This March, Latino queer poet Gabriel Ojeda-Sague is releasing a book that tackles racism in contemporary poetry.
Oil and Candle, a book of four poems, is being published by Timeless, Infinite Light, an independent poetry press based in Oakland that publishes queer poetry and various hybrid works around social issues.
“I wrote these poems during and after the climax of controversies around race in poetry in late 2014 and throughout 2015,” Gabriel says. “These debates were about white poets who were using the bodies of people of color, especially black people, for their art and poetry in violent and racist ways.”
The Philadelphia-based poet pulls from traces of “imagined rituals, failed rituals, and magical objects of Santería in confronting issues of race, warfare, and the precarity of Latino lives.” The intersection of Gabriel’s various identities played a role in this project’s execution.
“The project comes out of participation in these debates by analyzing my own biographical relation to my racial background, Latino identity, queerness, and relationship to different forms of Latino folk magic, or more specifically Santeria,” Gabriel says. “It explores otherness, queerness, and radical moves, but also complicity, apathy, and racial voyeurism.”
The book’s itemized title sets the tone for how the poems focus mostly on small objects of Latino Catholic folk magic, like a prayer candle and ritual oil. Gabriel says such imagery “tells a lot of stories of what these belief systems meant to [him] growing up” and how he have come to experiment with their possibilities now.
Already critically acclaimed for its imaginative expression on combatting sensitive topics, the book has won Timeless, Infinite Light’s 2015 TRACT Contest and continues to receive huge praise from strong voices in the industry.
“Oil and Candle does the syncretic work of shining slant light on our endings/beginnings,” said Philadelphia poet laureate Frank Sherlock. “This kind of tricksterism opens passage for communication beyond the limits of our oppressive orthodoxies — poetic and otherwise.”
“Ojeda-Sague wields reverence and perceptivity like a sudden dusting of snow in a too warm winter,” said popular NYC-based poet Sade Murphy. “His honest rhythm, the posture of his questing will rip through you the way that a photograph develops in a darkroom.”
As dense as the book’s themes are, Gabriel’s goals for the readers’ takeaways are just as significant. “I want readers to imagine various ways of confronting the ‘oppressive limits’ around their own communities and issues at large such as war and citizenship,” Gabriel says. “One critic described the book as being not just about a ‘crossroads’ inside of a complex conversation, but also about opening ‘communication beyond the paths of our oppressive limits,’ which I think is exactly right.”
Oil and Candle is currently available to preorder online.