By: Tai Dietrich
December 3, 2014 marked the end of this fall’s Hugh C. Hyde Living Writers Series with San Diego State University (SDSU) alumnus David Tomas Martinez whose first full-length poetry collection Hustle was published this year by Sarabande Books. Sponsored by SDSU’s Department of English and Comparative Literature, the event took place on campus at the Malcolm A. Love Library at 7 p.m.
Meagan Marshall-Joseph, director of the Hugh C. Hyde Living Writers Series, introduced David as a “poet, scholar, and educator.” Meagan, who knew David as an MFA student, described him as “the quintessential MFA badass” with his cigarettes, black coffee, deep V-neck sweaters, and hardcover Oxford dictionary. She said of Hustle: “I think the title of the book is truly indicative of how he spent his time here, whittling memory into manifesto, language into linguistic flair, and lessons into wisdom.”
David approached the podium, said his thank-yous in the typical fashion, and then rolled up his sleeves, exposing his striking poetic tattoos, looked up at the audience and said, “Let’s get to my shit.” “I always like to start with a sex poem,” he said, partly in jest but mostly not. He began the reading with his poem “Shed” which was, indeed, a sex poem:
“Eventually, love marked me / with a woman who walked with tumultuous hips– / she made bathrooms and classrooms more exciting, / and proved old Walt right– the body does / electric– when a kiss jumps the body–”
David continued with part two of his poem “Calaveras” (Spanish for “skulls”). He explained that the title “Calaveras” is a reference to the dancing skeletons during Día de los Muertos (Mexican Day of the Dead), a metaphor for the people he knew in his youth:
“Children run the streets yelling while you drink soda / from a straw in a sandwich bag, and watch / morning jump through a flaming hoop / to avoid the insult of a whip. Afternoon / stands on her hind legs and opens wide, showing / missing teeth. Accept that night stays in his cage. / Remember all that you see. Memory is a fist to the eye.”
After reading “The Only Mexican,” a poem about his grandfather, David read “Apotropaic.” He explained that the title came from the word “apotrope,” a word he found in an essay written by Sigmund Freud about “the Medusa myth and men’s fear of castration.” An apotrope, David explained, was something used to ward off evil spirits:
“Sigmund also said, / that Medusa with her head of cocks / castrates the tribe of men– / one look at her and you’re hard, / hard as a rock. / And isn’t that what men are? / Heavy balls and heavier heads. / Scared limp of origins.”
Before reading part one of “Calaveras,” a poem about a time when David tried to steal a car, he admitted to the audience: “The story is crazier than what I could say in this poem.” David had to describe what a dent puller looks like and how he used one to hotwire cars: “Don’t use that…‘cause, you know, I don’t got bail money:”
“In a backyard off the 94, I demonstrate on the moon / how a dent pulled ignition and a toothbrush for a turned key / easily swoon the inner workings of a Ford.”
Then David read part 8 of “Forgetting Willie James Jones,” a poem about a murdered valedictorian, and the “Mechanics of Men,” a poem about the men in his family. He ended his reading from Hustle with Innominatus (Latin for “nameless,” and also a bone in your hip):
“…it is the test of words and not the word that endures, / because the moon toils toward the forever foot print / the bible should be revised and the list / of who begot whom should include Neil Armstrong.”
David finished his reading with some new poems he’s written: “It’s cool for me to read from Hustle but you have the book, you know what I mean?” He read a two published and two unpublished pieces: “Hoodies,” “In Defense of Poet Revoice,” published in the Oxford American Texas music issue, “Consider Oedipus’s Father,” published in Poetry Magazine, and “Footnoting Biggie Lyrics Like Why Christmas Missed Us.”
Although David’s poetry is quite heavy, rich with emotion and filled with memory, he had a lightness about him, laughing and making the audience laugh in-between poems. He read with a dynamic gravitas, echoing the thematic tone of Hustle itself, providing the audience with an evocative and emotional reading. Thank you David Tomas Martinez for an sensational evening!
David Tomas Martinez is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing with an emphasis in Poetry at the University of Houston and his debut poetry collection Hustle has won honorable mention in the 2014 Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Literature Award. He is the Reviews and Interviews Editor for Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts and a fellow at Breadloaf and CantoMundo. David’s work has been published or is forthcoming in Poetry Magazine, Plough Shares, Oxford American, Forklift; Ohio, Poetry International, Gulf Coast, Drunken Boat, Poetry Daily, Split This Rock, RHINO, Ampersand Review, Caldera Review, Verse Junkies, California Journal of Poetics, Toe Good, and others. He’s also been featured or written about in Poets & Writers, Publishers Weekly, NPR’s All Things Considered, NBC Latino, Buzzfeed, Houstonia Magazine, Houston Art & Culture, Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express News, Bull City Press, and Border Voices.
Click here to check out David’s website.
Click here to read David’s poem “The Only Mexican” at Drunken Boat.