Tuesday, October 27, 2009. Book Release for Paul Martinez Pompa's My Kill Adore Him at Estrella Negra, 2346 W. Fullerton, 7:30 PM, free.
My Kill Adore Him
Paul Martínez Pompa
University of Notre Dame Press
Reviewed by CJ Laity
Chicago poet Paul Martínez Pompa has made an absolutely stunning debut with My Kill Adore Him, his first full-length book of poetry and winner of the 2008 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize, selected by Martín Espada. Martínez Pompa's work has been appearing around town over the last few years in such publications as After Hours, Free Lunch and Rhino, but this book of politically charged narrative poetry, set in an urban landscape, lands him firmly into the new school of poetics that is emerging in Chicago.
My Kill Adore Him consists of four chapters. The first chapter concentrates on a Mexican child growing up in America, the second on young adulthood in the city, the third on adulthood as a poet, and the final chapter is sort of a hodge-podge of additional poems that don't necessarily fit in with the specific themes of the first three chapters. This book is also divided into halves: the first half is full of extremely personal and deadly serious memory poems; and the second half bursts open the bigger picture with puns and parodies reminiscent of David Hernandez of Street Sounds.
Beginning with the first poem in the book, Martínez Pompa yanks us into his world, capturing various fifteen-second intervals of his life with poetry that is perfectly constructed yet that flows smoothly and naturally. This is poetry that will appeal to everyone, delivered in a layman's voice not afraid to be gritty and compassionate at the same time. This poet does not dick around. Don't be surprised when he confesses some dark secret with the subtlety of describing what he ate for breakfast; and don't be surprised when you have to admit to yourself that, perhaps, you have that secret too.
The political poetry in this book has the cleverness to invoke a reaction without ever requesting one. Martínez Pompa boldly tells a story or gives us an image and confidently trusts us to decide for ourselves what it means. For example, rather than getting up on a soapbox and preaching about poor working conditions in factories, our narrator simply creeps us out with a bizarre image of Miss Piggy dolls arriving on a conveyer belt to an exhausted woman and he trusts that his audience is intelligent enough to form a conclusion. In fact, the author has quite a bit of fun sneaking his politics into his work, such as how he makes a statement about the gentrification of Chicago right smack in the middle of a nature poem:
lofts rise from hyperbolic potholes
large enough to swallow the entire city.
(from "ELEGY FOR WINTER")
Part of the challenge of reading this book is figuring out why Martínez Pompa chooses to do certain things with his punctuation and syntax, such as why he breaks up the letters of a certain word with dashes or why a period appears at some unexpected place or why more spaces appear between some lines than other lines. For example, in the poem "WHILE LATE CAPITALISM" the poet uses brackets and multiple hyphens to effectively recreate the horror of a group of Mexicans suffocating to death inside a locked truck. And the poet is well aware that his audience is analyzing his poetic decision making, at one point even elbow jabbing us in the gut by directly addressing his "dear reader" and using four full lines of poetry to literally explain why he chose to underline a certain word.
Some of the poems in this book float off the page like unashamed ghosts as they are being read. Because he possesses such a remarkable sense of place combined with an undaunted voice, whether he is being harsh, cynical, sarcastic or melancholy, Martínez Pompa is capable of putting his reader anywhere he wants his reader to be. As I read this book, it was often quite unsettling to find myself momentarily witnessing some brutal reality. What is most eerie is not how Martínez Pompa is able to describe the scene, but how he manages to sneak so much detail in-between the lines without describing it. I often had to stop and wonder why I saw something from a specific vantage point, with a specific quality of light, with vivid colors and even smell, when none of these details existed anywhere within Martínez Pompa's words. By describing what it is by telling us what it is not ("Nothing cuter / than a war amputee.") and by describing the whats with what ifs ("tomatoes that piss if touched") the poet does something remarkable: he allows us to fill in the details using our own imagination. Since the image we observe is actually self-generated rather than coaxed by elaboration, it is realized much more vividly.
Fire-truck sirens on mute,
the spectacle now the shaken witness.
(from "HIT & RUN")
This magic is occurring because the author speaks so truly in his own voice that we are for a spell inside the author's head seeing through his eyes. Combine this talent with the fact that his is a subject matter that most can probably relate to, perhaps even conjuring a memory of something similar that happened, and what results is poetry exploding off the page as if it is charged with electricity.
With big metaphors such as rain as broken relationships, the images in this book are very original and poignant.
July smothers the city like a drunk
lover and the shade offers nothing
but an illusion of cool. A cluster
of sun-whipped men leans on brick
that looks more chewed up steak
than wall. They want work
While reading My Kill Adore You it is wise to be alert and be on guard because the author's wit is as quick as a bullet. Reading My Kill Adore You is a tense experience, especially during the first half of the book; it is like walking down the street of a rough neighborhood and the words in this book are like a slow moving car rattling from loud music. You never know when the gun is going to go off.
Note: Here is a review of Paul Martinez Pompa's debut book of poetry, My Kill Adore HIm