Review – Radiance: Poems by Emanuel Xavier

I decided to read Radiance because poetry is the literary genre that I have neglected to explore most, even more than nonfiction. So I figured a good way to conquer this long-standing aversion to reading poetry would be to create a reading list to start off and adhere to it stubbornly. Radiance jumped to the top of the list because it is an #ownvoices collection of poems by an openly gay Latino. But also because it is a slim collection and a perfect starting point for poetry novices!

What struck me most about these poems was how hauntingly personal they were and that Emanuel Xavier was not afraid to make the personal political. For a poetry novice, this is a perfect way to draw me in and maintain my interest as I read a style of writing that is unfamiliar. Xavier certainly accomplished captivating me with every snippet into his life the poems provided. As I read these poems, I immediately assumed they were about his personal experiences, and I later confirmed that they in fact were. This provided a connection to the writer that increased my enjoyment of each poem exponentially. 

Taken as a whole, the poems narrate the life, in vignettes, of a flawed but deeply sympathetic man who is rendered raw and vulnerable on the page. They start off with childhood memories. Some are funny, some are a shocking punch to the gut, and then go on to realistically depict the longings and fears of childhood and adolescence. A few of the poems are mature in nature, but I think the maturity of the content brings a level of authenticity to the narrative that would have been lost if the mature content had been left out entirely. 

I found it difficult to sample a poem for this review. Some are too long, others too short and lack a context provided by other poems. This demonstrates that the poems must be taken collectively, and that is what I enjoyed most about reading Radiance. Reading the poems in succession gave me the familiar sense of reading a traditional narrative, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The poems near the middle were the most poignant for me. They were complex and brilliantly expressed the hard and often uncomfortable subtleties of love, life, and sexuality.

Here’s one that can stand on its own without much context:


The last several poems cover a variety of topics, but near the end it focuses on a brush with death, starting with the poem “When Your Doctor Calls To Tell You That Your Brain Tumor Is Back.” How is one supposed to react upon hearing such news? Well, be sure to “respond quietly in the car so as not to alarm your boyfriend, your mother, your aunt.” But also “be grateful you are not the one driving as the world outside collapses and the song on the satellite radio fades into the distance.” These are lines taken from what’s perhaps my favorite poem in the entire collection because it signals a shift in tone and elevates the collection into a more optimistic yet bittersweet literary experience.

The boy and young man we once followed is now a man who is at once reminded of his mortality. We learn the most about his character in the last few poems, as he grapples with the harsh realities of his condition. Right off the bat, we see the spirit of a fighter and a survivor in the poem “Schwannoma,” where he makes light of the situation by saying the name of his tumor sounds like something one orders off a Mediterranean restaurant, and that he wants to give it a drag queen name. We see he is determined to pick himself up “from this death drop,” to forget the darkness of his past, the pain of his present, and focus on the radiance of his future. 

By the time I read the last poem, I could envision fully-realized human in my mind’s eye who I deeply admired for his honesty, the boldness of his voice, but most of all because he was a survivor. The collection is actually dedicated “to survivors everywhere,” and as one reads each poem, it soon becomes clear the meaning of “survivor” is multi-layered. The poems are dedicated to survivors of sexual assault, parental rejection, physical violence, and even brushes with death.

At 53 pages, it’s easy to recommend such a slim work of poetry to anyone who is traditionally averse to reading it and certainly to poetry lovers as well. The poems are memorable, the feelings they will evoke in you are real and complicated, and the journey they will take you on is surprisingly large in scope. As a Queer Latino, these poems resonated with me profoundly, but the authenticity of the experiences laid out on the page should ring true and appear unequivocally and universally human for any reader. 

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radiance by emanuel xavier

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31 thoughts on “Review – Radiance: Poems by Emanuel Xavier

  1. Fantastic and powerful review. It sounds like a worthwhile collection to read and then reread again. I like how you mention that collections of poetry are so important to read as a whole, that one poem may provide context to another. I plan to read and review more poetry, and similar to plays, I think I need to ‘practice’ how I read and how I process. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Well, this one in particular is appreciated best as a whole. I’m not sure if that’s the case for others because I don’t read poetry very often, but I want to change that!
      I haven’t even thought about including more plays into my regular reading. Though, I don’t have anything agaisnst them. The plays I have read before, I’ve enjoyed.
      Please do review more poetry. I had a lot of fun with this one and would like to see other bloggers review poems as well.

  2. This sounds like a deeply moving collection. I love poetry, and used to read it often when I was younger, but I rarely make time to read it now! Why?? Thanks for sharing this collection – I’ll look for it at my library – and for reminding me that I need to make space for poetry.

      1. I agree with Julie– but I think that’s because I put a lot of intellectual pressure on myself to try and be sophisticated. For some reason, if I don’t enjoy a book of poetry, I find a voice telling me, “You just don’t get it. This isn’t because you don’t like it; you’re not smart enough for this.” I wonder where I got that silly notion? But that evil voice makes it really hard to review poetry.

  3. *Adds to TBR* *Blames Naz again*

    Glad you enjoyed this! If you want to get more into poetry, I recommend Benjamin Zephaniah – a Jamaican-Brit who I read a lot as a kid and whose poems are best read out loud; Dannie Abse – Jewish-Welsh poet who wrote amazingly about Welsh life and his family; and James Franco (yes, the actor, what can’t he do?) because Straight James/Gay James is a work of art. 🙂

  4. Poetry! I’ve never heard of this collection, but I’m always excited when I see bloggers reviewing poetry. If you’re looking for recommendations, you might want to check out “Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers” by Frank X Walker, and “October Mourning: A Song For Matthew Shepard” by Leslea Newman. Both books talk about people whose stories most readers already know, so the poems are very easy to follow.

    1. I think I’ve only ever seen one blogger review poetry! haha, why do we avoid it so much? I will try to read more of it and perhaps review it as well.
      Yes, I found that I enjoy poetry so that naturally means I’m looking to find more! Thanks for the recommendations.

  5. I don’t buy or review poetry. I can appreciate good, moving poetry though. You definitely just sold this poetry book, Naz. You should be proud of yourself. Great review as always. I like that you’re going to different genres and being more broad in your review choices. That’s something I definitely need to try. Your blog keeps me on my toes man lol. Kudos!

    1. I really do mean it when I say I want to diversify my reading! hehe
      I hope you look for some poetry in the future. There’s lots to choose from, especially poetry by authors from Africa and the diaspora. Books of poetry are also very short, so they don’t take much of an investment. 🙂

    1. I’m not gonna lie, one of the reasons poetry has suddenly become a more attractive reading experience is because the collections tend to be very short! hehe
      Yes, this one was very good. I’ll be sure to read more of the author’s work. 🙂

  6. Just like you, I’ve started to read more poetry. I’m trying to convince myself I’m not a complete intellectual wasteland. I have yet to find a collection that has moved me, though. I’ll certainly try this one and see if I can finally make a connection!

    1. Haha, poetry isn’t as scary as we make it out to be. There’s plenty of it that’s accessible!
      I really like this one because it spoke to my personal experiences. While I do recommend it to everyone, I suggest you look for one that you think you’ll connect with more personally. Poetry is strange and foreign for many of us so don’t be too daring in your search for the right book of poems, or you will be turned away from it forever!!

  7. I’m glad you enjoyed it…I’ve never been one to be able to read a book of poetry…I could read a couple, but that’s it. And I could write them.
    I applaud you for reading such a neglected genre!

  8. Wow, that sounds absolutely heartrending. *adds to TBR* What a fabulous way to continue Latinx Heritage Month!

    And yeah, I’ve got a bunch of poetry to be read/reviewed – in some ways I find them a little easier to tackle, just because (on the whole) they’re a lot shorter. What other poets/collections do you have?

    1. It’s so good to hear another blogger who’s willing to tackle poetry! I’ve only started reading it fairly recently, so the only ones I own are Radiance and A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying by Laurie Anne Guerrero. I have several others I’d like to read, but haven’t bought them yet.

  9. Lovely review, Naz. One reason I avoid a lot of poetry is that it’s trendy write abstractly. Many poets no longer create images, feelings, etc. I’ve found that when I attend a poetry reading, the poet will explain the inspiration, and the abstract poem will make sense, but that’s not what we get when we read the correction in our own. This book sounds the kind I would enjoy.

    1. I haven’t warmed up to abstract poetry yet. As I explore more types of poetry, perhaps I will try something more experimental, but for now I will seek out the ones that are most similar to traditional stories. Hopefully there are enough of them around!

  10. I still haven’t been brave enough to review a book of poetry on my blog. I’ve mentioned them a few times, but I don’t feel qualified to talk about them. You did such a beautiful job – it makes it feel a little more possible for myself. I don’t read a lot of poetry, but I often like it when I do read it. I’m glad you decided to read and review this.

    1. I felt the same way about reviewing poetry until I actually did it! I chose not to focus on the technicalities of poetry because I have no idea what they actually are. I just reviewed it like it was a regular novel and the review came easily enough.
      I want to continue exploring poetry because I love new reading experiences.

  11. What a wonderful review, Naz! I loved the interview with the poet and now your review just makes me want to run to the bookshop! It’s so great to know in advance that the poems should be read collectively, because I’m someone who usually reads one poem at a time. I’m currently reading Bermejo’s poems and I’ll have to try both methods of reading. Also, if you rarely read poetry, you still manage to write such great reviews! I loved the spoken word background of the author, perhaps there’s some on youtube? Curious if that background translates to the page.

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