Martinez follows his acclaimed debut, Hustle, with a series of lyrical riffs on American culture that juxtapose literary erudition and swaggering vernacular. Though his canonical touchstones include Robert Frost and Countee Cullen, the ivory tower Martinez constructs is a playfully phallic one, where “to think in grunts and finger points,/ admittedly, is not beyond me.” Self-implicating and parodic of masculine paradigms, these poems reveal an ear honed on poetic tradition and hip-hop (“About suffering they were never wrong,/ the old rappers”) and explore intersections of identity with strikingly musical results: “in this/ skin i am/ more wit/ than man/ and to/ white/ men i/ am no/ whitman.” Martinez largely avoids sweeping rhetorical generalities in his visions of social change; rather, history is embodied in the immediate and personal, as when he writes, “What’s in the attic/ but a vacuum-packed/ subconscious, a few// moldy berries of memory,/ a few buried Members Only/ jackets.” To his sonic dexterity and associative collage Martinez adds a dash of humor tempered by inventive precision: “The late-afternoon light entered/ the living room through the barred/ windows like a boxer through ropes.” Martinez understands that change is microcosmic—that “when// most folks say they want to change the world/ they mean their own.”
- Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
From Montaigne to Auden to Sir Mix-A-Lot, Martinez pulls from a broad swath of influences to tell his story of moving into adulthood and measuring what makes a man. For him, the answer is as varied as his influences, which include poetry, rap, masculinity, divorce, and alcoholism.
Martinez’s poetry is thoroughly introspective, with lines like “Not from going without / does healing come / but from going within.” That line employs some of the linguistic machinations that typify the book, as well as its themes; for Martinez, healing doesn’t come from either the outside or from abstinence.
The draw here is Martinez’s mode of storytelling. His lines are sharp and musical, deftly split and carefully crafted. Flexible line breaks create layered poems that nod to multiple, simultaneous meanings. His meter owes as much to rapper Scarface as it does to poet Robert Frost.
Poems enact a kind of personal reconciliation: between Martinez’s life as an academic and his life as a Latino man, his life as a man twice divorced and as a man in love with his wife. Beyond its autobiographical elements, the collection also challenges American politics and culture.
Machismo butts up against tenderness, regret against ambition—always with musicality and attention to what forms on the page. Lines like “I’ll give you something / to cry about became a simple / tourniquet” show a boy who felt silenced into his manhood.
Visually, poems might spill down the right margin or stutter across the page in a zigzag motion; each choice leads to a different kind of reader engagement. Martinez’s are poems to be experienced; they engage sight, sound, and meaning all at once.
Martinez melds an urban background, a modernist’s attention to precision, and a rapper’s flow to form an irresistible collection of contemporary poetry.
CAMILLE-YVETTE WELSCH (March/April 2018)
- Foreward Reviews
"In Hustle (2014), his code-switching debut book of poetry, Martinez let loose with lyrics that brought the poet’s street-smarts and book-smarts cascading together. In his second collection, Martinez’s poetic voice is more assured and no less ambitious. . . A cynicism undercuts the collection’s gravity, and Martinez builds a complex humor throughout, using deadpan wit and wordplay to deliver amusing observations. . . . In perfectly contrasting lyrics, Martinez blends echoes of pop culture with deeply felt evocations of masculinity and history, with nostalgia for Notorious B.I.G. and Nietzsche occupying the same headspace."
In his second collection, Martinez has fun with the high-low mash-up that characterizes so much poetry today — one poem here is called “Footnoting Biggie Lyrics Like ‘Why Christmas Missed Us’” — but he also includes tender love poems and searching personal reminiscences.
- New York Times New & Noteworthy