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Anthony Seidman

Book Review

A Sleepless Man Sits Up in Bed

by on July 18, 2017

A Sleepless Man Sits Up in Bed, by Anthony Seidman


I remember getting caught in a riptide off the beach in Rosarito, in Baja California. We’d been told from a young age to swim to the side to get out, but I was eleven and on my own and it’s rather difficult to be mindful of oft-repeated lessons when a column of water is dragging you out further than your pubescent courage has ever dared. I barely made it to the empty shore that afternoon, and I don’t remember much about the precious minutes I actually spent in the water. But I remember lying on the beach after. First on my side, dry heaving for a long time, then on my back, just beyond where the water could touch me. I laid there for a long time, realizing for the first time that almost dying wasn’t as cool as the movies made it seem. I wanted to sleep, but I couldn’t, and in my growing frustration (because how else does a young male mind process fear but through anger?), I sat up. Everything was the same as it had been a few minutes before: beautiful, inexorable, and enormous.


And now you have died. And the flow of grace along with you.

It is said God has never permitted what

burns brightly among mortals to sputter, and fade.

Because of that our hope endures.


Anthony Seidman’s A Sleepless Man Sits Up in Bed is a poetry collection unlike any I have encountered because of the physical impact and sheer power of the language. We writers should be reluctant to tap into clichés, but I feel no shame in describing this collection as beautifully and transcendently earthen. Reading “Field Trip” is like scraping fingertips against land shattered by drought. Reading “Urge” is like pressing your hands into the loose soil over a fresh grave. Reading “The Trilobite” reminds you of sand unevenly coating half your exhausted body. Most every line layers itself with weight, pressing down into the rest of the poem like sedimentary rock and calcifying its own significance. This is the kind of collection that truly lends itself to being read aloud, as each word and line fills the mouth with the sweetness of chocolate and the grit of long dried meat.


I cut all strings never attached, and say

goodbye to your gymnasiums and diners,

I foreclose on this scrap of light,

crumble your cathedral with a pinch of salt.


Part of the power at play here is that Seidman accomplishes what seems to be an increasingly difficult feat in contemporary literature – making poignant statements with subtlety, while not sacrificing impact. There is something here for anyone with a modicum of foresight or empathy, be you an environmentalist, a futuristic, a sociologist, or anything else. The poems comment on everything from immigration to religion to relationships to plate tectonics and they do so in ways that feel immediate and relatable. They do so in a manner that reminds you that our attempts to separate these allegedly unrelated ideas are ultimately arbitrary and futile. And yet each is treated with respect. Borders are not being torn down and spit on. They are acknowledged as the mental constructs they are. That said, the act of penetrating those borders is also acknowledged for its frightening power, without condoning or demonizing.


I step back & invite him in;

his fingers of vinegar stick thru

my chest, pickle this grisly heart so that

crows will caw at noon.


A Sleepless Man is a collection of poetry that you have to allow yourself to experience. I don’t mean that in the basic sense of simply reading. Anyone can do that. To experience this kind of poetry is to allow your mind to live the experience. You have to feel the centripetal force of swinging like a jug of water at the end of a rope so that you do not spill. You have to feel the ground envelope you as the red spider drags you down. This is perhaps the one way in which the collection is not traditionally accessible; it is a work that assumes you can and will wade into the water, that you will pick up the shovel and start to sweat. But to call this a flaw would be to suggest that the collection be something lesser than it is.


As a Mexican American, I do have to admit to some bias. Maybe I’m predisposed to enjoy hearing about the Desert Winds or the trees of the Yucatan from a poet who knows the land and knows what he is doing. But it’s hard to imagine a more “objective” perspective drawing a different conclusion. A Sleepless Man Sits Up in Bed is shaman’s invocation of the elements and the ancestors, seeking to commune with them to learn their wisdom and wield their power. It is a song that, despite fitting inside sixty pages, is part funeral dirge and part love ballad and part call to arms. I recommend it for anyone who feels as though the world can be aloof and uncaring. It will help you hear that your heartbeat, thundering after almost drowning, is in rhythm with everything else.


A Sleepless Man Sits Up in Bed is available through Eyewear Publishing

Book Review

Luna Park

by on May 30, 2017

Luna Park, by Luis Cardoza y Aragon

Translated by Anthony Seidman

Review by Kristin Kaz


I was four years old in kindergarten, which is when I learned how to identify coins using my fingers alone. Is this a common lesson for young capitalists? Hands thrusting into deep, dark cotton sacks, fingering the heavy ridges of a quarter, the slightness of a dime. The nickel and the penny were hardest to distinguish for a while, but I got the hang of it. Eventually.

And now I so rarely use my hands to explore the world.

I lost my way.
Where was I?
I rambled along singing!

This work, this collection, I’ll tell you first how it feels, and then how it feels.

