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Posted: 2012-06-25
Categories: Projekt NewSpeak

What happens when the editor of Projekt NewSpeak’s The Mexi-Asian Perspective, David A. Romero, writes a book of poetry about his time in Fuzhou, China? What happens when Mark Maza of the APIA poetry group forWord reviews it? What happens when I shut up and let you read the review? Enjoy!

 

Fuzhou is a collection of poems by poet/author/spoken word artist, David Romero.  The majority of poems cover his experiences and reflections while being a, “Lao Wei” or foreigner, in Fuzhou, China.  Knowing this about a book, we, as readers, would generally expect the writer to have us tagalong as he discovers the culture and unique natural and urban settings and landscapes of another land.  What is unexpected is how Romero intertwines his discoveries with introspection and critical analysis as he tries to find a sense of humanity to connect to in his surroundings.

 

Romero includes two poems dedicated to the city that he lives in (Fuzhou, China).  They are aptly entitled “Fuzhou Streets” and “Fuzhou Balcony”.  Although both allow Romero to descriptively render the city for the reader, I felt more drawn to “Fuzhou Streets”.  In this poem, Romero not only captures his surroundings, but also captures the fast-paced vibe of the city.  While reading, I felt like I was there walking around the streets and experiencing the loud noises and the different smells emanating from various food stands.  Through his writing, Romero is able to evoke the feeling of being in a new city for the first time.  As a contrast to this, Romero also wrote a poem about being homesick.  “Those Evil Golden Arches” has Romero ruminating on the personal implications of eating McDonalds in a foreign land.  The global fast food chain acts as his cure for homesickness.  And despite initially highlighting the fact that McDonalds and fast food chains, in general, are helping to globalize obesity, Romero admits that the chain reminds him of “home” while being in a foreign land.  However, with each bite of the familiar, Romero admits his reluctance to try anything different “It disgusts me to say/Every week/I eat burgers and fries/Because I’m afraid to try and learn more Chinese”.  He points out that although he feels more at “home” with the “burger and fries”, they act as a crutch when it comes to experiencing the culture and language that surrounds him.

 

Some of my favorite poems from this book come from Romero people-watching and trying to understand the social implications of what is going on around him.  He has this knack for capturing the human moments in his writings and making it easy for the reader to relate to them.  I honestly wish I could talk about each poem of this type in this review, but I would be spoiling a lot of them, so I chose to go over just one poem: “The Sweeper Elders”.  Romero starts the poem off by saying “They say it’s Chinese cultural tradition/To respect one’s elders”.  Any reader can connect with this as there are various iterations of this saying in different cultures.  Romero then deconstructs the “cultural tradition” by showing how a group of elders are treated as they clean up the bar floor.  They are ignored and viewed as a nuisance.  There is nothing expected from them except to clean, as Romero puts it: “As if it were muscle-memory-programmed/In their age-old joints/To connect broom to floor/Trash to dustbin/Rosie, the maid on the Jetsons/Was given more humanity”.  The last two lines brilliantly complement the other stanzas in the poem.  Here we can juxtapose Rosie to the image of the elders.  In The Jetsons cartoon show, Rosie, a robot maid, is able to interact with and is treated as part of the family by the Jetson Family, whereas in this real life setting, these elders have minimal interaction with the customers and are even yelled at by the bar’s manager.  It is saddening to realize that a cartoon “sweeper” is treated better than its real life counterpart.  Romero’s last lines in the poem, “Because the only elders/I see respected here/Are the rich ones” suggests that the reason behind the mistreatment of these elders is because they are viewed as a member of the lower class.  Only wealthy elders are entitled to be treated with the level of respect proposed by this “cultural tradition”.

 

The majority of examples I’ve provided were poems I would classify as short when compared to these longer, “Story Poems”.  The first poem, “It Spoke for the Weeds” is an endearing and charming conversation between Romero, who is trying to rid his garden of weeds, and one cunning and silver-tongued weed who is trying to earn a stay of execution from his would-be executioner.  The poem was humorous and I couldn’t help but smile while reading it.  The next poem, “Lady Vengeance Ghosts” is the deeper, disturbing, and most socially conscious of the three.  Romero starts it off like a campfire horror story filled with haunting imagery and a sense of dread, but he craftily manages to twist it into a tale about social justice.  The last poem, “Rice Boy”, is a story about a boy’s rise from being in poverty to being wealthy and what happens to the place he leaves behind.  Each poem was also coupled with an illustrator who just enhanced it with their interpretations of the story.  Megan Dong (illustrator for “It Spoke for the Weeds”), captured the humor and jovial tone in her cartoon-like take of Romero and the weed.  Matthew V. Galarza (illustrator for “Lady Vengeance Ghosts”) provided some disturbing images that complemented the tone of the poem (side note: it also complemented this reviewer’s nightmares!).   Audrey McNamara (illustrator for “Rice Boy”) illustrated to an inspiring line or section of the poem, even providing a visual for the various emotions that the characters go through.

 

All this praise does not mean that Fuzhou is flawless.  There were actually a few issues I had with some of the other poems.  “The Ghosts of Neptune”, a love poem with celestial references, started and ended with some excellent imagery.  Half-way through the poem, however, I was immediately taken out of it by this conflicting image: “So we could later taste icy passion that melted our hearts/My heart burst with the force of Hiroshima and Nagasaki”.  In the first line the reader can easily picture a heart melting, but in the following line, the imagery is switched from melting to bursting for the same organ.  It is a very abrupt switch in imagery that takes away from what could have been an enjoyable poem to read.  In “Chinese Dice”, the Chinese drinking game becomes Romero’s way of interacting with strangers.  It’s a method to bring people together and gives them a chance to let loose.  The writing was fast-paced but easy to read and the poem was enjoyable but the last two lines: “You’re never too old to play with someone/Never let anyone tell you different”, felt out of place when compared to the rest of the poem.  Although it’s a good lesson for the reader, up until that point, the poem never discussed age or age disparities.  Couple that with how light-hearted the poem was, made the last two, more serious lines, seem to come out of left field.  The poem feels like it would stand strong without those two lines, but with its inclusion, it detracts from the entire poem and introduces several unanswered questions.

 

“Human” would be the best way I could describe this book and the majority of poems it includes.  Not all of the poems are beautiful; some present cringe-inducing and thought provoking inconvenient truths, while others go through the elevator of emotions with, and in search of, a significant other, and there is even one poem that is just utterly ridiculous in its subject matter that it will incite a smile or even a dance from the reader.  While I found the majority of poems (especially the socially conscious pieces) easy to connect with and enjoyable to read, there were a select few that I had trouble with, primarily due to some compositional issues I had with certain lines.  Although those issues were few and far between, they still detracted from the poems they were a part of, but thankfully, did not detract from the overall book.  In fact, they help to cement my initial description of Fuzhou as “human”.  With this book, Romero takes the reader along a journey through Fuzhou to see its beauty and its gritty-side and at the same time, finds common ground with its reader through the subject of humanity.

 

- Mark Maza

Mark Maza was born in Quezon City, Philippines and spent his first 12 years growing up between Tondo, Manila and Westminster, California. He got his first taste of poetry through reading Shakespeare’s sonnets and plays in high school. Wanting more, Mark exposed himself to all forms of poetry and fell in love with Spoken Word. At UC Irvine, he joined Uncultivated Rabbits and helped establish a Spoken Word and Open Mic community on campus. He is 25 years old with a Degree in Criminology and a knack for following his heart. Mark is also a co-founder/member of forWord, a Spoken Word collective that has been featured at Open Mic venues in the OC/LA area.