Sunday, March 29, 2009

Writing Joy: The Truly Amazing Poems of Rane Arroyo

Only the best poets can convey joy. Unabashed, authentic joy. Which is probably the most important feeling to express. In the queer poetry world, victim narratives and reductive identity politic still rule supreme. With the creepy way PoBiz (and the world) operates, how can one find the courage to display an emotion as natural and as generous as joy?

I don’t know.

But I believe that Rane Arroyo’s The Buried Sea, new and selected poems, accomplishes that feat.

There are not too many queer books (and books in general) that I find as ethical, generous, and as artful as his. I can only think of one book last year that gave me as much pleasure: queer poet Tom Savage’s Brainlifts. Both of these books transcend their label as queer literature and can and should have competed as finalists for national, mainstream awards.

Let’s face it: bloggers have risen to be the most the influential poetry critics. For us, those include: C. Dale Young, Charles Jensen, Eduardo Corral, Dustin Brookshire, Christopher Hennessey, Mark Doty, among others. They may not want to hold themselves responsible for possessing such power, but, indeed, they do. The rest of us follow their lead. As C. Dale Young himself once noted on his blog, after he singled out poet Oleana Kalytiak Davis, her sales numbers skyrocketed.

As far as I can tell, none of the major bloggers have singled out Rane Arroyo. It is shocking. If I'm overlooking his name, I still believe they needed to mention this landmark collection more. (Shame on those blogger/critics!)

Let’s look at these inspired openings from Arroyo’s poems:

You’re dead, but the skies are not.
This Ohio storm makes me think of your
blackening Chilean horizons. What use

is your name now in the not-now
not-here? Neruda. Ne. Ruda. Neru.
Da. It was a wonderful mask, no?…
(“The Visitor”)


What I dislike about daylight is its
muscularity. What need to claim
everything, only to release it
at dusk, when man and woman need a
godparent? Do you notice how my
hands seem blue and yet I’m wearing no
sapphire nor do I play the piano?…
(“A Bolero, But Not for Dancing”)


Yet another Puerto Rican
Buddhist. He wants to breathe in
peace while keeping his rice-
and-bean cooking skills, his accent,

his blue jeans from the Santana
years, his wine and rum collections
housed inside his head. Today’s lesson:
fireflies know they’re grasshoppers
illusory stars…
(“Breathing Lessons”)


You’re still the island of the holy
palm tree. What can I offer to the man
married first to God, and then soon to
the wrong rib?
(“Almost a Revelation for Two in Bed”)

Perhaps a truly significant poet makes you not want to add anything to their words. You know their writing can do all the work. As a critic, you need to shut up.

Here’s an excerpt from yet another poem. From “Salsa Capitalism”:

…I live on a teacher’s
salary but salsa capitalism isn’t about
money or trickle-down theory of

Lorca’s duende. It’s about hearing
music to be spent inside our bodies,
rhythms’ richness, the dancing, our

now foreign tears’ rum, free will that’s
not taxed, kingdom come as crumbs…
(“Salsa Capitalism”)

And finally, here’s “World Citizen” in its entirety:

Charon doesn’t know a Cuban
from a Puerto Rican.
They are all firewood to deliver.

They’re as dead as everyone else.
Charon throws passports and visas
into the bloodied river.

He strips everyone upon landing;
then they truly disappear into
God’s dark imagination.

Charon rows back to us who,
while waiting for him on shore,
argue as if countries exist.

We’re naked without our flags.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I did a review of Arroyo's The Roswell Poems --I'm eager to see this new collection! Thanks for posting this review.

  3. His poems are so narrative! But the lyricism lingering in these poems best. I love the--I like the muscularity of the daylight. The near-anaphora of the Charon.
    Thanks for introducing me to Arroyo.
    (I wish I knew what Elizabeth whose comment was deleted had said. I'm always pathologically interested in the deleted comments of the blog world.)

  4. While I don't necessary consider myself having much influence over other people's reading habits, I do have a sense of responsibility about keeping reviews positive. I'm not sure what function negative reviews really serve--maybe the same as positive ones, I suppose, to clarify the poetics of the reviewer rather than the "quality" of the work per se.

    One other difficulty is that the voice of the reviewer, culturally, sometimes tries to act as the arbiter of good taste, but I think the best reviewers are subjective, couch their responses in their own values and ideals, and be clear about their own assumptions...

    In any case, I haven't read much of Rane's work outside of anthologies, but here's good encouragement to seek it out!

  5. Hi Charles,

    Interesting comments about reviewing. And I'm in some ways right in line with you.

    I would NEVER write a review about a book that I had nothing good to say about. I think that's unethical and ungenerous. Yesterday I got three books to review for a magazine and I couldn't review two of them because I had nothing good to say about them.

    I always like to write reviews about books that I am ambivalent about. It's like writing a poem. (You and others may laugh at me for that. But it's true! :))

    Like in a poem, I hope that by the act of writing, I'll find out what I think. Sometimes it just causes more confusion. :)

    And you do have power, as my psychiatrist would say. You're beloved by so many.

  6. This is Rane Arroyo and I'm moved by your comments. I have always written to the future. I also believe in being smart and inclusive. Kindness, like yours, is a power. Gracias. I'm easy to find on myspace or facebook.