The Fire Eater

The Fire Eater by Jose Hernandez Diaz

Review by Lauren Davis

What happens when a poet eats the moon? Who knew this was a question to be asked? I work at an indie bookstore in Washington state. I read California writer Jose Hernandez Diaz’s debut chapbook of prose poems, The Fire Eater, between helping customers. I had to do so mindfully, because I found myself saying aloud, repeatedly, God damn this is amazing. People generally frown upon employees cursing in their workspaces. But Diaz’s language is so good, so surprising, I failed to keep my voice measured.

I tumbled down a rabbit hole. I did not grab for a crude edge to hold onto. Instead I let myself freefall, because this descent into Diaz’s work is a gift.

In recent years Diaz has graced the poetry scene with work in publications such as Poetry Magazine, American Poetry Review, and The Nation. A 2017 National Endowment of the Arts Poetry Fellow, his work pulses at the borders of genre. Poetry or prose? Allegorical? Narrative? Absurdist? To read the thirty-eight poems in The Fire Eater back-to-back is to experience the heat of a newly created world. Diaz’s recurring images create a crescendo of madness and angst. He invents characters such as the fire eater, the mime, the man in the Pink Floyd shirt, and the skeleton. They go to the moon, to Downtown Los Angeles, to deserted islands. They bring us back answers, or they never return at all.

Herein lies Diaz’s genius. His metaphors are so open, so strange, so blindingly bewildering that readers may insert their own stories, traumas, beliefs, and find personal truths within these pages. Am I overselling? Perhaps, but I doubt it.

Take for example the opening of the poem “Moon,”

A man woke up on the surface of the moon. He didn’t float away. He sat on the pale floor. He pulled out a cigarette and took a drag. He saw the earth in the distance. It looked like a blue and green tennis ball, only significantly larger.

Is this a man displaced, resigned to his fate? Or someone who has broken past the barriers of his mind—spiritually and mentally? Is this addiction? Longing? I choose not to decide for myself, because tomorrow I may wake and find another answer here.

In a society of predictable symbols and wordplay, here we have a poet melting the walls. If you read any debut poet in 2020, read Diaz. The scald is worth it.

Jose Hernandez Diaz is a 2017 NEA Poetry Fellow living in Norwalk, California. His debut chapbook The Fire Eater is forthcoming from Texas Review Press on February 14, 2020. His work appears in publications such as Poetry Magazine, The NationNew American WritingNorth American Review, Poetry Northwest, The Progressive, Witness, and in The Best American Nonrequired Reading anthology. He tweets at @JoseHernandezDz.

You can pre-order The Fire Eater at:https://www.tamupress.com/book/9781680032086/the-fire-eater/

Lauren Davis is the author of the chapbook Each Wild Thing’s Consent (Poetry Wolf Press). She holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars, and her poetry and prose can be found in publications such as Prairie Schooner, Spillway, Qu, Hobart, and Lunch Ticket. Davis is a bookseller and writing instructor at The Writers’ Workshoppe and Imprint Books in Washington state.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.
She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press and has published three full length collections of poetry, most recently,
 slight faith (MoonPath Press, 2018).

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