Martinez, David Tomas. Post Traumatic Hood Disorder. Louisville, KY: Sarabande, 2018. 72 pp., (paper). $15.95.

Reviewed by by Michael VanCalbergh

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Fitting in, however defined, is a complicated and universal part of life. Whether it be entering a specific community, a job, or something more individual, many feel the pangs of nervousness before we know whether we belong. But what happens after one has entered that space? When one crosses the line from the outside to finally become part of the group, how does one balance the person they were—their pasts, and prior experiences—with the person that they are now expected to be? David Tomas Martinez’s second book of poems, Post Traumatic Hood Disorder, explores this relationship between the past we bring with us and our present existence. For Martinez, the balance is between life before and after the publication of his first book, Hustle, along with all the things that change and those that do not.

Poetry and the community that comes with it, infiltrates many of the poems in this collection. While some pieces deal with extremely specific issues surrounding poetry—such as “In Defense of Poetry Voice”—much of the work calls back to Martinez’s personal experiences as a poet. In the first section of “Hexaptych on Ambition” the conversation around poetry starts with Martinez stating that he does not

“ [. . .] trust
any poet that did not
slurp the purple velvet
milk of excess from
lucky charms while
watching voltron” (pg 39.)

Here, as in many of the poems that deal with poetry, Martinez’s dry humor sneaks through while also weaving in criticisms or illuminating ways of considering poetry itself. This play with the absurdity of poetry, and his clearly deep love of it, is never didactic though reactive to others who are. Earlier in this same poem he states that the problem with poetry is that it “has devolved into color/ books of biblical/ tricks” but ends the thought a few lines later saying “or so I hear”.

Another great example of his ability to weave in criticism with humor is the poem “Drawing Water.” Here, Martinez recalls an interaction he had with Tony Hoagland and the moment in which it “gets complicated” (pg. 64). Martinez writes that their interaction became awkward when Hoagland “says/ no dawg, you which/ really isn’t the uncomfortable/ part. It’s that we’ve lost/ something”. The interaction with another established poet, which seems so positive in the beginning of the poem, takes a weird turn when Hoagland’s ignorance, drive to be cool, and lack of self-awareness causes a rift in their closeness. Martinez inhabits fully this world of poetry, where the speaker finds himself “discussing vehicles as metaphors/ for systems” but still made exceptionally aware of his own identity.

In other poems such as “Tattletale” or “Playing Hangman,” Martinez confronts aspects of self that are—as the collection’s title alludes to—more traumatic. He writes in “Playing Hangman” that “It is deeply ingrained/ that things are wrong/ with me. So I blame/ the fates” before he discusses being absent from his children (pg. 87).  This pain is palpable. The reflection on his self-worth is deepened through the connection to his current situation which he describes as being the “poet laureate of angst.” Being pulled into his past through an event or action inside the poem reflects the way each poem in this book exists in the present and the past—making each moment all the more sincerely intimate and reflective of lived experience.

Regardless, though, of what type of poem Martinez is writing, almost all of this collection deals with the balancing act between the worlds that he now inhabits. His poems—riffs off of slag for continuation after a foul in basketball—“And One,” “And Two,” “And Three,” and “And Four” all illuminate how well Martinez dances on this line. In “And One” we are asked to “Look at the homie,/ even when in a gang/ he came home to crack Nietzsche” and see him walk the line between expectations of what his situation is to how he is expected to make something more of himself (pg. 5). In “And Two”, Martinez gives readers a sonic gift from homie, which is part braggadocio, part mantra that ends with a barista correctly interpreting his eloquence as an order for coffee. “And Three” asks the reader to “Look at homie” in a college classroom. The dance here is code switching and eventually challenging a professor to teach “one book about// brown folks [. . .] that/ doesn’t pivot on disenfranchisement” (pg. 58). “And Four” finishes this set of poems broken up throughout the collection with

“Look at Homie on the beach picking
shells in dress shoes, wondering why
he chose poetry. Look at Homie siting
on a bed in Monterey Bay

[. . .]

Homie left without leaving the room.” (pg. 83)

In each of these poems, Martinez analyzes “homie” from divergent perspectives and at various times in his life. With a deftness that is hard not to envy, he takes each moment in this life and makes the reader look closely by demanding in each one that we “look at homie.” Then he describes each slice of time, judges it, and finds it lacking—not favoring or expressing dissatisfaction with the pre-poetry or post-poetry side. He shows himself supremely objective about this life, finding the light and the trauma in each new poem.

The act of balancing the past and the present is where the true brilliance of David Tomas Martinez’s second book comes through. Throughout Post Traumatic Hood Disorder, the nebulous place that he holds through his own doubt and struggle, and the inability of others to fully see him, does give these poems a clear thread of “PTHD,” to use the book’s title in the way it seems to suggest. The flashbacks to the past, the crippling of memory, longing for what came before, loving now yet wanting to run from the present, and many other paradoxes make this collection a refusal to ignore what makes a person whole; “vehicles as metaphors” and “the purple velvet/ milk of excess”.

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MICHAEL VANCALBERGH received his MFA in Poetry from Rutgers-Newark but now survives in Normal, IL. When not searching for ants his daughter supposedly saw while trying to fall asleep, he is one half of the comedy etymology podcast Words for Dinner. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming from, The Collagist, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Naugatuck River Review, Figure 1, Gingerbread House, Apex Magazine, and others.