An Introduction to Toby Martinez de la Rivas by Shane McCrae

I first read this batch of Toby Martinez de las Rivas’ poems at a large, outdoor shopping mall in northeast Ohio—before moving to Ohio, I had never seen a mall like this mall (and, as a person who was a teen in the 90s, I am a connoisseur of malls, although I feel the greatest affection for dead ones)—designed to look like the downtown of small city. I started reading on a bench, under the shade of a beach umbrella, next to the side entrance of the Barnes & Noble, and I finished in the alcove of the Trader Joe’s, between one automatic door and another. Though I sat in the shade, the perfectly flat-faced, color-coordinated buildings surrounding me were supersaturated by sunlight and glinting—sweating light—when I read the first line of the first poem: “In my kingdom it is winter forever.” And then I was nowhere.

Martinez de las Rivas’ poems are very particularly English, though the eye that sees the things that make their way into the poems strikes me as, to some degree, more broadly European. And so, in part because they are located somewhere largely unfamiliar to me, and more significantly because they seem not to come to that place to describe it, but read instead as if they arose from that place to speak it, they dislocate me. Occasionally, I plug in my hazy memories from an undergraduate January in the U.K. to some effect, but for the most part, reading these poems, I can be neither where they are, nor where I am. But, as I said above, I do not think this is entirely, or even mostly, because I do not know English geography all that well. Rather, I believe these poems dislocate because they themselves seem dislocated—they are thinking chunks of the land set loose:

          Shadows flicker in the slipstream of our eyes –
          it is ourselves we nearly catch blowing
          from the bough, held for a moment by the breeze,
          then – whoosh! – the furnace of late summer
          is crackling again with thin gold leaves,
          scrub oaks wince from hills where earth turns
          the colour of wine, stone bares its selves,
          egrets with thin legs trailing like anchor ropes
          stall through heaven with a sail’s inertia.

How can I be anywhere but where such poetry is? And that poetry is located nowhere, but is itself the place described—no landscape could match it, because to match it, the landscape would first need to be separated from it. Wherever I read Martinez de las Rivas’ poems, I read them nowhere. But, of course, the opposite is also true: They are the world wherever I read them.