helium by rudy francisco

Read July 2018
Recommended for poetry fans
★    ★   ★   ★   ★    

“Tell me a story 
and let’s laugh like it’s the only
thing keeping us alive.

Play a song
and give the stereo
permission to use its
outside voice.

Let’s sing loudly,
offbeat and out of tune..
Let the world know
we don’t care how it sounds
because the only key we need
is already in the ignition.”

(from Drive)

The cover of Rudy Francisco’s first book of poems attracts immediate attention, but it is the poems that will slide into your thoughts and demand your attention. Divided into four sections, each roughly corresponds to a different theme. Section III was particularly good, with thoughts on race, gender and identity, deserving several reads. IV is perhaps about survival and hope, and II is about relationships, but you know how poetry is. 

His style reminds me a bit of Adrienne Rich; no particular rhyme or metre, with enough unused space to let you know each word is quite chosen. There are poems in the first section that feel a little too arch, a little too self-conscious, but not often. These are probably the ones that most benefit from performance.
Still, he charmed me with ‘Ouch’:

“Yesterday, I injured myself
and the explanation didn’t make sense.

I said, “Well, I was walking…”
and that was the end of the story.

At this age,
my body is a stranger that I
keep meeting over and over again.”

Skin II was one of the poems in the section on race that I found profound in imagery and parallels, perhaps a way for the unaware to understand the burden of racial representation.

“When you are the only black man
in the whole neighborhood,

your skin is that one friend who 
meets everyone before you do.

It wears a wife beater
and house shoes,

it knocks over the 
neighbor’s mailbox,

it cusses in front of the kids
and plays the music too loud

but you actually don’t do
any of those things.”

I also really loved Accent
and how it connected culture with food:

“My mother’s accent is
the most popular brand 
of salt in her country.

She gently sprinkles a little on
every word before she allows
them to pass her lips.

This is a ceremony that happens
every time she has something to say”

It turns out Francisco gained fame as a spoken word poet. Here’s a performance of his interesting, insightful and painful self-poem, ‘My Honest Poem’https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=…
It’s very interesting, listening to the emotion and speed of his words, as I imagine them in a much deeper, slower cadence. There appears to be more humor than I would have expected, although perhaps the audience is just aware of rawness, and the laughs are uncomfortable, or supportive; I don’t know. But I think I prefer the voice in my head. 

Two of the most moving poems in section III are on YouTube. ‘Adrenaline Rush’ takes a hard look at white privilege and gets a very deservedly hushed reception. It’s an extremely powerful, truthful poem and his performance is riveting. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jh09j… 
I loved The Heart and the Fist when I read it, but the performance was equally breathtaking: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8IHYA…

One of the only modern poetry books I’ve been inspired to purchase. Highly recommended. Remaining on my ‘currently reading’ list so I can keep picking it up. Note: all poems quoted are partial, but unedited.

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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