Author: Rudy Francisco
Publication date: December 8, 2020
My rating: 5/5 stars
Are you a fan of Amanda Garmon, looking for a poetry collection to fill that lyrical hole in your heart that you didn’t know was there before? Look no further; Rudy Francisco is your guy.
Let’s be real: spoken word is having a MOMENT right now thanks to Garmon’s wonderful performance at the inauguration ceremony last month. I think, therefore, that this is a great time to promote other spoken word poets as well, especially when they’re so stylistically similar. Plus, it’s the start of Black History Month, so it seems only fitting to start off with a review of a book by a phenomenal Black author.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m a huge fan of Button Poetry. And I am especially a huge fan of Rudy Francisco. His writing is gorgeous, flowing seemingly effortlessly from one clever metaphor to the next, but never sacrificing emotional intimacy at the cost of linguistic virtuoso. This is raw, powerful, beautiful poetry that you can practically hear the performance of in your head.
What is particularly interesting about this collection is that it is entirely premised on the idea that language is so often inadequate to convey what we mean. There are so many phenomena that we don’t have words for in English, but should. Rudy comes up with new names for dozens of these terms and uses them to provide a structural and thematic framework for the book, filling in the gaps when there simply is not an elegant way to express a thought. And given the wide range of topics covered in this book–including mental illness, family, love, racial injustice, and more–there are a lot of useful words.
Fans of Rudy’s previous work–specifically his well-known “Honest Poem”–will appreciate the self-reference here in his new poem, the equally-wonderful “The poem where I lie about everything.” Other standout titles in this collection include “Climate Change” (spoiler: it’s not actually about pollution), “Drowning Fish,” and the many “erasure-poems” he crafts out of everything from song lyrics to NRA statements.
I don’t have much else to say and unpack here–I just really, really loved this book–but here are some of the (many) quotes I highlighted while reading this one!
English is the shiniest hammer I own, but it’s also– “Mama Saba asks”
the only thing in my toolbox.
I use it all the time, but there is so much it cannot do.
a runner doesn’t always cross the finish line,– “What I know is this”
but a baton can look like a microphone depending on how you hold it.
I know that a marathon can become a relay
as long as there is someone willing to finish the race.
Sometimes, a pen– “This is how I scare the dirt”
is also a shovel.
I imagine,– “A Lot Like You”
her smile will be so large that you’ll see it on Google Maps and know exactly where our wedding is being held.
The woman that I plan to marry
will have champagne in her walk,
and I will get drunk on her footsteps.
I learned you can– “My parents”
be right next to someone but also 1,000 miles away from them without asking geography its opinion.
but sometimes– “Drowning Fish”
there is a “help me” chained to the ankle of an “I’m doing ok”
“I’m fine,” is the easiest way to say “I don’t want to talk about it.” Sometimes,
all the oxygen in the room becomes water.
You thought I was just a country?– “Instructions for black people”
I’m a record player.
Watch me put on history and spin it backwards.
Suddenly, anxiety picks up a hammer and builds condos that are too– “Let’s just say”
expensive for my peace to live inside of.
because your voice is currency,
and their comfort isn’t worth your silence.
and the morning shows up– “and the morning shows up”
like it always does–
a reminder that each day comes with free refills.
I seriously cannot recommend this book enough. If you’re anything like me, you’ll get to the last page and immediately want to go back to the start and read it all over again.
Thank you to Button Poetry for providing me with an eARC of this book via NetGalley! All opinions are my own. Passages I have quoted may differ slightly from the final printed version.