Review: When Kerosene’s Involved, Daniel Romo. Black Coffee Press; 2012.
The paragraph structure of a prose poem gives the semblance of narrative, whether narrative is intended or not; the reader’s expectations can direct the tides of creation. When Kerosene’s Involved, a collection of prose poems, seeks to subvert that—Daniel Romo’s poetics are ones of difference, of variation, of multiplicity.
Here is where I reveal my flaw as a reviewer. I don’t much read the works of any cultural diasporas. I read what’s on my bookshelves, what my friends recommend, whatever on my list I can get at my local indie book store or—in a pinch—Barnes & Noble. I am a white girl considering the book of a Latino man. From it, I can tease out some markers of Latino culture—Grandpa Manuel, Pancho, “…Chivas (which means goats in English)”, “…Baby Joker, just released from jail, thought I looked like a rival who hit on his heina.” Throughout the collection, however, the reader encounters the Spice Girls, The Young and the Restless, Cliff’s Notes, the Millennium Falcon, Rice Krispie Treats, and Hoarders. There is so much variety in the book’s tropes and figures that I do not read When Kerosene’s Involved and think, Latino poems! Done!
In Kerosene, I read Daniel Romo on every page. The narrative underpinning this collection is one of loyalty and honesty to the varied worlds from which the self originates and the multitudinous experiences that comprise and distinguish the self. The imaginative work in each poem shows a willingness to extend the boundaries of that self to explore other experiences and lives, or simply to create them for fun; Daniel Romo inhabits them all well and completely.
In the poem “Word Problem #37”, there is Daniel-Romo-the-high-school-teacher:
Train A departs Duluth at 7 a.m. traveling 20 miles per hour faster than train B, which departs from Sheboygan at 6 a.m. The conductor of train A is drunk. The conductor of train B is asleep. … There will be an explosion. Everyone will catch on fire and die. How far will the charred limbs fly when the trains collide head-on and create algebraic wreckage? Show your work.
The teacher appears also, enmeshed with the Latino, in the “Pancho” poems; these pieces are imbued with the sadness of the marginalized status of most Latino-Americans, a situation to which most American citizens would not admit. Consider “Pancho As Show Not Tell Mini-Lesson In The High School Creative Writing Textbook”:
He is dirty.
Pancho’s pores hold filth hostage. His skin is a grimy husk.…The ringworm on his back keeps growing and laughs at this attempt.
His clothes are ugly.
Pancho’s wardrobe consists of holes that house bits of fabric. His shirts were too small two years ago. His pair of pants can also function as shorts. His sandals are held together by masking tape and a miracle.
Pathetic Pancho stands in for the plight of many poor Latino-Americans, and the precision in Romo’s detail makes many of the poems vivid, poignant, and sad.
Elsewhere, there is Romo-the-satiric-philanthropist (“Donation”: “My almost dollar a day saves a starving Somalian. The pocket change jingles in Samboobwa’s bloated belly. Sam for short.”), Romo-the-Dodgers-fan and Romo-the-high-school-student (“Direction”: “I had no sense of patriotism but I was loyal to my Dodgers, and lab partner, Debbie. Even though she scribbled she loved someone not me all over her Pee Chee.”), and Romo-the-academe (“Thesis”: “She wrote comments on my eyelids in red ink. Ultimately I failed, but appreciated the feedback. Sometimes when I’m reading Cummings in the library, I drub my fingertips against my lips feeding myself the commas on the page…”).
Even when the poems do not speak in the voice of Daniel Romo, they are informed by his identity and his experiences, and When Kerosene’s Involved is all the stronger for it.
Review: Maybe the Saddest Thing, Marcus Wicker. Harper Perennial; 2012.
Something’s wrong, I think when I’ve finished the first poem
in Marcus Wicker’s “Maybe the Saddest Thing.”
The poem is called “To You” and ends with these lines:
Say it sad and plain…this well is as far as your voice has ever carried.
Tough admission for a writer!
Because I am a writer, I read on with the hopes that poems 2-38 will discuss the writing life — how poems hardly pay, how editors hardly read, how loved ones are still a little peeved that we majored in English. I want to read such things because I want to know I’m not alone in feeling that my words are going nowhere.
Indeed, the poems that follow break the heart, especially “Everything I Know About Jazz I Learned from Kenny G.” Here’s a snippet:
…the morning my pops found Kenny G lying on my nightstand I did learn that a black father can and will enter a bedroom, only to find Kenny’s CD, bad perm and all, cuddled too close to his eight-grader’s head. He will tiptoe from the room, turn the knob, then kick down the door in slippers. He’ll drag the boy out of bed down two flights of stairs and toss him front of a turntable. Listen here, he says. When you finish a record put it back in the sleeve and you better not scratch my shit.
I curl into a ball…Breakfast folds into lunch before I move an inch: When supper rolls around I am shaking…Roy Ayers kneads and vibrates my chest…Pharoah Sanders shivers all over my face…I listen to Freedom Now Suite. It sounds like a welted voice wincing at the basement’s night. A voice my father hears too.
He does not cave the basement door. He walks a dirge down those steps. Gently strokes my neck. Asks, Why are you crying, son? Dad, I ache. Because I’ve been down here forever.
I have too!
But, this poem and at least one other one, Love Letter to RuPaul, make me reach for yet another connection to the text – one of sadness surrounding sexuality:
So that’s it! I say to myself. The speaker in the poem is insecure and has been in hell forever because he may be gay, and his father wants to prevent the may be from becoming the yes?
It’s a conversation I almost have with myself, but refuse to have because the poems are so well crafted, they’re above petty talk of who may or may not be gay. They’re like my friend, Lisa, who’s so full of light and goodness she won’t allow any gossip in her home.
Or shall I say full of greatness?
“Maybe the Saddest Thing” is a great book of poetry. Period. No wonder it was chosen by D.A. Powell as the 2011 winner of The National Poetry Series. It takes readers to the mountain. It connects us all. That is why, when I read “Love Letter to Flavor Flav,” I actually felt some love for that obnoxious joker. That is why, when I read “Love Letter to Dave Chappelle,” it made me smile instead of wince, recalling the coonery. Indeed, the craft is there.
What craft? Five hundred words do not allow for me to (in the words of Fat Boy Slim) “praise it like I should.” But the short version is this: The poems are lyrical and lovely, beautiful in the mouth and in the mind. There’s surprise. There’s the marrying of the emotional with the physical and the psychological. There’s story! There’s love and childhood and parents – the things, and only the things, we care to read about.