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Defacing the Monument

Winner of the 2021 Pegasus Award in Poetry Criticism

At least 50% of royalties from Defacing the Monument will be donated to the nonprofit Kino Border Initiative, a binational

migrant aid and advocacy organization.

Now available from Noemi Press.

Read an excerpt here. 

Order Defacing the Monument from Noemi Press here

and from Small Press Distribution here.

A former journalist, Susan Briante started taking graduate students to the US-Mexico border in 2016 to research and write about migration issues. What began as essays documenting the crisis turned into a reflection on documentary poetics: the act of witnessing and writing about the suffering of others. Opening with the narration of an Operation Streamline hearing— a proceeding during which as many as 75 undocumented migrants were criminally prosecuted and sentenced en masse to serve jail time prior to deportation— Defacing the Monument shows what happens to those who do not hold the “correct” documents and highlights how the archive bears the marks of power. Part documentary, part lyric essay, part primer, Defacing the Monument is an exploration of the many ways we might tell stories and a guidebook for anyone who believes in what documentary poetics, and all art, can and should do in this moment of crisis.

Praise for Defacing the Monument

"'But a document can pull a nation out from under you,' writes Susan Briante in Defacing the Monument, a book that assembles itself in the form of a hybrid primer. She moves beyond the aesthetic limits of what we might refer to as a 'Documentary Poetics' that takes up the task of repairing or reviewing 'the record.' Poet Muriel Rukeyser referred to this process as 'extending the document,' and Briante indeed extends and confronts the troubled archives of our past and present in this essential and transformative text. Equal parts anthology, workbook, essay, collage, archive, and lyric, Briante’s living document sets the poet’s work of witness in the midst of our current entangled crises of borders, belonging, trauma, nationhood, empathy, and imagination."

—Claudia Rankine


"Defacing the Monument elucidates the powerful ways that poetry has documented the present and the absent, the visible and the invisible, the broken and the breaking. Susan Briante’s investigations thread through borderlands, languages, genres and discourses to show that our words and poems and bodies always emerge in relation to the violence of the state, the violence of the bank, the violence of those who purchase, who silence, who deport. Poetry can mean something in the public sphere, though the poets don’t always believe this. Here are poetries that exemplify this by archiving the erased and the eraser, the consumed and the consumer, the authoritarian bodies and those they seek to destroy."

—Daniel Borzutzky

"Documents of the world beware! Poetry is after you—revising you, extending you, decentering you, complicating you, subverting you. No document has been left unturned in this Defacing the Monument: at once an intimate meditation and an analysis, a collection of maps and an indictment, a methodology, a social history, a dialogue, a bearing witness. Is it possible to write fearlessly and, at the same time, compassionately about migration and migrants in the United States today? Susan Briante writes, in addition, with urgency, posing all the necessary questions—especially the most uncomfortable ones—as she implicates herself, and implicates us, in the tragedy and the dignity of migration.  


I urge you to read this urgent book."

—Cristina Rivera Garza

I felt so intellectually and emotionally nourished while reading Susan Briante’s Defacing the Monument. Briante not only attributes, but asks why we must attribute; gives witness accounts but questions who she is as witness. Briante, with such incredible care and generosity, investigates every frame that contains stories of suffering; every platitude that proves our moral certitude. By laying bare these limitations, Briante breaks open possibilities where injustice can be “newly felt." Not only that, she asks how poetry can be a social practice and not just a feat of imagination. Anyone who’s interested in writing about someone other than themselves needs to read this book. Defacing the Monument is a stunning and brilliant intervention on how poetry

documents history.

—Cathy Park Hong


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