El is a brash, kinetic prophet for a new age, and his poetry is his message.
“I never knew I was a poet,” writes El early on in his new collection. And that’s a good thing, because the fledgling author fills his verse with a raw power that one seldom finds in the works of tamer, more refined poets. His words fire up off the page, and if they sometimes feel ragged and uncut, we’ll happily take the raggedness along with all the heat and light he sends our way. Also unlike stuffier authors, El is unwilling to sit on the dusty shelves of high culture; he has a delightfully omnivorous poetic appetite, and he’ll as easily shoot off a verse about Art Basel—Miami’s ultrachic contemporary art showcase—as he will lines about cable queen Kourtney Kardashian—“Hair blowing / eyes glowing / long lashes / red lips / pale skin / black dress / nice aura / nice hips / I sleep with you ever night / Is that considered cheating?” It’s about time the oldest Kardashian got some love. But El spends less ink on pop-culture princesses than he does on more serious subjects, most notably the search for religious truth. Here, too, he is comprehensive in his exploration: “I studied Jesus, Allah, and Yah… / Maat and Ra…Yahweh and Jah / The sun, the moon, the ocean and star.” But if others decide they must pick one of these spiritual options, El instead selects all of the above; in a poem called “The Boddhisattva,” he writes, “I’m the alchemist, the seeker… / The prophet, / the Buddha, / the avatar, / the teacher.” As is perhaps obvious from his divinely inspired nom de plume, El will take religious answers where he can get them. Yet there is one truth that he lifts above all others—the notion that God isn’t above us but inside us. He crystallizes this insight in his poem “Thoughts …”: “If you think you are god?? / Then God you will be!” The idea that we are gods is powerful and provocative, and El’s only mistake is reminding us of it once too often. Yet he’ll have a chance to hone his language in future work: “This shit ain’t over … / Until they cover me with dirt.”
Unalloyed energy from a fresh voice.