Poetry often goes by the wayside when it comes to local arts. Don't get us wrong; there's a thriving and active spoken word scene in San Diego, with weekly readings and open-mics in coffeehouses, restaurants and bars all over the county. Still, there isn't much coverage of the scene and it's even rarer to read about local poetry books. That said, the six books below represent some of the best our city has to offer. Pick one up, find a tree to sit under and get lost for a while.
Rot: Poetry and Advice from a Nobody by Sunny Rey
A sequel of sorts to 2013’s Quotes and Poems by a Nobody, Rey is quickly making a name for herself for her caesuric and candid takes on sexuality, love and single motherhood. Rot shows clear signs of maturity and wisdom. The concept of rotting comes up a lot throughout the book, often cleverly substituted in for other words (“rot away with them,” “rotting in love with you”). Rey can be a little preachy and sappy at times in poems such as “If I could” and “To the children,” but it’s within the chapter titled “Born Into Homelessness” that Rey really shines. “The streets are pouring men/And spitting out kittens/It’s the most beautiful exchange of the fit and fierce,” she writes in “Shame.” Fierce, indeed.
Greenfield’s new book is a Bukowskian bash over an already restless and weary head. The host of the twice-monthly Red Poet’s Society and the comic book-focused Gutter Talk podcast, Greenfield is known for a dry wit and informal diction. The night, dreams, sleep (or lack thereof ), and women (again, or lack thereof ) make regular appearances throughout the book. In “Untucked,” “Left Unsaid,” and “A Study of Sleep in Chaos,” he traverses deftly between the revulsion and reverence men feel while laying in bed at night thinking about the past. Still, it’s the eight-stanza, three-page “In My Back Pocket All This Time,” in which Greenfield reflects on his abusive father, where we finally get a full glimpse of a man at his most vulnerable.
Words of Power, Dances of Freedom by Jon Wesick
Wesick has been a longtime staple on the local poetry scene and it’s easy to see why in the recently republished Words of Power. Allen Ginsberg is a stylistically logical comparison and is cited on multiple occasions and even cleverly paraphrased in the conspicuously titled, “Foul: If Ginsburg had written greeting cards.” And while Wesick often works in allusion and personification in poems such as “The Trouble With Russian Writers” and the startlingly bleak “America Slashed Her Wrists Again,” he almost never loses his keen sense of humor and irony. “The ninth circle of hell already fits the president’s pocket,” he writes in “Tipping Point,” as if already acquiescing to the idea of wandering the earth and cackling in judgment all along the way.
This all-too-brief chapbook serves as a primer for Alluri’s upcoming book, and what a preview it is. He fluidly mixes themes of humanism and progressivism with remembrances of youthful rebellion. He’s also refreshingly unafraid to break from the traditional styles that can often trap poets into sounding rhythmically repetitive. “Grant this burglar the archery of your voice,” he pleads to God in the brief, but impassioned “A Song,” as if he’s both pleading and resigning his faith. A Canadian who just graduated from San Diego State University’s Poetry MFA program, Alluri’s words are a much-needed breath of fresh air in the local spoken word scene. It seems trite to point out that The Promise of Rust contains so much promise, but when the verse is this poignant, it’s more irresponsible not to point it out.
(Dancing Girl Press & Studio)
Cordero is a professor at San Diego City College and the founder and editor at Spit Journal, an online literary mag devoted to poetry and social issues. She displays a fierce and resonating voice in this chapbook, with intense autobiographical reflections on growing up Chicana. “Nopal en el Frente” references a Mexican phrase meaning “a cactus on the forehead” which symbolizes many people’s powerlessness in trying to escape their Mexican heritage. That’s not to imply Cordero is trying to escape. Rather, she weaves gracefully between empowerment and anger in “A Brown Girl’s Blues” and “My Country is Panting.” The latter poem, with its vivid accounts of boys being shot and verses like “My country/like a lost dog/ slept,” shows Cordero’s unique ability to take political and cultural issues and elevate them into art.
This large, worthwhile book is the first release on Strauss’ recently launched indie publishing house, Foxx Press. Strauss is young and the spoils and sadness of youth are all over Puppets. What’s more, it’s nice to see him dabbling in varying types of diction and styles, and he isn’t afraid to make San Diego itself a character within his verses. The streets, the sounds and even the smells of the city pop up throughout the book, proving that Strauss’ natural ability for true evocativeness. “There is sunlight draped across the buildings leading to El Cajon Boulevard/Leaning into sunlight, an epicenter of growth, thirsty for affection,” he recounts in “Cuts Across My Fingers.” It’s as if the reader was there with him.