Selected Poems of Emanuel Xavier
by Emanuel Xavier
Rebel Satori Press

Reviewed by Chael Needle

Emanuel Xavier takes Harold Bloom’s criticism of spoken word as the topic and title of one of his poems, “The Death of Art,” in order to defiantly protect the genre that helped nurture his voice and to which he has, in turn, contributed so much: “I am not a poet. I am only trying to get attention and / convince myself that poetry can save lives when my words / simply and proudly contribute to ‘the death of art.’” The award-winning Brooklyn-born poet, whose new Selected Poems is composed of a constellation of star-bright gems, knows what is at stake in this attempt to dismiss not simply a genre but the lives of people who are often marginalized and made vulnerable by systemic social forces.

In “Walking with Angels,” he describes how those who hoard power and privilege help maintain an environment of risk:

Knows the prosperous could be doing more with their wealth
and that everyone still thinks it’s a deserving fate—
for gays, drug addicts, prostitutes,
and the unfortunate children of such
born into a merciless world
of posh handbags and designer jewelry

Xavier has worked tirelessy to support individuals in need of HIV services, LGBTQ+ youth, and others. In an August 2010 cover story interview for A&U, he told interviewer Chip Alfred: “For somebody to be in their teens in 2010 and living with HIV is really tragic because that should not be happening. I’ve been in that place—when you’re angry you gamble with your life. It’s a very difficult place to be.” And so, as he indicts racist, classist, patriarchal America, Xavier is always careful to explain the need to celebrate those individuals whose very existence is embattled. From “Legendary”:

There are Gods amongst us in these ghettos
so brown, so fierce,
so black, so beautiful,
if you spend too much time caught up in yourself
You just might miss Him that is goddess,
She that is god, they that are legends
Working the runway as if walking on water
Reaching the stage to that promised land
where ‘peace’ is not ridiculed
and the only war worth fighting for
is protecting your child from the terrorist acts of a mainstream america

Xavier promotes a vital project within his poetry, the continuation and representation of multifaceted Latinx lived reality. This, from “A Simple Poem”:

I want to hear about Puerto Rico
about sisters with names like La Bruja
about educating youth about AiDS
I want to hear about life in the Boogie Down Bronx
surviving on the Down Low
don’t leave out stories about men and women
you have loved and still love

He wants others to join in, a reforming and new-forming of community that must happen again and again. This community is porous and intersectional, too. Xavier writes in “Sometimes We’re Invisible” about “mariposas/brown lives/queer lives/trans lives”:

Our history is sacred and worth remembering

Readers have an invitation; they simply need to accept. Xavier makes it easy to RSVP yes

Emanuel Xavier. Photo by Brian Berger

to life with his clear, confident lyrical ballads.

I first heard Emanuel Xavier speak by accident—when you live in New York City, you soon realize serendipity is as ever-present as an ice cream truck in summer. I forget where I was headed on that day more than ten years ago but I had taken the train in from Queens to Manhattan and, as I popped out of the underground subway station, I found myself inside of a rally, shoulder to shoulder with LGBTQ2S+ community members and our allies. They were protesting a ban on the right to marry. And then Emanuel Xavier took the stage, and read, and the crowd erupted. Understandable. His words have the ability to live inside you, rush inside you like blood. Tour buses full of gawkers must have wondered what the queer cheers and chants were all about. It’s no mystery, but it is magical. This is what Xavier is all about: poetry, protest, purpose, passion—all in one, one for all.

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Chael Needle is celebrating twenty-one years at A&U. Follow him on Twitter @ChaelNeedle.