Heaven Is All Goodbyes Tongo Eisen-Martin.
City Lights, $15.95 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-0-87286-745-1
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Eisen-Martin (Someone’s Dead Already) responds to state violence, deindustrialization, police brutality, the prison-industrial-complex, and more in this churning whirlpool that records the complicated experiences faced by members of the African diaspora in America. He looks to history, writing of “the way condemned Africans fought their way back to the ocean only to find waves made of/ 1920s burned up piano parts/ European backdoor deals/ and red flowers for widows who spend all day in the sun mumbling at San Francisco.” But as an educator and organizer, Eisen-Martin is also steeped in the current moment. The passion with which he writes calls the reader to join the masses in the streets: “you are going to want/ to lose that job/ before the revolution hits.” – PublisherWeeklyReview
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Louis Zukofsky famously wrote in his poem “A 12,” “I’ll tell you. / About my poetics— / music / speech / An integral / Lower limit speech / Upper limit music.” And this line came back to me over and over again while reading (over and over again) Tongo Eisen-Martin’s second book, Heaven Is All Goodbyes, released by City Lights in September 2017. Something we all strive for, as poets, is to get the most out of language we can; hence both speech and music occurring in one instant, in one language act. And though more comes in between those limits, Eisen-Martin’s work refuses to choose one limit or one side; it is simultaneously a call to action, a deeply political book which carries with it a reverence for the lyric, resisting categorization as the best poems do. – Emily Liebowitz.
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Today, i watched capitalism walk on water
& people play dead; so that they can be part of America
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, from Heaven is all goodbyes :
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ESSAYS by Tongo Eisen-Martin:
San Francisco had its prison walls all picked out; prepared to unveil its latest awkward interpretation of imperialism. Two police officers exit a squad car.
The United States power structure does not dialogue with us, it dialogues with our potential for resistance. & we receive the red and blue lights of its spokespeople as best as our political, spiritual, and psychic commitments permit.
The first time I was frisked by police, it was alongside my younger brother. I was an especially thin wrist’d nine. He was seven. I have been enjoying my poetry being proven right ever since.
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The imperialists, true to their commitment to upwardly mobile diversion, tore down our neighborhoods and replaced them with hip cruise ships. New white and white-positioned people walk past us ready to curse us out for interrupting the justice of their good time. If I were to judge from the behaviors of gentrifiers, I am not a poet. I am a waiter or bellboy. I am no longer the edge of a principle contradiction’s powder keg. The powder kegs (conditions for uprisings) are an hour and half in any direction away from the city, and that is far enough for rookie San Franciscans to get drunk and high, and take pictures with our grandmothers in peace and with glee.
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San Francsico sells to the rich the destruction of the poor. Perhaps inevitably, therefore, delivers the rich to the poor. San Francisco gentrifiers, despite their phenomenal bourgeois transience, are a people. A people unified by a need for racist police. Alex Nieto tried to participate in the rolling hills of San Francisco. SFPD carved their execution of him into the Bernal Hill eastward view.
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Tongo Eisen-Martin was born in San Francisco and earned his MA at Columbia University. He is the author of someone’s dead already (Bootstrap Press, 2015), nominated for a California Book Award; and Heaven Is All Goodbyes (City Lights, 2017),