Oil and Candle traces imagined rituals, failed rituals, and magical objects of Santería in confronting issues of race, warfare, and the precarity of Latino lives. Object-oriented, Oil and Candle localizes biographical, theoretical, and imagined content in a Limpias oil and an Abrecaminos prayer candle (or velón). It is as much a confrontation of racism in poetry as it is a torch-song to cultures inherited and not necessarily lived. Oil and Candle was selected as the winner of Timeless, Infinite Light’s 2015 TRACT Contest by guest judges Brittany Billmeyer-Finn, Cheena Marie Lo, and Syd Staiti.
Gabriel Ojeda-Sague’s poems, to borrow a phrase from Robert Hayden, are “wild, patterned, and free.” The language is restless; it leaps and alights in surprising ways. A ghost calls on a landline and “time/ opens its clouds.” Paradoxically, the non-linear unfolding of sense and music allows Ojeda-Sague to craft a vivid matrix of patterns: identity, rituals, queerness, citizenship, and war. At the heart of this matrix is a voice –discerning and serendipitous — that moves from intimate telling to a gorgeous torquing of syntax and line. The aesthetic freedom fueling Oil and Candle is exhilarating. All language is at play for Ojeda-Sague, which allows him to score the page with multiple tongues and registers. Oil and Candle is a remarkable and searing book. A must-read.
“When I exist, / I am complicit.” Opening Oil and Candle I found myself poured into a whispering ceremonial basin. Ojeda-Sague wields reverence and perceptivity like a sudden dusting of snow in a too warm winter. His honest rhythm, the posture of his questing will rip through you the way that a photograph develops in a darkroom.
“In these poems, blood is imagined multivalently as kinship and as exploitation, as heritage and racial violence, as inclusion and exclusion, as slaughter and as self-sacrifice. Poets and poetry occupy highly contested space as Ojeda-Sague offers: ‘limpias of communist poets who forget who killed my family/limpias of the market poets who forget who killed everybody else.'”
“There’s no room between what’s imagined and what’s real in these poems. They demand a union of conjecture and practice, of ritual and body and race and city and world in all of their dissonance. Imagined and real in these poems contain facts with which we have to engage, and out of which we might make a taxonomy of what’s hurting us, and of how and why we each hurt differently.”
“Gabriel Ojeda-Sague’s Oil and Candle is a short book of rituals, their failures and fallibility but also their power as vessels. Most striking is the persistent presence of a personal voice amid intellectual ideas about poets, race, performativity, and blood. We are introduced to or reminded of specific totems, but not from an arch poetic voice nor a condescending academic one.”
“In Oil and Candle, the debut full-length poetry collection by Gabriel Ojeda-Sague, ritual and religion are turned to as salves for various societal issues, including racism, homophobia, and war. From limpias oils to abrecaminos candles and tarot cards, the speaker seeks a way to dispel darkness, dissipate clouds, and make a space for a queer Latino voice in contemporary Anglo-dominated American poetry. Oil and Candle is comprised of four poems that move between lyric fragments, direct statements, and elliptical narratives, which makes for a quick, challenging, and necessary read.”
Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué is a poet and writer living in Chicago. He is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Madness (Nightboat Books, 2022), and Losing Miami (The …