An astonishing debut collection looking back on a community of Mexican American boys as they grapple with assimilation versus the impulse to create a world of their own.
Who do we belong to? This is the question Michael Torres ponders as he explores the roles that names, hometown, language, and others’ perceptions each play on our understanding of ourselves in An Incomplete List of Names. More than a boyhood ballad or a coming-of-age story, this collection illuminates the artist’s struggle to make sense of the disparate identities others have forced upon him.
His description of his childhood is both idyllic and nightmarish, sometimes veering between the two extremes, sometimes a surreal combination of both at once. He calls himself “the Pachuco’s grandson” or REMEK or Michael, depending on the context, and others follow his lead. He worries about losing his identification card, lest someone mistake his brown skin for evidence of a crime he never committed. He wonders what his students—imprisoned men who remind him of his high school friends and his own brother—make of him. He wonders how often his neighbors think about where he came from, if they ever do imagine where he came from.
When Torres returns to his hometown to find the layers of spray-painted evidence he and his boyhood friends left behind to prove their existence have been washed away by well-meaning municipal workers, he wonders how to collect a list of names that could match the eloquent truths those bubbled letters once secured.
About the Author
Michael Torres was born and brought up in Pomona, CA, where he spent his adolescence as a graffiti artist. In 2019, he received fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Loft Literary Center for the Mirrors & Windows Program. His writing has been featured in POETRY, Ploughshares, and other literary journals. Currently, he teaches in the MFA program at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and through the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop. Connect with Michael at michaeltorreswriter.com.
“[A] standout first collection . . . Torres steps into the sphere of such clarion American poets as Luis Rodriguez, Raúl Salinas, Juan Felipe Herrea, and Carlos Cumpián. His is a welcome voice in the chorus telling the essential story of the Latinx experience of home.”
“A study of crossing cultures written with affecting urgency.”
“Many of these poems are remarkable for their dramatic tension, even as they reflect on ambitious questions of language, privilege, and power. . . .In this accomplished volume, language can be the ‘thick glass between us,’ impeding connection and understanding, but Torres’s writing offers a vision that is startling and far-reaching.”
“In his magnificent enumerations; his allegiances; his ordeals of self, figure, and desire, Michael Torres gives us an uncharted and ‘incomplete,’ ever-flaming matrix of being and becoming a brown man, a person in an unknown America. Incredible, truth-fisted, shattering, groundbreaking.”
—Juan Felipe Herrera, author of Imagine
“This spectacular collection of acutely conscious poems awakens readers to our universal need to belong. . . . He speaks to the constant naming and renaming of the self and others at the intersection of multiple identities and perceptions through an arresting voice that is provocative yet vulnerable, urban yet serene, mournful yet buoyant.”
—Richard Blanco, author of How to Love a Country
“With poems that drop like beads of acid on paper, sizzling away first impressions and assumptions, revealing in their burning wake the underlayer of truth, and how it, after years, still smarts and bleeds and blossoms in us. I love this book more than I have any other book in a long time . . . celebrating our duality, the multitudinous breadth and depth of our varied and bounteous humanity.”
—Jimmy Santiago Baca, author of A Place to Stand
“Absence doesn’t simply haunt Michael Torres’s poems: it blazes through them. . . . Torres is an exhilarating writer, a virtuoso who lets us hear what language can erase and create—while making it sing.”
—Mary Szybist, author of Incarnadine