The Rubicon Rangers: Tongo Eisen-Martin Fights Oppression and Poverty with the Power of Words

By Ben Rowley August 20, 2018

Source: City Lights Publishers. Image used for editorial purposes only.

The "Rubicon Rangers" series is a first-person account of Rubicon's intern experience, authored by the interns, Jessica, Sandy and Justin, themselves.

A city is a prison, a cigarette is a symbol. Welcome to the unique work of master-poet Tongo Eisen-Martin: a world of imaginative metaphors mixed with cold, hard truth.

A Bay Area native, Tongo Eisen-Martin is an educator, movement worker, and of course, poet. His book, “Heaven is all Goodbyes,” won the 2018 California Book Award for Poetry, and is riddled with hidden stories and imaginative voices, that guide readers and submerge them into his world.

Not only does he write poetry, but he also educates prisoners and takes part in many public literary events. His work often reminds people that there are many issues that might not affect them, but a large proportion of the population have to deal with on a daily basis.

In his books, he doesn’t only describe the way he sees the hidden racial issues and poverty of America through his eyes, but also the way he feels them, experiences them, and the how they affect him and everyone around him. The issues that significantly influence his work the most include poverty, racism, and extrajudicial killings by police. He highlights the burden that comes with being black in America, as well as the struggles of those in poverty.

Often delivering his precise messages through many layers of metaphor, he takes the "ethos approach" of changing people’s minds about the issues that impact Black men. Eisen-Martin speaks from experience and the understanding of someone who has been directly affected by these problems in our communities.

Tongo’s distinct free verse and seemingly all-over-the-place style is easy to read on first glance, but when looked at longer, each poems reveal more and more of what is really being said. The poetry is often written in an original way, where some pages might take three seconds to read. Some sentences take three minutes.

Along with being fun to read, Eisen-Martin’s work also does an excellent job of serving to inform people about racial and poverty issues, inspiring people to fix them, which is what everyone at Rubicon Programs is all about.

As racism and poverty are slowly withered away, we here at Rubicon are happy to be allies with Tongo and his incredibly creative, and idiosyncratic, campaign against racism, hate and poverty. It is because of people like him and our devoted staff here at Rubicon that our country is, hopefully, going to move in the right direction.