Saturday, March 11, 2023

Review: PROMISES OF GOLD by José Olivarez


PROMISES OF GOLD is a testament to the truth that it is always possible to lay claim to a poetry of your own, a poetry that is whole-heartedly filled with goodness, a poetry that creates and cultivates a love for oneself & other people to witness, to feel, and connect with; and ultimately: to move for & take action with. I’m enjoying the questions of and for authority. I’m moved to ask my own questions. My spirit is moved by the poet’s reflections on tenderness, masculinity and toxic masculinity. On what it means to be family. On what it means to be Mexican. On what it means to be American. On what it means to love, as a man, and as a human being trying to make sense of existing and being alive in a seemingly ever-maddening world.

This collection is a clear example that poetry, at its root level, is here for us as human beings to witness ourselves, one another, to fuel one another’s spirits. To nurture our being-ness and bring us together, as inhabitants of this planet, as people occupying similar and different spaces and places on this humungous rock hurling through space. And that to a creative person, to a poet, this is an intrinsic part of being alive, of sharing in this brief and fleeting human experience.

As the poet explains in the introductory author’s note, PROMISES OF GOLD started out with a desire to write love poems. Love poems to the poet’s beloved, love poems to family members, love poems to friends and homies. Then the pandemic began. Then the uprisings of 2020 began. Then the poet became reflective on capitalism’s brutality, on the injustices of the prison industrial complex, on authority’s pervasive illusion, on the violence of borders. Then, then, then, and then.

“But because I am who I am & because we live in the world that we live in, I wrote this book instead” - José Olivarez

It seems as if the poems that are not explicitly “love poems” are incognito love poems. After reading “American Tragedy,” the first thought that came to my mind was: fuck the police. After reading “Poem Where No One Is Deported,” one of my reactions was: fuck la migra. So, I really see these poems too, even though not “explicitly” love poems, as love poems. If only with a grander, more encompassing vision of love than what is considered “typical.” After all, what place does anger have in love and in loving? What is love’s relationship to justice? What is the capacity in my love to hate racism? How true can one’s love really be if it excludes seeing precisely how fucked up the seemingly cyclical nature of control and oppression can be and really is?

And I enjoy this about Olivarez’ work as well: as a reader, I felt invited into a conversation, and really at times, invited to walk in the speaker’s own shoes, to see what he sees, to feel, as close as humanly possible, what he feels.

Along with the brilliant Mexican humor woven throughout this collection (See: “Ode to Tortillas,” “Eating Taco Bell with Mexicans,” et al.), this collection is overflowing with lines and poems that reach straight through the chest, through the breastplate & ribs and finally to the heart, squeezing the heart to life. Not unlike when a handball is squeezed and it creates a brief concave and then, when let go of, the ball intrinsically reverts back to its spherical shape and is once again bounceable. This is what I’ve found in my experience with PROMISES OF GOLD. The heart is touched, the heart is squeezed and given pause, the heart is let go of; and the heart resumes its shape to keep beating. I’m reminded of the Jay-Z lyric: like a roundball you bounce back. PROMISES OF GOLD did this, does this, and as I visit and re-visit these poems, PROMISES OF GOLD continues doing this for my heart: from page to page my heart bounces to life’s rhythm, time and again.

- Daniel Cyran

Pedro Explains Magical Realism

nah, i never heard of magical realism,
but i do know this: when i did acid
in the desert, the ancestors came to me—
i mean they’re always there, but like,
they let me see them. they let me hear them.
& they told me that all the men in our family
sabotage their relationships with alcohol.
it’s like the truth isn’t just an idea, it’s physical.
like you can choose not to believe in gravity,
but it’s still going to hold you down.
that’s what it was like: i had been living
with this truth all my life, but now i could feel it.

To order copies of PROMISES OF GOLD directly from the publisher, click here.


* This book is a bilingual, full-length collection of poems. Because I do not understand or know how to read Spanish, this review is focused on the English portion of PROMISES OF GOLD. 

Sunday, January 22, 2023


One true glimpse of this candle
Is more philosophy than thousands of words from Wittgenstein

I spit at the books of each & every dead philosopher
(except for Nietzsche who is alive, bless him)
Too many words, too many thoughts
You bastards did nothing!
But think about thinking!
You sicken me more than red spiders hatching eggs behind my eyes!
You sicken me more than people portraying snakes!
You sicken me more than money! More than myself!

Someone please forgive me
I'm bored with the poets
Constantly on about what is and isn't poetry

This morning reading Jim Harrison again:
"One day my love I'll see your body from the left side of my face"

I'm going to sleep, not at all right in the mind
Wake me up with a philosophy that reckons with the primacy of experience
Wake me up with a philosophy simple & to the point

One true glimpse of this candle
And I touch the ashes these words are destined to become—

A RELATIVE MADNESS © 2023 Daniel Cyran

Friday, October 14, 2022

I wrote a poem after seeing a friend's artwork...