Luna Park is a slim text, bound in cardboard and wrapped with a smooth, heavier stock. Is this recycled paper?[1] Difficult to say without my eyes, but there is something organic about it all. I drag my nails against the cover and it sounds like marbles. Like a rain drum. The pages themselves are slighter, still smooth, and they make a pud-pud-pud sort of thwacking sound against themselves as I flip swiftly through them. There is something nostalgic about the presentation. I have it. There I am, at the start of a new school year, wrapping text books in paper bags. This is the comfortable, familiar part of the process. This is what my fingers and nose can tell me about how this work feels.

This is what my eyes can tell you.

Luna Park (1924, 2016) is Luis Cardoza Y Aragón’s first collection of poetry. It is translated from the Spanish by Anthony Seidman, thrust into the thick of this decade’s hazy Twitter feed by Alan Mills, and steeped in the kinetic energy of Daniel Godínez-Nivón’s graphics.

From this critical living, restless,
A new soul has flourished:
Tender and strong,
Beautiful and sweet,
Like a flower of steel.

The beauty of a work like Luna Park is its ability to transcend time and space – or, rather, the ability to so clearly encapsulate the speed at which we hurtle through time, through space; the push-pull of experience and innocence; the jarring, grotesque specter of age that stalks us through the funfair.

The one who doesn’t reside in the future doesn’t exist.
The future started yesterday.

My third reading of Luna Park is punctuated by the metronome of relentlessly tack-tacking fingers on an ergonomic keyboard. I put the book in my back pocket (this is a book that fits in your back pocket), where I keep it while I carry my cat through the house to the kitchen, where I pace back and forth, cat slung over one shoulder, left-handedly nosing my way through the experience of Luis Cardoza Y Aragón’s poetry.

La vie s’en va…
A woman, with her gaze,
Tells me:
“Live it up”
Life shouts out
“Follow that woman”

This is not poetry to be read passively, to be enjoyed on some quiet Sunday.
This is poetry that begs to be read in motion; this is poetry that pushes you up and out.
This is poetry of exile, of transcendence, of momentum, of vitality.
This is poetry that tells you to live.
So you live.


Luna Park is available now through Cardboard House Press.


Photo of Luis Cardoza Y Aragón and Carlos Mérida in Paris, 1927 from

[1] It is recycled paper.

Book Review


by on May 18, 2017

Confetti-Ash, Selected Poems of Salvador Novo

Translated by Anthony Seidman and David Shook


In 1581, Sir Philip Sydney completed the The Defence of Posey. It was a response to an argument from a Puritan minister who claimed that the arts, particularly poetry, were egregious affronts. In The Defence, Sydney makes several comparisons between the act of writing poetry and godliness, specifically referring to both as the act of “making”. He claimed that poetry was paying honor and homage to God himself, as it was a human imitation of the creation of the universe. To be fair, I do not agree with such a lofty juxtaposition, if for no other reason than I believe poetry can only come from the mortal, those bound for death. But I am reminded of Sydney’s impassioned argument as I read Confetti-Ash, an amazing collection of Salvador Novo’s poetry translated to English by Anthony Seidman and David Shook. As the reader moves through the text and steps into the mind of the collection’s many speakers, we are presented with an ensemble of the human experience, treated with the curiosity of an inspired, curious, powerful, and even hubristic being. The real divine comparison here is not to the god of the Abrahamic tradition, but to Prometheus, or perhaps more appropriately, Huehuecoyotl – beings with an intrinsic link to the human condition, and who can appreciate our multi-facetedness.

Confetti-Ash is a collection with an almost compulsive need to run the gamut of extreme emotion. This is, as one would expect, due in large part to the choices made by Seidman and Shook, and they deserve plenty of credit for including a truly quality selection of Novo’s work. But it is primarily a result of Novo’s brazen ethos. He was known for being unapologetically homosexual in a country with a conservative Catholic elite, and his determination is present in several poems.

Ha descendido el cielo / por los ferrocarriles de la lluvia / Contemplacion. Egoaltruismo. / Cristianismo. Narciso.

Heaven has descended / via the railroad of rain / Contemplation. Ego-altruism. / Christianity. Narcissus.

This is a voice unafraid of divine judgment and aware of the hypocrisies present in so many dogmas and their social implementations. But it is not critical for the sake of vengeance or the need to rebel. Rather, it is peaceful in the sense of doing what the speaker feels needs to be done, regardless of the consequences. This peace will constantly give way to passion, however, in both of what we would consider positive and negative emotions. Genuine anger and fear weave in and out of an embrace with an emphatic need for love.

Por la calle habia / en cartels rojos y en bocas asperas, / extranas palabras / que se grababan en mi cerebro como enigmas / y habia acciones y efectos / cuyo motivo me preocupaba indagar.

On the street there were / words on red posters, gruff voices / strange words that stuck in my brain, like riddles, / and there were acts and results, / whose motives made me worry about finding them out.

