Dolores Mildred Batten:
A Review of WARBLES, by Alex Z. Salinas
The making of poetry is a painstaking process. The writer, soul bared in blood on print or papyrus pages, places their words into the cosmos of the book; the universe of the IMMENSE contained in the small, on the off chance that someone might get “it”: both the medium and the message (McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man). That is the impulse behind writing: the Promethean promise of both creation and destruction (“Mountain smoke”, 12)—in words, at once both solemn and unapologetic, that rip through your heart strings—what makes you smile, makes you angry. Makes you feel. So, if in this review, you are looking for an explication into the worlds of literary criticism and critical theorem that can be applied to Alex Z. Salinas’s words, you will not find it “hear” (read that again: this point is correctly spelled). What you will find, however, is a reviewer who is in awe, a fellow human who is in yearning, and a fellow writer who is taken aback, absorbed in Alex’s warbling work into the crevices that people do not usually dig, because “we all seek warmth / in old footsteps” (“Needles”, 19; 7:18-19); a promise buried under the rocks that people seldomly overturn.
This is the journey that author Alex Z. Salinas’ poetry collection, WARBLES, takes you on, like a Kerouac-esque trail of tears and tears (pronounced tares). It is a disjointed look inside the soul of the tortured and talented poet, and it is one that deserves our attention.
And that’s the real feat. As the poetry editor of the San Antonio Review, Alex’s job is to read, reject, and revise several authors’ words. I, too, as the essay editor of Plath Profiles, the only journal in the world specifically dedicated to the poetry and prose of Sylvia Plath, know this position well. But in that respect, I have always been of the school of thought that it is not for the editor of an academic journal, webzine, or a newspaper, for that matter, to judge another’s writing, but for the writer of the work to write, and re-write, and then write some more, or as Alex would say, “Do it. Do it every day. Every hour. Every half-hour. Every second, in your head” (“21 tips to better writing”, 55; 1: 1-2). Though you may not be taken with every poem from the writ of Alex’s hand, that is simply because, that one there—it was not meant for you. Soaking the salt of our wounds (“Salt”, 9), seeing sports as more authentic than religion (“TV religion”, 21-22), even speaking to specters in “Apparition” (14), you, the reader, are invited to eavesdrop in on his special world; take what you want, and leave the rest. Thus, Alex Z. Salinas makes a name for himself as a seasoned writer and a newcomer to the compilation poetry book scene, by breaking the boundaries of what poetry “looks like” and forcing us to confront the “warbles” which lie and lie within ourselves.
And yet it is non-judgmental, and non-preachy, and not of the emerald Oz nor of the elitist pulpit. It is sores, and truth, and dirt, and grit, which line the surfaces of the pages. As a published academic author working on both a Ph.D., and the bearer of several upcoming commitments in digital media, videogames, literature, and music presentations for Conferences of Interdisciplinary Fields in the upcoming spring, I can also attest to the weight of writing and its immensity in the grand scheme of life and love—the author’s Great Work. Alex’s canter about forgetting the masterpiece in “Fallback” (31) is something that I can resonate with. The creative impulses driving us to get it out—get it down. Only to forget our best inspired words when the tasks of the day are done and we are finally left to our writing desks or musical workstations, to crank out the next “hit”; the thing that keeps us up at night and yet we cannot name it, we cannot recall it. But still, we must pursue. We must endure.
Alex even tackles the sublime of nature in “Mountain smoke” (12). And then he says fuck it all. Because, as we all know, humans are creatures of complex conflicting emotions. Or is that too real? Because in his explicit allusions of Etheridge Knight’s “Feeling Fucked Up” (27) or his raw reveal of the artist’s lust in “Why we can’t be friends, Alicia Keys” (43) the masking veneer wears off, and we behold the bald naked truth of who we are when we are not caught in the snare of the politically correct, but rather traversing its interstices. Alex shows us how to find true bravery—a term I apply most deliberately, having not yet seen the word echoed in the introduction from the publishing company itself, Hekate Publishing, until after writing this review. And on the other end of that line, we find Alex, holding onto life through the poem; vibrant, brilliant, shining; he creates the web of life that we crawl through, get caught in, and use as a rope ladder to climb back out again.
Other poetry reviews of his writing speak of the effect on the political, the gendered, the concerns of the status quo. But I would say that Alex sees through all that bullshit and focuses on the real, those things both “tangible and intangible” that he carries like Tim O’Brien (The Things They Carried); the home, the heart, and the homage to those both here and gone, that he holds dear, immortalizing through the Herculean crafting of his words. The Titan, after all, is the fantastic mythos-logical; writing escapes death by capitulating itself as an immortal living body in the world whose heart beats on long after the passing of its writer. This is no more true than in “This poem” (40), when Alex decidedly points out that it is not his to know what your impression will be, how this will move you, only that he is the writer who moved the pen; the Atlas Shrugged who moves the boulder. In this work, the personification of the poem is astounding; one of the first times that I have seen a poem come to life as its own entity, in the humble words of its author (40):
Just the other night, I watched this poem
sip on hot chocolate while it contemplated the
softness of a Mexican woman’s lips on an October evening,
But the night before that, I watched this poem drink
While it imagined screwing your lover on New Year’s
then punching your teeth out
and wrapping its tendrils around your neck
You just never know with this poem—
It has a mind of its own. (41; 2: 20-32, 35-36)
But that is not to say that he is not political—nay the opposite. On the contrary, Alex holds the politics of the “right”—the true, the honest, the dirt beneath your fingernails raw, rather than the “right” which has been attributed to that of the conservative party. It is the honesty of humanity, its frailty and anger, its lust and luster, its strength and splendor. It is his confronting of all the qualities which make us feel authentic in the dark recesses and in the holy light, which shine through in his genius. Alex tackles the family-self dichotomy, the nuances of racial relations, and the loss of the homeland identity, all while staying vehemently true to himself:
I ain’t been right since the daze of Chela’s,
bummin rides in rusted Chevys
cruisin Anna’s ville like a chulito bandito.
I strolled down the aisles of that mini H-E-B like a
light-skinned midget conquistador.
Knew where I was going then even when I didn’t,
so don’t tell me otherwise, Vato Loco.
I asked Tata once, Hey Tata,
why don’t the people here look like me?
Boy, my father said, you are one of them.
Alright. (50; stanza 1, 4,7,8)
“500 years of empire blood and everything’s alright”
William Carlos Williams once said of humanity and poets that “We are blind and live our blind lives out of blindness. Poets are damned but they are not blind, they see with the eyes of the angels” (from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, intro by William Carlos Williams). And Alex’s angels are both haloed and fallen, because they are the truth that lies in every one of us. That is the real strength of Alex’s writing. And it should be taken strong, just like his coffee.
About the Author: Dolores Batten is an English Lecturer at Eastern Florida State College. She holds an M.A. in Literature and Language from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, and is an active member in both the Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society as well as the National Society for Leadership and Success. With more than nine years of experience in the teaching profession, her current plans now include pursuing a Ph.D. in Texts and Technology through the University of Central Florida. She serves as Essays Editor of Plath Profiles, an online journal of interdisciplinary studies on Sylvia Plath.