This past semester a student at Rice University in Houston, TX did a review on my poetry for her English 365 course. She sent it to me and gave me permission to post it on my blog. Thanks Nadine for your support and encouragment.
Radames Ortiz Review
One has to read Radames Ortiz’s poetry slowly, deliberately, and with a willingness to both suspend and engage with reality. His poems often feature stark, urban settings presented through abstract, imaginative images that no less embody the jarring qualities of his subject. He smokes cigarettes “down to amputated limbs” (from “El Papi Ajit”) and rides the “iron bull . . . through the neighborhood like birds” (from “Rough Travelling”).
The poem “Birds, Birds” is a spectacular string of images that confuse if imagined too literally, but create a strong and precise atmosphere for the reader to inhabit when allowed to sink into one’s gut. On the surface, it’s about someone watching the city as another year passes. But within it we see pigeons like dominoes, “light poles quak[ing] like scarecrows”, and “trains chop[ping] neighborhoods in waves.” Conspiring buildings and ghosts inhabit this city while “the rats grow dizzy” and “crowded buses drown the roads.” All these strange, alien, and haunting images threaten to overtake the speaker, to ruin him as the birds ominously gather. But somewhere in the middle – “clanking / dinner plates,” “gated communities,” civility? No, just another form of “numbness” and “ensuing infection.” But what does the following line mean? “the sky bears thin, this bounded day.” I don’t think anyone knows. But the perfect iambic tetrameter and the reverse repetition of “th” and “b” make it a pleasing if enigmatic line that carries a hint of warning. The whole poem has a surreal feeling of time in slow-motion or even stopped mid-action. The stalled cars lend to this sense of stillness, and one can almost imagine a wealthy family at dinner frozen as a plate is being passed. These images in the reader’s mind stem not completely from the poem’s own literally-taken images, but from the mood that those images help create. I don’t see in my mind’s eye light-poles that look like scarecrows, but a city that is as empty of people and monochrome as a cornfield.
Storytelling is also a big drive in much of Ortiz’s poetry. His first desire was to be a short-story writer until he discovered poetry’s ability to capture moments, feelings, epiphanies – the essence of stories – in a small, compact, and therefore powerful space. “Family Group Day” memorializes a moment of private pain and forgiveness as observed from a distance and where even nature “outside the window” reflects the emotions occurring inside. “August Trance” tells the story of a relationship in its entirety through one moment. Within that “private picnic” exists all the contradictions and myriad emotions of that relationship reflected in the nature around them. The coming evening heralds the oncoming dissolution of their union while still “the pearly light of an afternoon” keeps it intact. They are silent but loving, doomed but together, separate but one. The “clouds [spin] into chaos” while the “branches [twist] into headaches,” and yet a “strange calm” prevails. And all the shifting states manifest on their receptive brows of clay that “accept all forms.” Meanwhile, the earth rotates on its axis, time does its work, and they become ruins and ghosts as they lie there still, monuments and hauntings of their “dollhouse saga.”
As a poet of the 21st century, Ortiz has many thoughts about the direction poetry is heading, especially as it integrates with technology. On his blog he referenced a poetry movement called Flarf which uses search engines to compose poetry, and as an experiment he created “Glue: A Flarf Poem.” On the blog, he also includes stories about a poetry contest on the website Boing Boing mostly about “geeky subjects,” collaborative writing via the internet, and facebook’s collaborative poetry magazine. Interested in collaborations across disciplines as well, Ortiz has completed two visual poems (the artwork done by two graphic artists) and is working with an electronic musician to score several of his poems. But neither does he forget poetic forms of the past, including several experiments with a villanelle (“An Alcoholic’s Villanelle”) and sestina (“The Flamenco Dancer”).
Bio: Nadine Boudreaux recently graduated from Rice University with a degree in English and Ancient Mediterrean Civilzations. She is currently working on her teaching certificate to teach high school.