I received a copy of Jose Hernandez Diaz’s The Fire Eater for review purposes. As always, this review reflects only my honest thoughts on the book.
The Fire Eater
by Jose Hernandez Diaz
Publication Date: 20 February 2020
Publisher: Texas Review Press
Paperback; 54 Pages
Genre: Prose Poetry
Surreal, playful, and always poignant, the prose poems in Jose Hernandez Diaz’s masterful debut chapbook introduce us to a mime, a skeleton, and the man in the Pink Floyd t‑shirt, all of whom explore their inner selves in Hernandez Diaz’s startling and spare style. With nods to Russell Edson and the surrealists, Hernandez Diaz explores the ordinary and the not-so-ordinary occurrences of life, set against the backdrop of the moon, and the poet’s native Los Angeles.
I connected with Jose Hernandez Diaz a while back through Twitter, but honestly hadn’t read very much of his work. So, when the opportunity to read and review The Fire Eater came my way, I was super excited to experience it. So much so, in fact, that I’ve since read it thrice!
The experience of reading this chapbook is, in a word, surreal. To be entirely honest, the collection didn’t quite hit me the first time around. But I was compelled to return to The Fire Eater two more times, and I’m sure those won’t be the last.
By the third reading, I found myself extrapolating all kinds of interpretations for the prose poems in this collection. Skeletons, astronauts, the man in the Pink Floyd shirt, and the eponymous fire eater alike weave together a surreal fantasy that begs you to dive in. You want to smoke a cigarette and sip coffee in Los Angeles. You want to try your hand at longboarding. Hell, you want to start rooting for the Dodgers.
The Fire Eater immerses you in this surreal fantasy realm where moonquakes exist alongside pianist skeletons. It gives you the sensations of fire in your throat, of the California sun beating down on you, of buskers—from musicians to mimes—serenading you in the city streets until they finally pack up for the night. There’s an incredible sense of place (even in my limited experience, I could feel how quintessentially Californian these prose poems become) and of each moment on every page, even with simple language and sentence structures.
All that being said, I know a few things for sure. This won’t be the last time I return to The Fire Eater (I’m going to have to put some funds aside for a print copy!). And this most certainly won’t be the last we see of Jose’s work.
About the Author
Jose Hernandez Diaz is a 2017 NEA Poetry Fellow. He holds degrees in English and Creative Writing from the University of California at Berkeley and Antioch University Los Angeles.