Real poets, said Frank O’Hara, don’t need rules or schools, and these young writers prove that by stepping right out into the world, like the Beats and the punks before them
When I was a young poet, everyone was talking about schools–the New York School, the Black Mountain School, the Berkeley Renaissance–not to mention the steady exponential increase of MFAs that have suddenly burst into creative writing PhD programs. School is everywhere. But there have always been poets who felt no need, or indeed outright revulsion, for schools, even while attending them. These poets follow in the spirit of Arthur Rimbaud, seeking always action over repose. These are poets that eschew the safety of timeless verse and bite directly into the world unfolding before them. They challenge expectations, orthodoxy, politesse, and decency. They are real poets, as Frank O’Hara wrote, even in prose. They make their own rules.
Tamayo’s work is devoted to attacking propriety, nationalism, supremacy, and conformity. Her first book of poems was titled Red Missed Aches Read Missed Aches Red Mistakes Read Mistakes. That title alone is an introduction to a poet whose concerns include wrongness, multiplicity, and difference. Her next book, You Da One, is as much a visual text as a lexical one, exploring identity and popular culture through the Tamayo filter, which works to reveal distortions in the matrix. Even when it relents to being “poetry,” it repels the beauty and simplicity associated with the genre. Check out this pile-driving poem, a wraith in the vaulted halls of Poetry itself. Interspersed with her writing have been a series of performances, each of them arresting and difficult. My personal favorite is her performance from You Da One, which configures Alfred Molina as Tamayo’s father-proxy, a father-in-waiting plucked from Hollywood to fill a diasporic hole. Her newest work was recently published by Green Lantern Press as part of their Civil Disobedience series, an excerpt of which was featured on Hyperallergic: to kill the future in the present.
Excerpt from to kill the future in the present
in the beginning of the story i look up images of cenotes on the internet at 5 a.m. in a Best Western in Amarillo, Texas. cenotes, as Gloria Anzaldúa theorizes them, are about cosmic depth experienced through the natural world. a belly or “womb” hidden within the land’s surface.
cavernous and wet. i want to see how the earth breaks. how it betrays itself. its form. i want to betray the thing that keeps me from writing these stories. stories that themselves have everything to do with disobedience and rupture. the stories are about breaking the law. the story
is about breaking the geography of how we tell stories. for example, the belly of my story from rupture to rupture is 746 miles long.
I’m going to try and sound out what’s given in Gray’s work. First there is honesty, which also sounds like distortion, but could equally be called texture, ambiguity, tension, delay, or doubt. Seedbed feedback blooming bass flowers with treble petals. It’s how sound sounds on the inside, when it’s doubled-back and bathing in reverb. She asks, “How does that sound sound?” And what I love about Gray’s work is how it genuinely asks this kind of question (and countless others) while abandoning all hope of a sound (right) answer. The questions are the engine.
In a recent chapbook, she writes of “a rickety wooden rollercoaster…riding on the interrogative like your favorite hardcore firework.” Halfway through a poem, you hear it roaring, layer upon layer. And Gray’s language never works against the roar. She says dude and means dude and then says Scalapino and means Scalapino, each new layer another gel in her sound lighting. Soon enough you’re climbing on stage with her, the hand she fished down into the crowd having grasped yours in one of those serious forearm-to-forearm tugs born from real trust. The sound flows and floods, slow food for the ears. Gray’s poetry is fiercely, proudly blue collar, and she backs it up with her work as a streetwise filmmaker, often capturing the New York of yesterday before it’s swallowed by the New York of tomorrow.
Excerpt from “Satanic Bible on Interlibrary Loan”
In my head the interlibrary loan is swathed in snow. To drive you to not the devil’s music but the library. Lighters in the air in the dark. Yes think of the saddest song ever but it’s not dumb ok? No one’s hair caught on fire. Moving on a ballad suspended on guitar solos that hung on a note that fell off the roof of the concert hall where I was headbanging with 4,500 headbangers. I looked it up: The Villarreal Convention Center hosted 4,500 of us at the only Metallica show in the area with Cliff Burton who died two months later. I close my eyes and I can only see snow where there’s no snow, The Satanic Bible on interlibrary loan, with its pink-paper-taped-badge-of-a-sash, so I couldn’t see the whole cover, stacked in my pile of books, some mine, some not, under a stereo playing Master of Puppets 24/7 before I knew what 24/7 meant. There is no snow in south Texas.
In most of DeMusz’s pictures on Instagram, her tongue is out. If you wanted her to be silent, even in a picture with no sound, the joke’s on you. DeMusz didn’t come here to blend in. She came here to tell you how it feels to be a real person in love with the grim reaper. A real person listening to Frankie Cosmos while eschewing the Futurists. A real person striding through a beaded curtain like the sun coming up love in sex in art. A real person smoking mugwort on a couch beside a literal chicken heart. In an elegy for the shooting victims at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, composed for the Poetry Foundation’s blog Harriet, DeMusz wrote: “Whenever I get the hairy half-Latina hard femme working-class lesbo blues, I read the words of the women who came before me and fought most of my fights already and won some, so that hopefully I’ll not have to fight them again.” But she knows she is already fighting them again. And her tongue is out, Motherfuckers.
Excerpt from Crying in the Sun
fascism is easy because it’s so fucking dumb
i mean look at the fascists they are so fucking dumb
and they’re dumb because they hate to think
they repress thought because
they’re afraid of it because they know
they’re so fucking dumb
I mean I’m not a genius
but I’m a lover and it makes me smart as fuck
love is thoughtful and vulnerable
it’s a sharp edged world out there
full of fuckers I wanna cut up into bits with my own hate
i have to come to the reaper with love
and if I cut them up
it must somehow be with love
Hieu Minh Nguyen
When I first heard Hieu Minh Nguyen read, I was taken aback. The second time I heard Hieu Minh Nguyen read, I was throttled. The third time I heard Hieu Minh Nguyen read, I was obliterated. Nguyen’s poems are like tractor beams laced with pulse grenades. They draw you closer and closer, magnetized by their breakneck intimacy, and then, when you’re near enough to feel the poem’s breath on the hairs of your ear, they drop a line like: “No one wants to be alive when they are forgotten.” Nguyen gives us, over and over, a keyhole view into moments where humans–desperate, ecstatic, abject, merciful–collide and retreat, their needs seeking complementarities and finding dissonance. One arrives seeking their own form of beauty: “Beautiful is what the man called me after he did / what he wanted with–I’m running out of ways to describe it / –my body, my silence.” And another leaves in the drench of its consequence: “& now here I am attending the aftermath / of my own ruin, with nothing but beautiful to keep me company.” Nguyen’s school is the bedroom, the mother’s hand, the courtyard pool filled in with cement. It is the space between the microphone and the ear, ever-collapsing. His newest book, Not Here, is an education.
Excerpt from “B.F.F.”
I lay in the dark & stretch the portrait
of a white woman across my face
until it splits. Beneath my bed, a catalogue
Of half-faced women sing me to sleep.
Chris Martin is the author of three books of poetry, most recently The Falling Down Dance (Coffee House, 2015), winner of a Midwest Independent Booksellers Choice Award. In 2015 he co-founded Unrestricted Interest, an organization dedicated to helping neurodivergent learners transform their lives through writing. He lives in Minneapolis, where he co-edits Society, a publishing concern at the intersection of poetry and politics.