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What We’re Reading: I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say

2012 August 16
by Timothy

What We're Reading

I listen to a lot of punk and hip hop in addition to being a voracious reader. As such, I’ve encountered a lot of slam and spoken word. I struggle with these genres because they quickly fall into tropes of form and rarely have any life on the page, yet every time I see punk and hip hop groups perform I think, “What if poetry were more like this? More energetic, more urgent?” Inevitably, though, that urgency is lost on the page, or seems trite when performed. Anthony Madrid’s new collection I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say (Canarium Books, 2012) is carefully composed, while maintaining an element of the improvisational. Madrid has managed to cram the intensity and rhythm of the music I love onto the page, without losing any power. In fact, these poems are so energetic they seem to leap off the page, demand to be read, and then wrestled back before you can move onto the next.

Early on in the collection, Madrid—who uses himself as a character in the poems—says, “Whoever reads more than a dozen ghazals at a time will be overstimulated.” Indeed, these poems, which Madrid calls ghazals, can be overstimulating. Though the energy of these poems is such that you want to keep reading, taking the collection slowly is best in order to fully appreciate their strength. Handily, Madrid has broken the book up into 6 sections, each with between 10 and 12 poems. There are no section breaks between poems, so you have to pay attention to the poem numbers at the top of the page: 1:4, 3:9, 6:1, and so on. Though not easily identifiable, sections have themes that hold them together, a mark of Madrid’s ability to craft a whole book, not just compelling individual poems.

Madrid’s diction in these poems is an odd mix of highly colloquial and oddly archaic, often within the same line. Phrases like, “MADRID, you effervescing piece of fuckass magma!” are highly surreal, yet by virtue of being so specific, very real. The effect is that Madrid becomes a sort of street preacher in a busy city, mixing his already jumbled metaphors with the language of the everyday, a performance you’d see at the bus stop or subway platform.

Performances can bring nuance and double meaning to a piece that is lost when the text is written down, though, by the same token, line break can alter meaning in much the same way. Madrid has employed a number of tricks to suggest ways of reading the piece to the reader, bringing some of the performative nuance back. Traditional moves like line break and rhyme are used to great effect throughout the text, but Madrid also uses vertical bars to force a caesura into his lines, creating a softer break than the hard enjambment of a line break. This typographic trick is used throughout the book, but is especially well done in “Rhymes” whose last three stanzas read:

You’re on your own and off your meds. Greens and yellows, blues and reds.

It’s only with certain groups of friends | you dare undermine the uplift.


So, purple-orange, yellow-blue. Polly, gimme your answer true.

I order demand and require that you | tear it, little parrot.


So, let’s hear it all for the CASH MACHINE. Purple-orange, yellow, green.

Dirty Bomb and Laser Beam | are here to collect the rent.

The vertical bar acts as a crux around which the lines turn, causing the reader to pause before moving to the end of the phrase. Also used throughout the book, and demonstrated here, are words set in small caps that call focus to names or objects differently than full caps or bold letters. Finally, Madrid also uses accent marks to lightly emphasize words, but not so much as words in italics. Using these varying levels of emphasis, Madrid brings more layers of nuance to his poems than is usually possible.

In I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say, I found the energy and exuberance from rap and punk, with the carefully crafted line break and typographic elements that can only be found on the page. Without a doubt, Madrid’s book is one of the most exciting collections I’ve read in a long time, and he has already become a poet whose tricks I’ve tried in my own poems. As a writer, finding a poet whose work teaches you new things is exciting, and I couldn’t be happier to have found this book. I have to respectfully disagree with the lines in one of the last poems in this book, “anyone can see / How much better this poetry would be if it were written by a twenty-five-year-old punk.” More punks should write poetry, but you’re doing fine on your own, Mr. Madrid. Keep ’em comin’.


One Response
  1. Eric permalink
    August 17, 2012

    Red Blooded American Dead Yellow Sign Saturday Night

    Take that you fucking title
    Pass the Pabst
    And step on the gasssssssss
    Ima kill that sumbitchin sign
    Hahahahahaha I shot its ass
    And fuck it too, I don’t care
    I aint ever
    Going back home
    Less I need some money
    Or some food
    Or some clean clothes
    I’m my own man now
    And that chicken shit Y-I-E-L-D
    Knows it

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