“The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4 LatiNext” arrives when we are searching for new words, grappling with the realization that English doesn’t feel good enough to express or even explain. Edited by Felicia Rose Chavez, José Olivarez and Willie Perdomo, the newest anthology works across cultures and boundaries and normalizes thinking in multiple languages—all at once. There is so much music in the way these poems are written, one can hear them as if read out loud. As someone who thinks in three languages, I found myself borrowing words from all banks I had resources in to make my point understood. I would have wanted to write a poem in all three. Seeing poems do exactly that is an invocation.
The people I met in this book are people I want to keep talking to. They are passionate and they are tender. They have agency. “LatiNext” immediately establishes a community isn’t a monolith, and the poets actively resist and speak to stereotypes. There are recognizable names like Denice Frohman, Julian Randall, Nicole Sealey, John Murillo and Christopher Soto, and first-time writers trying their hand at the best way to tell their story. “We rock like that, and we make room at the table for that range,” says editor Willie Perdomo.
The book is divided into five sections—all named after Lotería cards—separating the poems into the broader ideas of death, music, world, flag and sirens: La Muerte, El Bandolon, El Mundo, La Bandera and La Sirena. I am partial to the last, La Sirena (siren), where Amanda Torres in her poem “Coming for the Throne: Ursula’s Love Story” breaks down the Latin woman stereotype.
“instead, we are called witch,
our abundance grotesque,
something to be controlled, destroyed
all because we do not need you.
Perhaps we are feared so much because
if there were too many of us
the oceans might grow too plenty,
and so much of this place is already water.”
In “Frequently Asked Questions,” Raquel Salas Rivera confronts the singularity of the English language so deftly, deliberately exemplifying the need for more.
“in English the singular plural already exists
the I manyly
in spanish we have to invent the plural
a bastard singular
a box of crackers /
duct tape /
soda decomposed / in glue
in language what already exists wasn’t
what will be happens in languagx
in the(y) language
the present doesn’t matter
as much as the plural present
how do you manage in Spanish to exist
Melissa Lozada-Oliva in “The Future Is Lodged Inside of the Female” boldly asks,
“realizing that all my life i’ve been trying to look like Selena? is Selena the hole that’s been
carved out for me? i can jam my body through it but i’ll probably fall to the other side. is my
In language and power, what does it take to demystify a culture and its diaspora? “LatiNext” holds voices that are intergenerational conversations between the older with the younger, learning from each other. This exchange breaks open the term Latinidad, which is generally used to refer to Latin American people. Here we have the opposite of one-note range of aesthetics that builds solidarity. As editor José Olivarez says, it is rare to accurately depict Latinidad in pop culture because there are many stereotypes. Latinidad is not a monolithic culture. Poems in the book feel like they are all sitting at a picnic table talking to each other—not invalidating or cancelling each other—but making the table bigger, regardless of age, gender or languages. There is warmth and music and there are mothers. There is Abuelita’s garden.
Some of my favorite poems are ones questioning every establishment enforced upon us. Janel Pineda ruminates about an alternate reality in her poem “Another Life” which begins with “The war never happened but somehow you and I / still exist.” Jonathan Mendoza’s “On Nationalism” which begins with an erasure from Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” goes from an erasure to nationalism to faith. The poets play with language, the given dictionary, whatever is left of old-school grammar and twist it, and redefine it to give more dimension to their stories.
“The BreakBeat Poets Volume. 4: LatiNext”
Edited by Felicia Rose Chavez, José Olivarez and Willie Perdomo
Haymarket Books, 225 pages