(Commune Editions, Sept. 11 2018)
REVIEWED BY NIKOLAI GARCIA
Wendy Trevino’s debut poetry collection, Cruel Fiction, is a confrontational book. It wants to remind us that the world we inhabit—the one that praises artists like Michael Jackson and Prince—is the same world where anti-blackness prevails.
Trevino opens up her book with "128-131" [From Santa Rita 128-131], a sort of list of observations that she witnessed while being detained at Santa Rita Jail, (in northern California), with a group of over twenty women. Although the reason for arrest is never mentioned, one can infer that she was part of a mass arrest at a demonstration. The alleged crime, however, is not important because the point is to show us how people are treated in jail—in particular, women:
I met at least 3 women who were menstruating.
Bridesmaids came up 1 time.
I was 1 of at least 2 women who had seen Bridesmaids.
Kreayshawn’s ‘Gucci Gucci’ came up 1 time.
I heard 1 woman sing, ‘One big room / full of bad bitches.’
Aquaman came up 1 time.
I saw at least 5 drops of fresh blood on the floor in the hall.
I saw at least 7 spots of dried blood on the wall of a tank.
I heard the riddle ‘What is brown & sticky?’ 2 times.
A six-page, double-spaced poem is not something I usually look forward to, but Trevino makes it work. Her way of pointing out pain and injustice, and drawing it out using humor, make this piece a powerful way to open a book. In between serious images, the poet shows us women talking, singing, and discussing popular culture. It’s as if the poet is telling us pop culture happens in doses, and in between struggles.
Indeed, this book is filled with struggle. The very next piece [Poem [[Santander bank was smashed into]], a short piece about taking a break from reading and taking to the streets, features these wonderful lines: there were barricades in London/ there were riot girls drinking riot rosè/ the party melted into the riot melted into the party --If that doesn’t want to make you be part of direct action, then I don’t know what will.
In another piece from the first section, [Poem [then you’re there & you’re unpaid]], the poet seems to be commenting on people going along with the status quo: peaceful fascists & riot police work together/ the video goes viral, not so much to convince, but for history/ nothing personal, and ends the next stanza with, horoscopes call for more of the same. A sober man ponders a missile. Trevino relies less on rhyme and alliteration, and more on cold simple facts that leave the reader with images to ponder.
The second section of the book is thirty poems (all sonnets, 14 lines each), filled with musical references and important questions. In [If a woman illegally crossing], one of the many questions posed in the piece is: What if that scene in Reservoir/ Dogs where Mr. Blonde tortures a cop had/ Been choreographed to “Bidi Bidi/ Bom Bom,” instead of “Stuck in the Middle/ With You?" Besides Selena, some of the other musical artists mentioned are Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Tom Petty, Joni Mitchell, Rage Against the Machine—and even a lesser known political punk band from Mexico, Tijuana NO!, gets a nod.
Trevino is not just name-dropping. She has a lot to say and uses popular culture to get some of her points across. Not only does it help to get into heavy topics like American consumerism, racism in Latin America, or violence at the border, but it also makes the poems more relatable to the reader and enjoyable to read. As she says in [JClo says what “rage most wants”]:
More importantly, what he says helps me
Think about this bad feeling I tend to
Get when I explain what I do in terms
Of popular culture—maybe it’s just
Culture. It’s recursive & fucking fun.
The last section of the book is made up of thirty more sonnets, all of which are composed of 14 lines, 10 syllables each. One can imagine that the poet chose not to follow any rhyme scheme so as not to limit herself as she gets into understanding our views of race and class. Trevino also doesn’t confine herself to just one poem, as most poems flow directly into the next—she lets us know there’s a lot to explore.
In [When I said race is relational], she begins to speak on power relations within ethnicities: It isn’t enough to not like/ Mexicans. Where I’m from, many of us/ Mexican-Americans resented/ The Mexicans who came to South Texas/ To shop for designer clothes. Trevino follows this up with a sonnet about Mexican teens shopping in a U.S. mall, buying expensive clothes with their parents’ credit cards; which is then followed up with a sonnet about how White people from Latin America can separate themselves from other Latinx, but still not be considered “white enough.” This sonnet leads into a poem about Afro-Latinos, which in turn leads us into the next sonnet [Our friend Becky has blocked out her memories], which tells us:
…Mexican is not a race either.