Untitled, by Koss

after Koss

is it the rage of the gods 
or is mother Earth simply a woman who won't be fucked with
the drunken gods mad with humanity
this planet Earth at the brink of inhabitability
an alien species siphoning oxygen from the soil to study on a distant planet
the engine of time & space reckoning with parallel universes
dust in the wind candles in the mind fortresses in the hidden air
clouds made from fists in circles drumming dust on the moon dust in the air dancing thorn’d music
dust yet to become reigning limitation
i feel my own size everywhere standing breadth depth everywhere circling revolving 
orbiting the unbegun
i'm begging! 
the sky is the window to the soul!
with my eyes two overflowing begging bowls
the sky is the window to the soul!
who's inside looking out who's outside looking in—
owl eye sees it coming from miles away
knows what will happen before it happens
owl eye seized in becoming 
cloaked in reverie
stillness overthrown omni 
2,000 hands in the sky drumming cyclones birthing magnanimous 
a headless chicken in a cosmic yard of ascension
the air prefers swarms of altitude
Kali flowers build & destroy middle paths a peeling back of the senses' white knuckles 
on the wheel of good fortune
on guard the god of thunder tired of heard not seen like a dumb thief surges of wind unforgotten 
the mind of universal wisdom
the unseen's lifting the air with the same wisdom woman is able to lift a car for child
two invisible hands in the sky above the clouds kneeling to nothing singing crumbling 
overthrowing stillness 
cyclones orb across landscapes cycles writing on the wall civilization ain't civilized
signs of the times signs of the ages from blue to gray blink betrayal of gilded reverence 
the rainbow's totem invisible crown of nature
womb of creation  
oscillating crumbling the tight rope between known & unknown 
listen to crow raven dirge proto crown rain dance epitome 
surges of silence darkness proto 
gray is the color of boundless gray abundance gray in between gray the middle path gray the living through experience gray the answer to the question in the form of a question Gibraltar will heed 
Stone Henge will weep the way you approach gray is who & what you are

INCARNATIONS © 2022 Daniel Cyran

Koss (she, them, they) is a poet, writer and artist. Their work can be found on the web via

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Review: Verna Hampton's Sister FM Diva


“I’m a daughter, a sister, and a mother

Both grand and great

And I am here to enlighten, entertain, and educate”

-        Verna Hampton, What Is A Name


The poems in Sister FM Diva celebrate, sing, rap, bless, curse, revel, and ultimately reveal a poet who is devoted. This is a poet devoted to her community, to her love of humanity, to her love of justice, of truth. These poems are anti-apathy, anti-delusion. I have been encouraged by the poet Sean Thomas Dougherty who once said (paraphrased): I try not to use the word brilliant or great when describing a poet or poem, but instead try to look in the direction that the poet is pointing. With this in mind, it is clear that Verna Hampton is pointing to the human heart.

In these wild & savage times, with the new millennium not even mid-way through its third decade, this heart energy is needed. The poems in this collection are teeming with so much heart and soul, it’s nearly impossible to walk away from time spent with this collection and not be encouraged, challenged, changed; each and every time. At times I was inspired to weep, at other times I was filled with so much anger I wanted to break something. The poems in Sister FM Diva encourage sincere responses, it is clear, because they are coming from a sincere place.

Another thing I noticed while spending time with Sister FM Diva is that the poet is committed to the real. Verna Hampton is a poet of reality. She sees clearly the situation at hand, the on-going crises that human beings are faced with; and does not shy away from delivering her assessments as far as what is required of us, of human beings, in order to truly be free. As well, these poems are unapologetically Black. Hampton is a member of a cohort of Black story tellers, poets and griots with a rich tradition of truth telling.

While reading Verna Hampton’s collection, I was reminded of Wanda Coleman, and her one-of-a-kind delivery of her poems. When I first heard a Wanda Coleman poem recited by the poet herself, I had heard nothing like it before, and have heard nothing like it to this day. Similarly, I would be eager to hear or see Verna Hampton recite her poetry in a live setting. From what I can tell on the page, the poet has given herself much room for song, much room for her own human uniqueness to shine through—in a way that I think Wanda Coleman also wrote to ensure that nobody was as capable of delivering the power, insight, and beauty of her words like she herself was able to do. I see this possibility in Verna Hampton’s work as well.

I will also argue that it is largely due to Hampton’s knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of the past; and due to her being grounded, not unlike the grounding of a majestic oak tree, with its deeply rooted foundation in the Earth, in the present moment; which makes these poems so enjoyable, enlightening and entertaining.

