In-Depth Look: Rudy Francisco – “The Heart and The Fist”
Appreciating poetry is often about patience: sitting with a poem, meditating on it, and re-reading it multiple times. With spoken word, we don’t always get a chance to do that. This series is about taking that chance, and diving a little deeper into some of the new poems going up on Button.
“A weapon will always be a weapon, but we choose how we fight the war.”
This is a longer entry than usual, but there’s so much good to say about this poem.
In the spoken word and poetry slam community, I think a lot of us (especially those of us who have been part of the community for a long time) tend to get really excited about weirdness, experimentation, and pushing the boundaries of form and delivery. And that’s cool; challenging ourselves and our audiences is a healthy thing. But it’s not the only thing. As this poem demonstrates, you can still create magic within the confines of a more traditional format.
Let’s break down what I mean by “traditional format,” because the tradition that I’m referring to is relatively young. I’m thinking about poems that are around three minutes long, poems that begin with some kind of fact, anecdote, or statistic, poems that introduce an image at the beginning and then loop back around to re-contextualize that same image at the end, poems that have a clear, specific thesis statement supported by a structural arc in which every new idea relates back to that thesis, poems that start softly and then build in intensity as they move (only to end back in a softer place), poems that use personal narrative to support some larger idea– all of these techniques are present here, as they are in so many spoken word poems (including my own), yet this poem doesn’t feel stale, or “samey,” which is the common critique of so much spoken word.
It feels electric– partly because it does all of those “traditional format” things so perfectly (as though this were the platonic ideal of a slam poem) and partly because of its message, which is vital and incredibly timely. We need to be making the connections between gun violence and masculinity. This poem doesn’t just make that connection, though; it challenges us to see both why that connection exists and why it doesn’t have to. It makes a critique, and it also offers hope, all through the lens of individual experience (as opposed to finger-pointing or abstract intellectualizing).
As readers of this series may notice, we’re not just analyzing poems here; we’re exploring the tools that these these poets use that might be relevant or useful for aspiring poets. That “traditional format” discussed above could also be called a formula. And there is always danger in simply plugging into a formula– as so many of us do when we’re just getting started as poets and writers. But as this poem demonstrates, the formula itself is just a tool; what matters is what substance, perspective, heart, specificity, and meaning we take the time and effort to put into it.