Even when Rob Wilson would get angry
& call my childhood friend Messcan
Even when he told me he liked me but
Couldn’t date Mexicans, Mexican was
Not a race—even in the 80s.
This last section of the book is put together in this way as it gets into the problems of mestizaje, nationalism, and the Multiracial Movement. And we are along on the journey, from poem to poem, delving from one intricate layer of each topic to another. But my favorite of these poems, which tie everything up, is [A border, like race, is a cruel fiction], which ends:
…We are who we are
To them, even when we don’t know who we
Are to each other & culture is a
Record of us figuring that out.
Trevino writes with the fire of a Bertolt Brecht and uses pop-culture as artfully as her contemporary, Michael Robbins. Her fresh, non-traditional approach to poetry is very much welcomed in a world that—at this very moment—needs more than just poetry.
Featuring Johnny Huerta (Buckhorn, NM), Abel Salas (Boyle Heights, CA) , and Tim "The Tater" Staley (Las Cruces, NM)
The Poetry Party Line (213) 297-8088
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Johnny was born in Portales, New Mexico. He is the author of three poetry books. Posole With Benefits, Acid & Menudo (Grandma Moses Press, 2017), and Sopapilla Syrup. He now lives in San Francisco.~
Based in Los Angeles, journalist and poet Abel Salas has written for The Austin Chronicle, LA Weekly and the NY Times, among others. His poems have appeared in Zyzzyva, Beltway Quarterly, and Huizache as well as the anthologies Poetry of Resistance: Voices for Social Change (University of Arizona Press, 2016) and The Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising From the Cultural Quakes and Shifts of Los Angeles (Tia Chucha Press, 2016). He is the editor and publisher of Brooklyn & Boyle, a community, arts and cultural monthly and was a co-founder of Corazón del Pueblo, a grass-roots arts, education and political action center in Boyle Heights.~
Tim “The Tater” Staley was born in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1975. He lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico. He’s a DJ on his community radio station, KTAL 101.5 FM. He is anxious sometimes, and other times he tries to knock that feeling down. He likes to write poems and read books unless he’s watching Chicago Fire, the TV show, with his wife. Find him at poetstaley.com~
BY VIVA PADILLA
I met ANTHNYXYZ, Anthony Lee Pittman, back in 2011 at an art show when I was the editor of a short-lived literary & arts magazine with an anarchist collective…I saw his Miles Davis oil painting and was blown away by how good he was (I then featured this piece in one of the issues). He was just a kid at Compton High School at that time being mentored by his art instructor Cleveland Palmer, who not only guided his development as a painter, but also, more significantly connected the queer Blaxican kid, who grew up around the Mexican side of his family, to his Black roots.
In February, he had his first art show, Hood Politics (named after Kendrick Lamar’s song by the same name) which showcased a variety of artwork on different mediums depicting Black and Brown cultural and political figures and themes like Tupac, Selena, openly bisexual rapper Jay Will aka “Kandie” from Compton, and the many innocent souls who were killed for being Black or Brown. After the show, we got a chance to get together and catch up.
Viva Padilla (VP): Hola Anthony, como estas? Thanks for giving us this time to get to know you a little bit. Congratulations on your first art show! I’m so happy for you, dude, you've come a long way. What inspired you to put this show together?
ANTHNYXYZ: First of all THANK YOU for having me on this issue of Dryland! This is the first interview I’ve ever done and I’m honored to share this moment with a movement that that aligns directly with the reason why I do what I do. Much love to y’all and the readers. My main inspiration comes from my culture and my city. Being a Blaxican I get to experience two beautiful ass cultures and I really just wanna show my love for what my people have done and have given to me. Also, ironically, the gentrification and racism I’ve experienced in this fucked up country has also inspired me to rep my culture and my city even more.
I read an article recently on the Blackness of Beyoncé’s Coachella performance and the writer said something like, we need to be unapologetically Black because if we don’t embrace our culture, white people will steal it and appropriate it and that’s usually where the culture gets diluted. So, I wanna rep us for who we are and not what white people think we are. Compton has been on the map since the late 80s and today it’s become a trend to emulate hood culture when most people have never ever truly experienced what it’s like. A lot of people wanna be from the hood but they don’t really wanna be from the hood.
