Citizen Illegal by José Olivarez

$16 Haymarket Books

José Olivarez’s style in Citizen Illegal is inviting and dynamic, using a variety of poetic forms (stanzas, prose blocks, self-interviews) to convey the experience of a singular speaker coming of age as a first generation Mexican-American. A series of short poems called “Mexican Heaven,” written in the form of jokes, punctuates the book at regular intervals, weaving personal narrative with humorous cultural commentary. What and who is home? What and who is lineage? How to navigate the in-between spaces of nationhood, body, and cultural identity? These are a few of the questions these poems journey through, with a voice that—even at its most heartbroken—reaches for a view of life that makes room for celebration. So much, this book argues, depends on our vantage. As Olivarez writes in “My Parents Fold Like Luggage”: “from the sky, / borders do not exist.”

—Gabrielle Bates