I’ve been looking forward to Paul Martínez Pompa’s feature for louderARTS ever since reading his first book, My Kill Adore Him, which won the 2008 Andrés Montoya Prize.
He kicked off his 20-minute set by reading from an Exquisite Corpse he participated in along with 11 other poets, coordinated by John Michael Martinez. The poem responds to a question about the current state of Latino letters. He read from his contribution, called “Who?” including the lines, “. . . Mexo-lite so white folk don’t choke. Where my mojados at, black? I pass for snow. Down, ‘cause my asshole is brown . . .”
With that, our delighted audience knew we were in for some good political writing from the go.
He followed with several poems from the book, starting with “Retablos: 10 Deleted Tongues,” a poem about language and assimilation. A moment that called forth moans from the crowd: “I will not speak Spanish in class. I will not speak Spanish in class. I will not speak.”
Paul next joked about how every Chicano poet has to write a poem about each of these three subjects: Che Guevara, Frida Kahlo, and his/her grandmother, and read the two out of three that he’s written. Rich Villar, of the Acentos Foundation, called out that it works that way for Puerto-Rican poets, too. I agree, there are some subjects that span Latino/a cultures, especially for those of us in the diaspora.
“A Lesson in Masculinity,” a very short poem, had us all laughing, about his mother teaching him to wipe and his Papi saying, “No–men don’t wipe, they shake.”
He followed with a poem about cops and mistaken identity (“Officer Friendly”), another including the image of marking the parking spot in Chicago you’ve dug out of the snow with an ironing board, milk crate, lawn chair, whatever you can find (“Elegy for Winter”), a moving poem for his sister (“Sieve”), a tongue-in-cheek poem on chain clothing stores (“Banana Republic Politick”), and a poem about El Gato Negro, a transgender bar primarily for Latinos in Chicago that no longer exists (“Men Watching Men”).
He ended his set with a poem sending up the stylistic differences between “academic” and “performance” poets on the mic, called “Ego Slippin’.” Written in two parts, “The Performer” and “The Academic,” he repeated the line “Look at me” in various ways for both parts. He performed them heavily in the first part and stared at the paper in the second. He had our audience, one that bridges academics and performance, in hysterics with that apt commentary.
His skill at bringing subjects relevant to many Latino/as into his poems in an intimate, personal way was in evidence throughout his set. His work, though often pointed, never came across as heavy-handed. To all who say political work doesn’t have grounding in craft, I say you should read Paul Martínez Pompa’s poetry. His writing is well-crafted on the level of sound, word choice, and line, and it’s permeated by the world we live in, finely witnessed.
Check back on the www.louderarts.com website for streaming audio of the reading, which should be posted in a few weeks. You’ll also find our schedule of upcoming features there, as well as audio of other readings and writing prompts.
* Marie-Elizabeth Mali is a Venezuelan-American and Swedish poet who lives in New York City. She is a co-curator of louderARTS: the Reading Series at Bar 13 Lounge and Page Meets Stage at the Bowery Poetry Club and is a poetry editor for TIFERET: A Journal of Spiritual Literature. Her work has appeared in Calyx, MiPOesias, and RATTLE, among others. www.memali.com