VP: I feel you. Gentrification is knocking on our door that’s why we have to claim all of it now while we still can. Your show was chill, there was nothing snooty or whitewashed about it. I like that you're rebelling against the mainstream L.A. art scene which is usually DIY ironic hipster overkill on one end and squeaky white curated and catered pretension on the other. What did you envision?
ANTHNYXYZ: That’s exactly the vibe I was goin for. I didn’t want to have some traditional, elitist, white art show like the rest of the BS in L.A. My goal for the Hood Politics art show was to create a space specifically for the Black/Latino queers, hoodrats, thugs, homies. I want to create a unique space for us to celebrate our culture and connect with other people of the same background. It was really powerful to host a gallery in the middle of West Adams which was once predominantly Black, then Latino, and now white as hell. I could have easily chosen to do something in Compton but I don’t wanna limit myself. Black and Brown folks own L.A. and we’re gonna take up space wherever and whenever we want.
VP: Yee. You featured a separate quiet room lit only by blacklights and candles with an altar honoring Black and Brown souls killed by police and white supremacists, a sacred act on your part as an artist in a time where people are stuck on their newsfeeds watching video after video of killing after killing. People get caught up in the sensationalism and then they forget about it without stopping to think that these souls are flesh and blood, they are people who lived meaningful lives, they aren’t just victims... In creating this altar, what were you hoping to accomplish?
ANTHNYXYZ: My intention with the altar room was to force everyone to physically step into a space that made you reflect on the injustices that our people are constantly going through. The mood in that room was completely different from the rooms outside where people were turning up, drinking beer, looking at my art and listening to some classic hood throwbacks.
I feel like we forget about our brothers and sisters sometimes or like, we get really upset and riled up when shit goes down but after a while it’s fades away. So, this altar was a place we could mourn all of the fallen victims of police brutality…to add a physical component as opposed to just seeing stuff on the news or on social media. These are actual people like you and me and I understand it’s so easy to get caught up in other stuff that we might forget, or put these issues aside so I just wanted to remind folks of the pain that underlies in our communities.
Hopefully people were inspired to continue to fight the system. In any form. As long as we’re staying conscious of the struggle.
VP: How did you get into art?
ANTHNYXYZ: Art was always my favorite thing to do since I was a little mocoso but it really wasn’t til my 10th grade year at Compton High School that I actually saw myself as an artist. I was learning some dope skills under Cleveland Palmer, my art teacher, and it was on from that point. That year was also my first feature in an art show ever when I participated in a show dedicated to women who were victims of domestic violence. It was put on by the YWCA and my homegirl’s mom was organizing the event. I was lucky enough to work with the guest of honor, Jenni Rivera and create a painting dedicated to her and her journey thru that experience. It was dope! Being able to be a part of that and create something meaningful definitely inspired me to keep going. The following year I was taking AP studio art and I created so much work that year that I had enough to start showcasing work. I didn’t expect to and I wasn’t going out there looking for shows but social media connected me to a lot of dope people who reached out to me and allowed me to take part in art shows and events and that’s how I started building my network. So by senior year I was already doing shows at the DTLA Art Walk. I’ve been practicing and taking art classes AND going through life since then and it’s allowed me to grow as an artist. Hood Politics was my first collection of work that had one cohesive theme. And I loved it. I’m already planning something bigger and better for the future, but this time I wanna do it specifically for all my Black and Brown queer folks. I’m planning this one carefully so that I can really bring my vision to life.
I’m also getting ready for my third year at Camp Ubuntu Watts, a summer camp where I’ve been teaching art to middle school kids. Camp is a huge part of my life and getting to work with the Watts community is something I’m very grateful for. I always grow as an artist during the summertime because of my experiences with the kids and the relationships we build with them, the community and among our staff.
VP: You're doing good work. I know you’re only just getting started... What are you working on now? What’s next for you?
ANTHNYXYZ: I’m starting to collaborate with a lot of people on some special projects, doing commissions, and merchandising my work so I have a lot going on right now. I’m learning how to manage it but overall it’s real cool to see how far my work is taking me. My dream is to eventually quit my day job and just stay home creating art and rolling up. •
Follow ANTHNYXYZ at instagram.com/createdincompton