I see Verna Hampton's poems as a reminder for these generations. In a world that seemingly continues ever spiraling towards forgetfulness, delusion, poets like Hampton, who enlighten in their reminding, are healers. To witness the truth of the past and present being told with so much strength and courage is a healing endeavor.

While reading Sister FM Diva, I was reminded of a quote from Jonas Mekas, who said: In the very end, societies perish because they listen to their politicians, and not to their poets. I hope this review serves as encouragement to those with open hearts, with open minds; Verna Hampton’s voice and poems are saying something we need to listen to, attend to, and carry within that sacred human heart-space I believe she is pointing towards.

To order copies of Sister FM Diva by Verna Hampton, click here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022


Rains move in from the north
and somewhere in my home town
someone is playing the final trumpet.
This planet has taken about as much abuse
from human hands as it can fathom, I'm afraid.
If you place a penny on the cool bent steel of 
railroad tracks, it is only a matter of time
before the thing is heated and flattened.
In the end you will have a neat looking souvenir
and only be a penny the lesser. All my suffering
has led me to this. To be a mortal thing,
one must shine in some brief and unmistakable way. 
Like glimpses of daylight receding across a puddle. 
The last funeral I attended was for a soldier. 
Tears and tears and tears and yet we still allow 
rich and greedy men to keep sending our brothers 
and sisters back home in closed coffins. I listen to the 
pitter patter of water against concrete blocks, a motorcycle 
in the distance, probably a Honda, faintness of birdcall—
love is in the air now—I'm remembering the last time 
I made love: we were too exhausted for fucking 
so we laid on our backs in bed, hand in hand, reading our 
thoughts to each other. For a long time, it became
quiet and we laid next to one another in the silence of night, 
I would squeeze my left hand, she would squeeze her right hand
in intervals to keep each other awake to the moment. 
We went on like that for hours, and woke up the next day 
hand in hand. The rain has stopped. Smoke pirouettes 
from my exhales, a lit cigarette, like a lantern surrounded 
by a phalanx of black crows gathering in droves, a reminding 
of the truth: darkness surrounds us and we don't even know it, 
the weight of the world.

© 2022 Daniel Cyran

Wednesday, July 20, 2022


You look up and it's suddenly 4 p.m.
in the tragedy of lives in constant motion
in the heat of mid-summer, body & mind somewhere else
completely, a grasshopper on its hind legs 
somewhere in the tall grass 
an unintelligible prayer in its being,
humans and what they've made
of each other's presence,
nuclear fallout endless wars toxic oceans,
eminent catastrophe at every turn,
erratic step by erratic step
gecko making mockeries of the walls 
which act as barriers for
curiosities of the neighbors—
their lives too in constant motion,
their lives too touched by an endless drama of confusion,
it's been more than a few months since I've stepped outside
my own shoes, though light through the window pane
still does something wordless to my spirit,
the candles still sing, voices in the head
still console, what more can I say? Our problem
isn't too much desire, our problem is not enough
desire. Our species doesn't know what is needed and
on a macro level we're lost because individuals do not know what they want.
Give me a cup of tea and a cool shower in the summer,
and the thieves can keep their money tables in the temples.
I wouldn't be surprised if by 2032 every church bell on both sides 
of the Mississippi rang and rang and rang to no one at all beneath them.
Give me my lady's hand on a wind washed tree-lined street with our joys intact
and I don't give a fuck about celebrity news, whom said what to whom,
four-star generals, the apocalypse. While I believe the Buddha was right when
he cautioned against attachments; being in love is not for the emptied mind, 
nor is she meek. I've seen her lifting the same one-ton from the weight 
of her babies’ crying beneath it on this block each and every morning since 2009.

© 2022 Daniel Cyran

Saturday, July 9, 2022

SET IN MOTION (freewrite 2)


Give my body back to the earth—
I will live the remainder of my life
as an ocean  an eddy  a canal  a puddle
a branch of oleander swaying in dawn's rainlight

The neighbors for the first time in my life
are crazier than I am
For the first time in my life I have
let go in the fight against my mind

There is solace in letting go—
Beauty is not a pleasant thing—
My heart is torn from my chest
daily, nightly in pursuit of it

Summers come and go,
cool damp grapefruit or
nameless thunder
or a flash of flesh and bone 
set in motion
towards numberless darknesses
like countless unbroken horses
drumming the ground with pure animal instinct

(Light is born millions of times per second)

I have come here to celebrate life

Turning back the clocks
Unlocking the windows
Opening the doors

Searching a warm wind
to lean this sorrow against
as the fires 
on every one of my tongues
to slowly

© 2022 Daniel Cyran

*freewrite: a stream-of-consciousness exercise where the first thought that comes to mind is written down, followed by the next, and the next, and the next, without any interruption from second thoughts, second guesses or time for reflection.