Tongo Eisen-Martin

Award-winning Poet
Human Rights Activist & Educator
Finalist Griffin International Poetry Prize

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • An Evening with Tongo Eisen-Martin


“Eisen-Martin responds to state violence, deindustrialization, police brutality, the prison industrial-complex, and more in this churning whirlpool that records the complicated experiences faced by members of the African diaspora in America.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“This poetry presents a frank and unflinching portrait of the contemporary urban imagination unrelentingly ravaged by social injustice. Eisen-Martin serves witness to how prevalent the imbalances of race and power in our society are.” —American Poetry Review

“Eisen-Martin is a poetic Jimi Hendrix on the page and the stage.” —Cultural Weekly

Born in San Francisco, Tongo Eisen-Martin is a movement worker, educator, and poet who has organized against mass incarceration and extrajudicial killing of Black people throughout the United States. He is the author of Heaven Is All Goodbyes (City Lights, 2017), which was the winner of the 2018 California Book Award for Poetry and was shortlisted for the 2018 Griffin International Poetry Prize, and someone’s dead already (Bootstrap Press, 2015), which was nominated for a California Book Award.

About Heaven Is All Goodbyes Claudia Rankine noted, “The tesseraic language of Tongo Eisen-Martin’s Heaven Is All Goodbyes brings a new, shared articulation to the intricacies and interconnections of grief and life, speech and site, state and inhabitant, violence and landscape. This is resistance as sound.”

Subscribing to the Freirian model of education, Eisen-Martin designed curricula for oppressed people’s education projects from San Francisco to South Africa. His latest curriculum on extrajudicial killing of Black people, We Charge Genocide Again, has been used as an educational and organizing tool throughout the country. He uses his craft to create liberated territory wherever he performs and teaches.

A human rights activist and educator, Eisen-Martin has taught at the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University in New York and in detention centers across the country. He lives in San Francisco, California.


Born in San Francisco, Tongo Eisen-Martin is a movement worker, educator, and poet who has organized against mass incarceration and extra-judicial killing of Black people throughout the United States. He is the author of Heaven Is All Goodbyes (City Lights, 2017) and someone’s dead already (Bootstrap Press, 2015). A human rights activist and educator, Eisen-Martin has taught at the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University in New York and in detention centers across the country. He lives in San Francisco, California.


HEAVEN IS ALL GOODBYES (2017)

“Eisen-Martin’s impeccable collection is a crucial document of this time.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

This is truly revolutionary poetry. A vortex of images, observations, inspired leaps and free associations spills forth from a choir living in oppression and transience. Moments of political and spiritual convergence, surrealism and blunt materiality, gangsterism and its husk, revolution and perseverance, are captured in the music of metaphor and pure intention.

SOMEONE’S DEAD ALREADY (2015)
Poetry. African American Studies. “Eisen-Martin’s syntax lands somewhere between Sphinx and Thelonious. Through poem he makes spare, efficient, wild-eyed jazz…rubs mud and accountability into the pores of the zeros and ones in the glass and steel city. Throughout someone’s dead already, I return to the wonder of the writer’s economy of language, how deftly the words infuse their amulet casings with blood temperature at the edge of boiling. This work is as hungry as revolution, a necessary, deadly still in these shifting times.”—Marc Bamuthi Joseph


Read Three Poems by Tongo Eisen-Martin – Tribes

Read “The Confidence Scheme” selected by Terrance Hayes – The New York Times

FACELESS

A tour guide through your robbery
He also is

Cigarette saying, “look what I did about your silence.”

Ransom water and box spring gold
–This decade is only for accent grooming, I guess

Ransom water and box spring gold
–The corner store must die

War games, I guess

All these tongues rummage junk

The start of mass destruction
Begins and ends
In restaurant bathrooms
That some people use
And other people clean

“you telling me there’s a rag in the sky?”
-waiting for you. yes-

we’ve written a scene
we’ve set a stage

We should have fit in. warehouse jobs are for communists. But now more corridor and hallway have walked into our lives. Now the whistling is less playful and the barbed wire is overcrowded too.

My dear, if it is not a city, it is a prison.
If it has a prison, it is a prison. Not a city.

When a courtyard talks on behalf of military issue,
all walks take place outside of the body.

Dear life to your left
A medieval painting to your right

None of this makes an impression

Crop people living in thin air
You got five minutes
to learn how to see
through this breeze

When a mask goes sideways,
Barbed wire becomes the floor
Barbed wire becomes the roof
Forty feet into the sky
becomes out of bounds

When a mask breaks in half,
mind which way the eyes go.

They killed the world for the sake of giving everyone the same backstory

We’re watching Gary, Indiana fight itself into the sky

Old pennies for wind. For that wind feeling you get before the hood goes up and over your headache. Pennies that stick together (mocking all aspirations). Stuck together pennies was the first newspaper I ever read. Along with the storefront dwelling army that always lets us down.

Where the holy spirit favors the backroom. Souls in a situation that offer one hundred ways to remain a loser. Souls watching the clock hoping that eyes don’t lie to sad people.

“what were we talking about again?”
the narrator asked the graveyard
-ten minutes flat-
said the graveyard
-the funeral only took ten minutes-
“never tell that to anyone again,”
the narrator severely replied

“You just going to pin the 90s on me?”
-all thirty years of them-
“Then why should I know the difference between sleep and satire?”

the pyramid of corner stores fell on our heads
-we died right away

that building wants to climb up and jump off another building
-these are downtown decisions

somewhere on this planet, it is august 7th

and we’re running down the rust thinking, “one more needs to come with me”

What
evaporated on earth,
so that we could be
sent back down?