Nico Amador’s Flower Wars, a Newfound publication, is the type of poetry I’m loathed to review. As I’ve stated elsewhere, the purpose of poetry – in my view at least – is to provoke emotion, which the chapbook in question most certainly does. The problem however, is that I’m not entirely sure how or why. Therefore, I find myself at a loss when it comes to pulling the thing apart for the sake of intelligent analysis. During my second read through, I jotted down comments about the ‘malleability of human identity’ and read the first poem again.
A mirror is not a guide but a blind face turning its eyes to the girl darkening inside it. Tell the arsonist that the burning field doesn’t first begin with desire. Tell the locust not to love the hum of its own devastation. I cleared the trails of my scalp for the skin that was itching for moonlight and the girl below.
(from Self-Portrait With Cropped Hair after Frida Kahlo, pg 1)
After several more read-throughs and further frustration at my limited understanding, beyond a reader’s gut reaction, I decided to look into the person the first poem identifies with. Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist known for her bold, bright, self-portraits of pain, passion and female identity. In doing so, I happened upon this quote;
“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world, but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine she must be out there thinking about me too. Well, I hope that if you are there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true, and I’m just as strange as you.” – Frida Kahlo, 1907 – 1954
It’s not exactly an interpretation, but there is something about the above that marries up quite perfectly with my initial reaction to the poem in question; the malleability of human identity. As the poems continue they seem to slip in and out of reality and often have a surreal tone. They address a treasured individual and a far-off stranger. They speak of the living and the dead as though they are one and the same. Amador is gentle yet steadfast and the poetry is sure within itself and comfortable with uncertainty. There is a thread of sadness that somehow connects these poems, it is a sage sorrow of the sort that teaches a person how little they really know.
Call me a priest, a medium, a tabloid – anything certain is suspect;
anything I say might be true.
(from Columbus Day, pg 5)
The titular piece takes on the larger subjects; evolution, god and humanity. These age-old mysteries are stripped down to their base in an effort toward questioning their significance, or lack thereof.
Then a valley.
Then a lake.
Then the herd, the golden
grain, a maze
of aqueducts singing
their blue song.
(from Flower Wars, pg 10)
The Attempted Suicide of Saul Armendariz, is a perfect example of why I’m so hesitant to dissect this type of poetry; a poem which poked and prodded at emotions I like to keep buried deep under those I am more comfortable with. The imagery is exceptional, the pace is dance-like in changeable rhythm and it swings from violent triumph to tender melancholy. In all honesty, though, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what the poet’s intentions were in the writing without the all-important footnote, which explained that “Saul Armendariz is an openly gay lucha libre wrestler who performed as Cassandro, a flamboyant character in drag. Early in his career, he attempted suicide but survived and went on to win the respect of the wrestling world.”
These poems ask more questions than they answer, creating an atmosphere where gender, sexuality and identity are ever-present yet never quite clarified.
I’m arriving at a theory
become anything else.
That two people can become
anything at all.
(from What Changed, Exactly pg 28)
For those whose poetry preference is embedded in the obvious and easily accessed, Flower Wars may not be a good fit. However, if you prefer your poetry to ask rather than state, if you are bored by the expected, if you like to participate rather than observe, Flower Wars is likely a book you will share with others. As a reader, it is a collection I can get lost in, a chapbook that is somehow capable of skipping over my intellect and landing somewhere secret within my subconscious. As a reviewer it is a book that has me lost. I don’t need to know why this book captivated me, moved me, had me considering the world at large and how I fit into it. It’s enough to know that Nico Amador is writing poems, and I am reading them.
Title: Flower Wars
Author: Nico Amador
Publication Year: 2017
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