence make for a poignant obsession here in a docupoetic kaleidoscope where found knowledge turns and churns into art, magnificent, devastating, and long-lasting. I am transfixed by the way that lyric and narrative are woven into this bold and elegiac tapestry that touches, not only on violent flashpoints but most essentially on the revenants that speak, long after loss, to the resounding failures of our humanity. This is an exquisite book.” — from the Judge’s Citation by Oliver de la Paz
Published: February 2022
“Iliana Rocha’s exquisite book The Many Deaths of Inocencio Rodríguez illustrates how our singular grief becomes amplified when set against the violent tapestry of contemporary America. ‘Where is it safe for us?’ it dares to ask as it navigates yesterday’s harrowing headlines, which continue to resonate in the travesties of today, and which we’ll likely hear again tomorrow. Powerful and poignant, Rocha’s poems give us temporary refuge, each page an occasion to grapple with the troubling stories of our times.”
“As the granddaughter of a murder victim, Rocha feels we must understand violence in order to stop it. Violence is central to her poetry. In “True Crime Addicts,” she writes of Charles Manson acolytes Susan Atkins, who killed Sharon Tate in 1969, and Squeaky Fromme, who tried to assassinate President Ford in 1975. Rocha writes: “I’ve been elsewhere, researching serial killers & unsolved murders because at least I don’t have to convince myself that this is horror.” She finds empathy for the needlessly murdered as well as those who languish for decades in prison or face execution.”
- — George Longenecker Rain Taxi Review
The author’s personal experience allows her not only first-hand knowledge of the dark currents surfacing across the continent, but also the authority to speak of them. That she succeeds in doing so with these remarkable, almost daring poems, is proof of her considerable awareness and keen eye. Her sure handling of difficult content is complimented by inspired imagery, and by a solidarity; an empathy, like flowers left at the scene of a crime. Often, on reading of shocking brutality or bleak desperation, it feels as if we are trespassing on a stranger’s grief. But surely, coming up against the sometimes sordid, often heart-breaking reality is like an Act of Witness, and is no more than these victims of fate deserve.
—Robert Dunsdon Heavy Feather Review
With every poem in The Many Deaths of Inocencio Rodriguez, I am reminded of these words: “America, we should all be groping the wounded curves of your atlas,” words that Iliana Rocha includes in her resonant monostich, “AZO Elegy” (82); and like this one-line elegy, Rocha’s newest collection of poems at once grieves with a palpable hurt and speaks truth to power, revealing and confirming what has long been manipulated for profit through tabloids and reality TV or pushed to the periphery of social concern. Rich in imagery and provocative in construction, Rocha’s The Many Deaths of Inocencio Rodriguez is a collection that hits the core of human existence.
—Tara Ballard Tupelo Quarterly
The Many Deaths of Inocencio Rodriguez chronicles an obsession with the 1971 unsolved murder of Rocha’s grandfather while interrogating the true crime genre, tabloid culture, immigrant identity, the phenomena of missing and murdered women, troubled relationships with law enforcement, and the intersection of prose and poetry. Because the details of his death were (and are) terribly unclear, part of how the family reconstructed him was to share the different accounts heard over the decades, and this collection attempts to pin down these shifts and contours through destabilizing form and genre. Each speaker reconfigures a past mysterious and tenuous, clouded by distance, language, and time in order to demonstrate how Inocencio Rodriguez defies a single narrative.
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Click here to access a complimentary lesson plan on “The Prose Poem,” designed by Sean Cho Ayres.The Many Deaths of Inocencio Rodriguez” & The Prose Poem -2
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