by B.A. Williams
From: The Rumpus
Joseph Rios’s debut collection, Shadowboxing: poems and impersonations, published last year by Omnidawn, is a middle finger to the institution in both form and content. This isn’t to say that Rios isn’t well-versed in tradition, as Rios steps into the ring exchanging blow after blow with poetic tradition. Rebellion bobs and weaves on each page. Rios throws combinations of playwriting, lyric, narrative, and experimental techniques that often have a Romantic ring to them.
What makes this collection a knockout is its investigation of the self through Josefo, a laid-back farm boy turned scholar whose concept of love, language, narrative, truth, family, academia, psyche, and music start and facilitate Rios’s objective to destabilize American notions of tradition. There is a pride in this collection that reinvigorates the Latinx/Chicanx community to find strength in their history, to love that history, to not be erased. Rios asks: What is poetry that doesn’t save nations and people?
The California native was a recent winner of the Before Columbus American Book Award, a VONA alum, a Macondo fellow, and was named a 2017 Notable Poet by Poets and Writers Magazine.
For the interview Joseph and I chose a bar in West Adams called The Living Room, a place filled with people who looked like aunts, uncles, and older cousins—the same people who make the world within Shadowboxing raw and honest. I had never been there before, but the name alone made me feel welcomed, made me feel like as soon as I walked through the front door shit was going to get real, and it did. Rios and I talked about who he’s trying to impress, digging in the crates for inspiration, and speaking for the often silenced.
The Rumpus: In your debut collection Shadowboxing: poems & impersonations, your prologue did something that many prologues fail to do and that was establish a true connection with the work that follows it. It wasn’t simply something you grazed over or skipped. It was profound, gut-wrenching, and raw. I read your prologue several times before I started the rest of the collection.
I found myself interpreting the prologue as a series of voices that represented this constant tug of war with the self. The bracketed text had a different tone than the parenthetical text. A brutally honest conversation between the three different texts was at play. Three different voices that I assumed all belonged to the main speaker in this work, Josefo. The three voices sometimes cleaved and other times divorced from one another based on their understanding or lack of understanding of language, politics, institutions, family, and defining oneself.
Joseph Rios: I wrote the prologue at a very important transitional time in my life. I had been at Berkeley for two years and been front and center for the Occupy movement. I was coming into social/political consciousness in a way I hadn’t before. I had experienced adversity plenty throughout my life, but that place gave me a language and understanding of the systems that make our oppression so, you know what I mean? Getting hands put on us by campus cops was almost a weekly occurrence between 2010–11. Me and my roommate would go to Occupy every day. All that was real. I can remember being on Telegraph in downtown Oakland in front of a hundred riot cops while they’re launching flashbangs and smoke bombs. I remember being in front of Sproul Hall linked up with people while they’re hitting us with batons. All very real.
But I always felt like some country bumpkin at Berkeley in those English classes. The first weeks, I would go sit in the bathroom, on the toilet, in between classes. That’s how afraid I was. I would go to the bathroom in the multicultural center and sit there in the stall and wait for my next class. I even printed out a copy of my acceptance letter, just in case it came down to that. So, I had all this energy. I had all that energy from this newfound academic knowledge, being in white spaces, being from farmland central valley, being a young man trying to understand what that means, and all that getting churned up by this righteous anger found its way to the page. The only way I could describe it all was by putting everything in all these different voices. Read Rest of Article Here