I interrupt my regularly scheduled writings to insert my first book review.
“My Name Is Romero” is a poetry book written by Mexican-American spoken word artist David A. Romero, and (soon to be) published by FlowerSong books.
Although the book acts as an anthology, it is still closely bound by the recurrent themes of lineage and identity. Nowhere is this more evident than the eponymous first poem, which is a title track of sorts – an introduction to the anthology, and the author. “My Name Is Romero” is a declaration, an affirmation, and a statement of purpose: all of this poem culminates in an excellent metaphor, in which Romero proclaims and muses, “That we are all the children of Africa / Roots of no single family tree / But of a flourishing forest / That grows majestically / Towards a magnificent destiny / Shining / Radiant beauty / Just please / Close your eyes / And you can see it…”
The denouement of this first piece, then, is scaling back down, and returning to the name of the book and of the poem. “Because if you’re not proud of who you are / Then what’re you gonna be proud of?” It is a resounding statement of power, and one that resonates throughout each and every poem that succeeds it.
As a mixed-latinx person myself, I still struggle with my own identity. It is difficult to identify with any strong family ties or ancestry because that wasn’t the family environment I grew up with. My skin is darker than my mom’s but lighter than my dad’s, and I’ve been acutely aware of my denomination as “white passing” for a while now. I can still remember when a group of friends, people that I genuinely liked, were surprised that I considered myself latinx – and then went onto tell me that I wasn’t latinx at all, but actually white. At the time, I accepted their words as truth (after all, they were white as well, so it was almost as if the decision to call me white was meant to be an induction into whiteness), but as I reflected on the event, it began to upset me more and more. I suppose that the phenomenon of “not being latinx enough” will be a recurring nightmare for many mixed-latinx kids – a trauma that will be experienced many times over. Reading Romero’s first poem, I felt an instant connection that persisted well after I had finished reading. There was an earnest pathos: I found someone who must understand my own struggles with identity. I had come to understand Romero’s words vicariously, and it was an important connection for me.
Again, although the book acts as an anthology, there are some recurrent themes that persist. The second poem, although a self-contained narrative on its own, incorporates lineage in its story through generational trauma (and the allusions should be obvious to anyone who is aware of, or has been directly affected by the conditions imposed upon migrant peoples by American border security) and identity through the story’s framing device of a football game. The metaphorical significance of running away and keeping a low profile is contrasted with the poem’s subject, Miguel, and how badly he wants to claim victory over his opponents.
There are many other gripping narrative poems on display, especially in the sections “Flowers” and “Beloved”, but Romero puts his best foot forward first and offers a healthy selection of selected works that emphasize his lineage, his identity, and his political predispositions. The words are also beefed up with some spicy humor which accent some works, as in “Pardon My French” where Romero tells us that “In high school / I took French instead of Spanish / Got A’s in my classes / Wanting to French my French teacher / Ooo la la!”; in other cases, as in “That’s a Wrap / Ode to the Burrito,” the humor is the work’s main attraction while still managing to balance out a serious political statement about cultural appropriation.
Each work manages its own compound of these constituent elements, some such as “Gorilla Arms” and “Micro Machines” focusing more on individual experiences and stories, while works like “Poor, Poor Spaniard,” “Who Wins?” and “Patriots & Lunatics” are much more politically charged, ardent, and serious. Yet, there are still poems such as “Black and Brown: Fight Tonight!” which are skewed towards the more political end of the spectrum which still blend humor and playful metaphor to great effect.
My favorite poem from the first section comes at the very end. “Grandfather Tells Time” has a very unique, wistful ambiance to it that sharply contrasts with everything come before it. It is all at once calm and sad and beautiful. It makes me feel the same way I do as when I listen to the Caretaker album, An Empty Bliss Beyond This World.
The second section, “Flowers” has much more ambitious, historical narratively-focused poems. Nowhere better is this exemplified than “Concierto de al-Andalus” which tells the story of Aderfi, an Imazighen villager kidnapped by pillaging Moors and separated from his wife – the poem has an epic scope, but only lasts for about as twice as long as any other poem contained within this collection.
Then, there is “Lili’uokalani” which is a poem presented as a letter written by Julius A. Palmer, Jr. It is both creative in subject matter and presentation, and surely stands out as exceptionally unique from anything come before it.
Although “Flowers” offers a much bolder, refined style of poetry, the third and penultimate section of the book, “Beloved” distills some of the previous sections’ pronounced narratives and creates with it a brilliant, striking series of descending poems: “Secret Beaches” leans into nostalgic love lost, and “The Woman with Many Names” revives much of the first section’s playful humor.
“It Could’ve Been Magic” is my favorite poem in the book by far, so much so that I feel it necessary not to talk about here lest I accidentally spoil my favorite parts. The section ends with “Rosemary,” one of the shortest poems – its title recalling an earlier footnote, and its subject matter returning to family: it is much more personal and somber than any other poem in this section.
The final poem, “Our Name Is Romero” has a section of its own, “Etymology”, properly bookending the experience in one climactic stroke. What I find most prominent is that the poem draws attention to Bartolome II, “The Last Great Conquistador”. It is another somber interval, wherein Romero recounts a myriad of grave actions that earned Bartolome the title of “butcher”. Although, the past is not erased, he says, “This Bartolome / This Romero / He is a part of us / He gave us our name. / What follows / Is what we make”.
It is a powerful conclusion, and another great contrast between the ideas explored at the beginning and the end of the collection: whereas Romero wears his name with pride in his poems at the beginning, there emerges a maturity in both the tone and style of the writings in the second and third sections, looking to the past, both in life and lineage, to learn and to grow; in “Our Name Is Romero,” the name is worn with both pride and humility, as a legacy and a responsibility.
I could sing more praise, but I would rather recommend the book outright: my favorite poems are “It Could’ve Been Magic,” “Lilli’uokalani,” “Grandfather Tells Time,” “Gorilla Arms,” and “Undocumented Football”. If you are latinx or mixed, I could not recommend this book to you enough – if you are not latinx or mixed, I would still recommend this if you enjoy storytelling in poetry. There is a story here that extends beyond the words and the pages, and it is wholly engrossing experience to behold.
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