Okay, ready? Would you rather be completely covered in fur, like, head-to-toe, monster type of shit or, stay with me, stay with me, be completely smoothie-smooth in all of the right places: thighs, crotch, armpit, upper lip, neck?
— from “We Play Would You Rather at the Galentine’s Day Party”
If one were to design a word-cloud of Melissa Lozada-Olivia’s collection Peluda, a suit for false advertising would be defused: hair, wax, bangs, moustache, razor, shave, salon, nails, make-up, bikini, brown, girl, feelings, and hair, hair, hair. Make no mistake, Peluda is all about the hairy one. There is no mention of Jose Luis Borges “Shaggy Beast,” but his idea of being imaginary, ostracized, outside-of-the-norm due to an over-abundance of follicles is at the core and on the cover of this debut collection.
Funny, fierce, and self-disparaging, the poems focus on such themes as body-image, family, class, growing-up, and the immigrant-experience in America. “I Shave My Sister’s Back Before Prom,” captures the confessional, the millennial, and youth:
i lather up my sister’s back
much more elegant, better posture, she didn’t inherit heavy
breast like me, my back bent forward, nipples lined,
with hair, sneaky little girls who crept out past their bedtime
to listen to adults fight, the razor makes soapy paths
across her back. Bubbles burst & laugh together at the forks
in the road. bitch, are you done?
i take a towel & i wipe the journeys away
Whimsical in punctuation, ampersand in full use, capitalization rules begone, full of Whitmanesque arias, E. E. Cummings’s rebellion, the haste and unchecked emotion is as American as abuela’s arroz con pollo followed by apple pie.
Perhaps the challenge of moving from performative slam poetry to the written word is that many of the poems feel like premature notes scribbled at top speed, which for rap, spoken word, and slam create urgency and passion. (Lozada-Olivia’s videos on YouTube are phenomenal!) Although without a cranked microphone and audience howling supportively after each dramatic inhale, a poem meets the reader in a quiet space, with little context; the page is not always underscored with cheers.
In “My Hair Stays on Your Pillow Like a Question Mark,” reaching for the sublime in the quotidian feels under supported by the language:
skinny white girl with a sugar skull tattoo says:
no offense Melissa??
but I know when you have been around??
because your hair gets all over everything??
& no offence but it kinds grosses me out??
if you come into my apartment
can you just please be aware of that??
imagine being as gross as you fear??
The double question marks capture youthful uptalk, yes everything is a question?? and the delicate approach to conflict is another sign of the times. The repetition of “gross” and “offence,” combined with dangling redundant prepositions, is exactly how people speak to each other. Lozada-Olivia is listening, and pulling from what we hear daily, and pointing out how language is failing daily.
Although in Peluda transition from stage to page is not always smooth, and in this current “attention economy” where Instagram rules and poets like Rupi Kaur and r.h. Sin ravish Barnes & Noble’s sales charts, this collection is a passionate and fearless attempt, with a raw and essential voice, that might just rouse the next generation to stop watching videos on the phone and pick up a pen and paper.