On the surface, a stanza like this seems to be ambiguous, to the point of reluctance. But such is the effect of Novo’s work that even the seemingly mundane is laced with emotion. The reader can feel the blur of images and sounds and their inherently visceral nature. The reader is confronted with the idea that a determination to not look away will not necessarily lead to clarity, that bravery in the face of fear will not inherently bring understanding or a peaceful resolution. In point of fact, there is an implicit suggestion that bravery appears only in the face of the fear of the unknown. And the riddles add an intellectual dimension to the fear and the courage, teasing us on an Oedipean level because we are perhaps all tragic protagonists who must know.

As Jorge Ortega and Anthony Seidman point out in their respective foreword and afterword, Salvador Novo is almost criminally underappreciated with regards to the upper echelons of Mexican poets. He is a writer that aggressively resists easy labeling and confinement, unafraid of explore everything from gender role reversal within a binary system to agonizing grief at the thought of losing a loved one. And yet there always remains an undercurrent of mischief and impetus, as if something beyond even Novo’s understanding compels him to move and cause no small amount of strife. The speakers of his poetry are spirits that revel in and dread the newness, the protean metamorphosis they engender. In this I am reminded of W.E.B. DuBois, Gloria Anzaldua, Prometheus, and the shaping of a new identity, where a Mexican must confront his Spanish, his Azteca, and his Mexicano, the duality that is in and of itself something entirely separate.

I highly recommend this book to all of our readers, especially those of you who, like me, are irrevocably and blessedly Mexican. But the truth is as the world is dragged kicking and screaming into multi-cultural self-awareness, we can also use the beautifully written and translated Confetti-Ash as a reminder that we are neither the origin of this expansion of the human mind nor its endpoint.


Confetti-Ash is available now through The Bitter Oleander Press.

Book Review

Smooth-Talking Dog

by on November 8, 2016

smooth_talking_dog_coverSmooth-Talking Dog by Roberto Castillo Udiarte

Translated by Anthony Seidman


The saying “misery loves company” has always irked me for some reason. Perhaps, because the connotation that it often takes is of a miserable person wanting to take you along for the journey. But really, I believe it comes from a more meaningful place – that of empathy. Poets – or any sort of artist for that matter – that can capture the ideologies of a generation, that feel left out of what society has to offer, and articulate it in a way that resonates with people on a large scale are important due to the fact that they make even the outsider feel understood. Their empathetic nature reminds us we all have somewhere we can belong.  Yes, while some may romanticize the follies or self-destructive actions of another’s life, the true beauty in the work is in its ability to cross boundaries and resist expectations. Ultimately they capture the humanity in life in places that it may not be easy to find.

Castillo Udiarte is one these poets. His work delves deep into the darkness of human nature, yet somehow comes back with an air of hopefulness. One could say he is a veteran of that path. Since 1985 he has published over half a dozen poetry books in Spanish; however, up until recently very little of his work has been available in the English language. This is all despite the fact that he translated many of his contemporaries in such as Bukowski into Spanish during his lifetime. Now, thanks to Phoneme Media and the poet/translator Anthony Seidman, there is a full-length collection of Castillo Udiarte’s work available in English.

The collection Smooth-Talking Dog gives readers a taste of what many have been experiencing for quite some time. Poetry that bites, poetry that stings, poetry that takes you to the darkest places in order to beat you down, and poetry that picks you back up again. The words Castillo Udiarte writes take you to another world, one of back alleys and corrupt cops, folklore and superstition, family and remembrance, office workers and prostitutes. It is an examination of the human existence of all sides of life that has a deep level of honesty to it. Many of the poems are short yet poignant pieces that envelope in their sentimentality:

Last night,
with the December rain,
the memory of Felipe
entered our house, one of my grandfathers
the one from the eternal garden.

I dreamed of him
thirty years younger,
smiling, his face pockmarked,
and his long lizard’s tail.
And in the dream
he told me of his exploits during the reign of Cardenas,
of his arrival at the border,
the construction of the Tijuana dam,
his job as a barman,
his first wife, his adopted son, and
the interminable shots of tequila.

A blue
Leakage flooded this morning,
And I don’t know how to explain to my daughters
That they too are part of my grandfather.

During a recent literary festival in Los Angeles, I had the pleasure of seeing Castillo Udiarte read his work. He presented a reprisal of his performative poem “The Magician of the Mirrors’ Final Show”. While Seidman accompanied him on stage providing a translation of the words that asked people from all walks of life to “step right up step right up” to witness the show, Phoneme Media’s editor David Shook walked around holding up a mirror in front of each audience member. The mirror was held awkwardly and intimately close to your face – forcing you to really examine and sit with yourself. At the conclusion of the poem the mirror was smashed. The magic trick here could be many things, but in that moment everyone’s reflection was taken into that same mirror and subsequently destroyed. It did not matter if you were a publisher from Mexico City, a community college professor from the Valley, a store clerk, or anything between. Everyone was captured in that same mirror.

That is the power of the work. It solicits everyone equally. Allowing everyone a moment to be felt. To feel heard. To feel beautiful.


Smooth-Talking Dog is available December 13, 2016 through Phoneme Media.