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If Jesus were gay, he’d undoubtedly be tight with Manny Xavier. After all, they both come from humble beginnings, they both have powerful, authoritative voices and they speak undeniable truths, both universal and personal. And nowhere does Manny show his talents better than his new collection, If Jesus Were Gay & Other Poems.
Xavier’s poetry is not pretty—its language springs at you on tight, muscular haunches, going for your throat or your heart, but for all its aggressiveness, it has a grace and nobility that enables it to capture scenes both sacred (“Waiting for God,” “Resurrection” and “The Fourth King”) and profane (“Morning After the Cock,” “What I Never Told You About Prostitution”).
Manny has lived a complicated, disturbed life as a drug addict and prostitute but like the best of artists, he’s taken those traumas and transmogrified them into art—little pieces of wrought irony that shock at the same time they tap into your own core of experience and show you that we’re not so different after all. As he says in “The Untitled Poem”:
Nothing is too difficult to consider for poetry
too hard to share with an audience hungry
The colors of memories are never too bright
for white pages
Xavier never shies away from the issues or the tough questions—and there are tough questions galore. He asks them of his tricks in “Without Rhyme” and “Just Friends,” he asks them of the father who abandoned him in “Daddy Issues” and “Father” and he asks them of society in the title piece, “If Jesus Were Gay”:
If it was revealed Jesus kissed another man,
but not on the cheek
would you still beg him for forgiveness?
ask him for miracles?
hope your loved ones get to meet him in heaven?
would wars be waged over religion?
would world leaders invoke his name for votes?
would churches everywhere rejoice
and celebrate his life?
would rappers still thank him
in their acceptance speeches?
Tough questions, indeed.
I had the privilege of reading with Manny at a Saints and Sinners function some years ago and I was never more thankful we spoke in alphabetical order. I would have hated to follow him. He blew the room away from the first stanza. People were literally sitting on the edge of their seats as he performed his poetry with all the verve and fire he could summon. The sight was magnificent, and his words were astounding. No one could follow that. And as I read If Jesus Were Gay, I could hear Manny’s voice—anguished, pleading, pissed off, hurt by family and friends but exultant and elated at his survival of them all. You can too. His Legendary: The Spoken Word Poetry of Emanuel Xavier, is available for download on iTunes. Listen to it and keep that voice in your head as you read this book.
And then see if doesn’t haunt you for days.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler