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.