Shadowboxing: Poems & Impersonations

Joseph Rios. Omnidawn, $17.95 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-1-63243-043-4
Rios draws readers into a combination coming-of-age story and satire of academic pretension in his audacious debut, writing through the figure of a Chicano adolescent (and, presumably, alter ego), Josefo, in the farming locales of Central California. “This book? It’s just an attempt to impersonate myself,” Rios writes, and he employs stage direction, dramatic monologue, oral history, and epistolary text to depict Josefo’s relationships with parents, lovers, and laborers, some of whom display skepticism toward his literary endeavor. Given the framework motif of boxing, the narrative stance is often playfully combative (“Want to impress me? Get a Dream Act passed with no military option. Support literacy in every hood and Hamlet. Teach Hamlet in every hood”). He evinces palpable fury on behalf of the exploited, yet he never misses an opportunity for a ribald comment: “Something’s burning in the house./ Could be Tio’s beard.” And he is as felicitous with musical vernacular as with literary theory; his aesthetic is formidably omnivorous, referencing Borges and Biggie, Milosz and Dennis Cooper. Rios collages genres while allowing for traditionally lyrical odes and elegies, describing with admiration a fellow poet character: “everything he said was in a low glasspack tenor—like a work truck idling in an oil spotted driveway.” (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/18/2017
Release date: 10/03/2017
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