Why I Chose José Olivarez’s Citizen Illegal for the Rumpus Poetry Book Club


Usually this piece functions as a mini-review, a snapshot of the book I’ve chosen. But this month I’m not going to do that, not when Frank Johnson has already written an incredible review of José Olivarez’s debut collection for us. Read Johnson’s review and you’ll know why I’m so very excited to share this book with our Poetry Book Club in August.

Before I tell you more, a quick reminder that in order to receive your early copy of Indecency, read along with the Poetry Book Club, and participate in our exclusive chat with José Olivarez, you’ll need to to subscribe by July 20!

Often I choose a book because I get the advance copy in the mail and I read a handful of poems and am just taken in. This book is a different, not because I wasn’t rapt from the start. I was. But I’ve been a fan of José’s work for a little while now, at least since we ran a series put together by Nabila Lovelace and Aziza Barnes and titled The Conversation back in 2016. We ran one of the poems that appears in this book then, and we’ve run his poems twice more since, so it’s fair to say The Rumpus appreciates his work a great deal. When we heard that his work was being collected by the amazing Haymarket Books, we knew we wanted to showcase it.

(Side note: Haymarket Books is, generally speaking, one of the best small presses in the country, putting out books about politics and race and all other kinds of necessary subjects, and poetry is a significant part of their catalog. I get so many advance copies of books they overflow my house and I still pay money for their books. That’s as big an endorsement as I can give a press.)

So here’s my pitch: follow our links—this one to our review of Citizen Illegal, this one to The Conversation, and to his poems, here and here. If reading all of that doesn’t convince you that you want to get your copy of this book as soon as possible, and chat with José about the collection, then nothing I might write will do it either. And remember, you must subscribe by July 20!

Brian Spears is Senior Poetry Editor of The Rumpus and the author of A Witness in Exile (Louisiana Literature Press, 2011). His poem “Upon Reading That Andromeda Will One Day Devour Triangulum and Come For Us Next” was featured in Season 9 of Motion Poems. More from this author →