Once upon a time artists were radicals. I mean, like blatant radicals. Nowadays, some (I don’t know about most, but for my argument we’re just going to say some) artists are activists, but only off camera, or outside of their professional artwork. I cannot pinpoint the exact time and date when it all changed, but I’m pretty sure I was close to the age of 10 and it was sometime in the early 90s. Oh yeah, when that one eastern European union-thing fell. That probably did it. But artists, poets specifically, have always been indebted with the duty of documenting society in all its beauty and sickness. And that’s probably the reason why they’re all hated: they just document. Well, not Matt Sedillo.
I am glad –no, glad is too lazy and bourgeois-sounding (and once upon a time, words such as bourgeoisie and proletariat were common vocabulary) — I am rabid with excitement that poets are embracing radicalism and activism once again.
Enter Matt Sedillo. Southern California’s two-piece-suit-wearing, young Hip-Hop-listening, messy long-haired-rocking Chicano answer to Roque Dalton.
Matt Sedillo is not a liar, and by definition barely passable as an artist. But he acknowledges that. As Matt writes in the poem “Communism Now:”
Let me let you in on a little secret
I am not, nor have I ever been, a poet
I am a communist
Because I am more interested in ideas than I am in words
Just as I am more interested in getting somewhere
than I am cars
The front cover of Matt’s debut collections of poems published this year in Los Angeles by Casa de Poesia, under the Poets Against War Collection, For What I Might Do Tomorrow, a fragment taken from his poem “Men at War” that purposefully works as an immediate threat, has Matt’s name in black and bold military-stencil font and a red star at the bottom center as proud and obvious as a portrait of Lenin or Mao.
Highlights from the book include: “I remember the Alamo,” “While Condaleezza Shops,” “Gary and Louise” and “Men at War.” From beginning to end the thin 25-poem book holds nothing back, not working class and anti-capitalist ideology, not heartfelt stories of the ravages of racism, insightful stories of struggling Americans, economic hardships, anger-inducing eloquent and pseudo-rhyming dark-humor rants equating a societal system to unforgivable child abuse and the fundamental dehumanization of the world. He maneuvers through murky and scattered subject matter, piecing thoughts together with style and ease; so much ease in fact that the reader might not be conscious of the fact that he or she had just read political thought and history in all its blood and glory and borderline illegality. For example, Matt relates something as complex as economics into the simplicity of a few adjective-absent lines in “If You’re Scared Say You’re Scared:”
There seems to be some confusion
In the country I live in
I hear people say I don’t mind living
Under a capitalist system
In a capitalist society
But CEO salaries
Coupled with poverty wages
That just ain’t right
No, it’s not
In fact it’s wrong
In fact you know what
That’s kind of like
Like saying I don’t mind living with cancer
I just don’t want to die
You cannot reform
Or take the tarnish
Off a system
That need be abolished
The reader might not agree with Matt but he or she cannot help feel the rightness in Matt’s rage, in his captured moments of crime and injustice, in his indelible snapshots of world history; and how he molds, chops and transforms abstract facts into the skin and bone of everyday real life, into dangerous works of literary art (or what some may call propaganda, but that’s a subjective word, usually used by those in a position to control the dissemination of information and designate value and meaning to words and history).
Yes, Matt Sedillo should feel honored that he’s most likely up next on the FBI’s list of upcoming raids against enemy combatants, possible insurgents, anti-capitalist (and by definition, Un-American) for his involvement with the Poor Peoples’ Economic Human Rights Campaign and the Revolutionary Poets Brigade.
But he probably wouldn’t be jack shit if he wasn’t on their list.
Reviewed by Luis Rivas