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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. The road to becoming a poet was not a straight one for David Tomas Martinez. Reviewer Tess Taylor tells us that, improbably, he's just published his first collection. It's called, "Hustle."

TESS TAYLOR: Like the word hustle itself, these poems are both muscular and vulnerable. Before writing them, Martinez was hustling for a long time. Inside long verses, he compacts his childhood in the Meadowbrook houses in San Diego - his teenage years running with a gang, his enlistment in the Navy and then his eventual escape into the world of poetry - a place, he admits, surprises even him. In the baffled quiet of the nighttime woods, one poem imagines lighting crack houses or old furniture on fire. And another poem remembers speaking of prison inevitably, as common to his friends as falling, taxes and deaths. There are many raw and rich moments in this book, but one that wrenched me when I read it was the long sequence, "Forgetting Willie James Jones," about the summer of 1994, a summer of rapes and drive-bys, when Jones was shot and death walked alongside us all, wagging its haunches and twisting its collared neck. For Martinez, that summer is violent and jagged, unforgettable and unable ever to be recovered. But what struck me most about this poem was not just the haunting it depicted, but the way it captured the pain of surviving any life long enough to write about it. 1994 is a coal in the stocking of my stomach, writes Martinez. There is no hope it can be pressed into a diamond. Perhaps there is no way to make grief into a diamond, but Martinez has made something rare and living and glittering, nonetheless.

SIEGEL: The book is "Hustle," written by David Tomas Martinez. It was reviewed for us by poet Tess Taylor, a professor at Whittier College.

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