The fourth volume of Haymarket Books’ poetry anthology The BreakBeat Poets, LatiNext, fastens the connection between poetry, the Latinx diaspora, and hip-hop, reaching minority audiences while being inclusive of community scholars. As The BreakBeat Poets reaches young writers who might not have necessarily thought poetry was for them, within verses based on political activism, discrimination, sexism, and capitalistic barriers, the collection also speaks directly and powerfully to the poets lived experiences.
The anthology’s poetic tradition is held as a community, rather than a hierarchy or a ladder, which puts readers directly in conversation with each other across generations, finding value in the diversity of voices. As the newest addition to The BreakBeat Poets, LatiNext celebrates the narratives of Latinidad, spanning an array of cultural synergy, while poets are emboldened through their individual voices.
LatiNext contextualizes the underrepresentation of Latinx people in their own words. These writers are in opposition of being silenced, honoring their culture and reclaiming their identity through various forms of poetry. As a glance at societal barriers that Latinx people face, LatiNext is a focus on the diversity of their community and a tribute to their resilience.
While LatiNext is divided into five different sections, womxn contributors of LatiNext are perhaps the book’s secret weapon, being notably featured in the ‘La Sirena’ section (which translates to ‘the siren’). Tackling assault, gender roles, trauma and queerness head-on, ‘La Sirena’ provided space for LatiNext to also be considered a feminist text.
In poem “¡Wepa!”, written by poet, visual artist and educator, Daniella Toosie-Watson, a night out abruptly turns into blood-soaked slaughtering, visualizing the experience of assault while also leaving interpretation up to readers. As partial inspiration behind “¡Wepa!”, Toosie-Watson credits poet Vivee Francis, especially studying her expertise during Callaloo Creative Writing Workshops in 2015 and 2016, learning to refuse given narratives about her perceived cultural identity and personhood.
“I’m a survivor of assault, and Francis’s poem [“Say It, Say It Anyway You Can”], as well as Tarfia Faizullah’s “100 Bells,” gave me permission to write into the trauma. Before reading those two poems, I didn’t think I could write about the first assault because I didn’t think I could face it,” Toosie-Watson said. “When the writing got really hard, or when I tried to find the right words, I looked back at the top of the page and reminded myself to just write it in any way that I could.”
As lessons from Faizullah and Francis gave Toosie-Watson the deliberateness to embark on her healing process, she was encouraged to render the assault by her own will, rather than allowing an outside narrative to contextualize her trauma. For Toosie-Watson, she wanted “¡Wepa!” to allude to assault, without centering on it specifically, as the piece focuses on a physical clash between the female subject and three adjoining characters.
“The primary focus is the speaker’s agency and how she navigates colonial infringement. I think of the encounters with the three characters in the poem as assaults upon the speaker’s identity, her culture, on both the political and individual level,” she said. “At the same time, I didn’t want to give the assaults the power by making them the central focus. Rather, how does the speaker navigate the discoteca while carrying this mouth full of blood, caused by the white woman who cuts out her tongue in the first line? How does she push back, and when and why is the pushback successful? Those are the main questions I’m concerned with.”
On a similar feminist spectrum is poet and visual artist Melissa Castro Almandina, author of “Regeneration Spell of the Grieving Soul: Ingredients and Tools W/ Instructions” in LatiNext. The poem acts as a ritual, mixing the four elements with aloe vera, holy water and even menstrual blood in opposition from white supremiscists and upholding her ancestry. Like a number of poems in LatiNext, “Regeneration” alludes to Cardi B, who’s been holding the flag for the Latinx community through her confrontational stances on politics, motherhood, feminism, and sexuality.
“I reference [Cardi] in my poem as an ingredient for the spell, “I Bodak Yellow candle that becomes gold; pyrite/” after a half-burnt Santa Cardi B candle that kept me company and presumably safe from the ghosts I’d hear when I stayed too late at the art studio where I wrote,” Almandina said. “The poem, written as a regeneration spell, is a list of magical ingredients, fragments of memories, and a journey from grief to rebirth as I dream myself back into existence after the violences of capitalism, racism, and sexual assault.”
As Almandina looks to contemparary queer artists and poets Fatimah Asghar, Fariha Roison, and Ocean Vuong for cues on her content, she also hopes to see an influx of feminist publications, especially as they become notably written by BIPOC and trans voices. “Publishing is still very straight and white and too much power is given to poetry institutions who could publish and preserve the voices of our most vulnerable: our migrant, black, brown, indigenous poets, trans poets and [they] don’t,” Almandina said. “I come from a DIY art and zine-making background, so it’s all art and feeling and action with me. I think all writing, all voices deserve to be published, heard and paid. I’d like more justice in that.”
While Almandina discerns her queerness in poetry by writing about flowers and eating out, Toosie-Watson recently came out as bisexual and is slightly newer to writing about her identity, though it’s something she looks forward to further contexualizing. “Right now, the work that does explicitly talk about my queerness has to do with two things: one, unpacking what caused the suppression of that part of my identity for so long — namely, the church and my father’s homophobia — and two, longing,” Toosie-Watson said. “As far writing about femininity, I don’t know how to address it as a whole. My understanding of my femininity is linked to my assault history and to feelings of danger and worthiness. The way I talk about femininity isn’t necessarily explicit. How I often frame femininity in my work is how I might feel empowered to work through these complex systems of oppression, specifically reflected by my experience of being socialized to think of my feminine body as a target. I write a lot about male consumption and try to write into ways of pushing back against it. I don’t want to be palatable; I want my work to have bite.”
Through vast experiences, LatiNext assures that the community isn’t a monolith, as poets are engaged in a resistance to stereotypes placed upon them. As The BreakBeat Poets anthology continues, LatiNext will be influential for breaking the perception of the Latinx community as singular, rather than hosting a multitude of experiences.
“I’d like to see folks continue to write into their truths, whether or not it fits neatly into definitions of what groups they are part of. I’d like to urge people to push back against received narratives about their identities, to embrace or otherwise grapple with their pluralities, to make their own definitions of what their experience means and makes them,” Toosie-Watson said. “Categorizing identity in terms of what is “authentic” is dangerous for a number of reasons, but I’ll focus on the fact that it introduces gatekeeping. Who gets to claim the one true Latinx experience? Who gets to invalidate someone’s Latinx experience? No one, because a model of the “authentic” experience doesn’t exist. For me, my Latinx experience is tied to my Iranian experience, but who is going to tell me that my Iranian identity invalidates my experience as also being a Latinx person?”
As LatiNext encourages readers to honor the immensity of their culture, it’ll also give way for readers of Latinidad to live out their own truths through writing, without being plagued by judgement from outside communities. It’s an allegiance that makes LatiNext not only an affirmation of their existence, but a rumination of creative integrity. “Writing, for me, is a way of reimagining that which I’ve experienced and creating something new,” said Toosie-Watson. “It’s a way of future-building. It’s a way of taking back agency. Each time I do this in my writing, I think it makes me a little more free.”
The Breakbeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNext, edited by Felicia Chavez, José Olivarez, and Willie Perdomo, is out today, April 7.