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Citizen Illegal (BreakBeat Poets) by José…
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Citizen Illegal (BreakBeat Poets) (original 2018; edition 2018)

by José Olivarez (Author)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
915230,455 (4.23)19
"Citizen Illegal is right on time, bringing both empathy and searing critique to the fore as a nation debates the very humanity of the people who built it." --Eve Ewing, author ofElectric Arches In this stunning debut, poet José Olivarez explores the stories, contradictions, joys, and sorrows that embody life in the spaces between Mexico and America. He paints vivid portraits of good kids, bad kids, families clinging to hope, life after the steel mills, gentrifying barrios, and everything in between. Drawing on the rich traditions of Latinx and Chicago writers like Sandra Cisneros and Gwendolyn Brooks, Olivarez creates a home out of life in the in-between. Combining wry humor with potent emotional force, Olivarez takes on complex issues of race, ethnicity, gender, class, and immigration using an everyday language that invites the reader in. Olivarez has a unique voice that makes him a poet to watch. José Olivarezis the son of Mexican immigrants. He is a co-host of the podcast, The Poetry Gods. A winner of fellowships from Poets House, The Bronx Council On The Arts, The Poetry Foundation, and The Conversation Literary Festival, his work has been published inThe BreakBeat Poetsand elsewhere. He is the Marketing Manager at Young Chicago Authors.… (more)
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» See also 19 mentions

Showing 5 of 5
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️*** ( )
  bsanchez44 | Aug 29, 2020 |
This was a brilliant way to start the new year.

Olivarez paints a beautifully achy vision of being Mexican & American, especially in the Chicago area. He grew up in a different space & era than I did but it all felt so real. Many times his words broke my heart & filled me with love.
  roniweb | May 30, 2019 |
"Ode to Cheese Fries"

golden goo of artificial deliciousness,
what probably lines
my stomach with sunlike grease for weeks after
eating the yellow
so yellow it could only be manufactured, so what
if it's fake?

as much cheese content as Apple Jolly Ranchers -
i come from
a city of foreclosure foreclosure empty lot. city
where we got
dollar-store-brand action figures - so what
my Wolverine didn't

have retractable claws or the right uniform?
so my joy
at Pano's my favorite fried-everything spot -
the cashier's voice
a box of Newports filtered through throat -
i didn't know

i would miss this home where the patties
come from freezers
and maybe not ever from cows or even animals -
i live in
a city that brags about its organic fair-trade
quinoa-fed beef -

of course i miss the '90s playing in the restaurant -
the Back Street Boys
live in Cal City where the band never breaks up,
the song plays
on repeat as the cashier takes my order, say it with me -
cheese fries please -

give me everything artificial including cardboard fries,
the bread fresh
out of some Walmart cloning experiment - throw in
a cold pop -
i want a joy so fake it stains my insides &
never fades away

* * * *

"Note: Rose that Grows from Concrete"

the inspirational slogan wants you to believe you are a rose, but consider the
emperor's muddy boot. you could be a rose or concrete, the record suggests
the boot sees both both as a welcome mat. we need a new metaphor. a seed is bet-
ter. but when seeds grow, who gets the fruit? fuck it. be a rusty nail. make
the emperor howl.

****

In Citizen Illegal Chicagoan Jose Olivarez draws on his Mexican-American experience and heritage in a collection that is profound and provoking. He's second generation, and his parents have aspirations for him.

One set of poems sprinkled throughout the book are all titled "Mexican Heaven". Here are three:

"Mexican Heaven"

all the Mexican women refuse to cook or clean
or raise the kids or pay bills or make the bed or
drive your bum ass to work or do anything except
watch their novelas, so heaven is gross, the rats
are fat as roosters and the men die of starvation.

"Mexican Heaven"

Saint Peter lets Mexicans into heaven
but only to work in the kitchens.
a Mexican dishwasher polishes the crystal,
smells the meals, & hears the music.
they dream of another heaven,
one they might be allowed in
if they work hard enough.

"Mexican Heaven"

there are white people in heaven, too.
they build condos across the street
& ask the Mexicans to speak English.
i'm just kidding
there are no white people in heaven.

* * * *

There are great poems about his parents getting into this country in the trunk of a Toyota Tercel ("My Parents Fold Like Luggage"), wishing for a birthday night on which his mother doesn't need to worry ("On My Mom's 50th Birthday"), saying "Hell No" in Chicago ("Hecky Naw"), my favorite Chicago Bulls basketball player, Scottie Pippen ("Ode to Scottie Pippen"), trying to fulfill his parents' aspirations ("I Tried to Be a Good Mexican Son"), worrying about living with a Trump country and dangerous police ("Mexican American Obituary"), ways of being labeled by the government and being a "Mexican American ... who colleges love, but only on brochures" ("Mexican American Disambiguation"), and many more. No hit and miss in this one; they were all hits for me. Five stars and right now my favorite poetry collection of the year. It just got nominated for the Pushcart Prize. ( )
  jnwelch | Nov 29, 2018 |
Diversity poet with attitude (he detests white people) whose poems were published precisely and only for that reason - but - he does have some substantial talent - pissed off that Americans (he means only white Americans) expect him to speak proper English and that some of them bristle at the fact that his kin broke the law coming to this country and, get this, of all the nerve, he expects immediate cultural adjustment by the people solely responsible for the country his parents snuck into - because it was a sanctuary for them from poverty - if only we pesky white people didn't stand in his and his people's way they could recreate the Paradise they fled in Old Mexico, and points south. He is definitely worth reading - some day he could be a major poet. ( )
2 vote BayanX | Nov 22, 2018 |
Dynamite first collection of poems by the Chicago native. The poems crackle with the energy of spoken word, reflecting on the poet’s experience as the child of Mexican migrants. There are also some lovely introspective poems, and I loved the “Mexican Heaven” series. I appreciate a poet with a sense of humor.

Update: Even better on a second reading. I appreciated the density of the language play more, and found the more serious poems genuinely moving. ( )
1 vote jalbacutler | Sep 16, 2018 |
Showing 5 of 5
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"Citizen Illegal is right on time, bringing both empathy and searing critique to the fore as a nation debates the very humanity of the people who built it." --Eve Ewing, author ofElectric Arches In this stunning debut, poet José Olivarez explores the stories, contradictions, joys, and sorrows that embody life in the spaces between Mexico and America. He paints vivid portraits of good kids, bad kids, families clinging to hope, life after the steel mills, gentrifying barrios, and everything in between. Drawing on the rich traditions of Latinx and Chicago writers like Sandra Cisneros and Gwendolyn Brooks, Olivarez creates a home out of life in the in-between. Combining wry humor with potent emotional force, Olivarez takes on complex issues of race, ethnicity, gender, class, and immigration using an everyday language that invites the reader in. Olivarez has a unique voice that makes him a poet to watch. José Olivarezis the son of Mexican immigrants. He is a co-host of the podcast, The Poetry Gods. A winner of fellowships from Poets House, The Bronx Council On The Arts, The Poetry Foundation, and The Conversation Literary Festival, his work has been published inThe BreakBeat Poetsand elsewhere. He is the Marketing Manager at Young Chicago Authors.

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