‘Dear Prudence: New and Selected Poems’ by David Trinidad

Like his predecessors, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath, David Trinidad is not afraid of confession.  In Dear Prudence: New and Selected Poems (Turtle Point Press) he states in the poem,  “Anne Sexton Visits Court Green,” that he (a friend named Thomas) admires “her courage to use material from her own life—/so free of English conventions of decorum” and it’s as if Trinidad is revealing something about himself.

So what makes Trinidad’s poems so moving? Well, for starters, his feelings—and his courage to not shy away from them. Often in today’s society we associate the feminine with our emotions. So it comes as no coincidence that Trinidad turns to Sexton and Plath for inspiration.

Trinidad tells us about ourselves through some of his most private experiences, be it gay love affairs gone awry, his love of Hollywood, a Barbie doll collection, and, more recently, phrases underlined in Sylvia Plath’s very own copy of Tender Is The Night. But it’s his ability to write about intimate, often complex, topics using simple language to describe them that draws us in and connects us.

As in about sitting in traffic,  “Monday, Monday”:

Radio’s reality when

the hits just keep

happening: “I want

to kiss like lovers

do…” Why is it

I’ve always mistaken

these lyrics for my

true feelings?

The poem then moves us through a series of modern-day items that conjure up emotions just by stating them: a fifties-style cup, a GQ calendar, his unavailable father reading the Los Angeles Times, bumper to bumper traffic, yet with a realization achieved in the end:

At last, traffic picked

up and I enjoyed the

rest of the drive, kept

the radio on all

the way to work and

listened to all those

songs, though I finally

realized those songs

were no longer my feelings.

Unlike other contemporary poets, Trinidad is good at making campy realities, such as kitsch Hollywood cinema, sound confessional, autobiographical. This deliberate and ostentatious, almost anti-academic, humor is part of his charm.  For example in “Things To Do In Valley Of The Dolls (The Movie)”:

Move to New York.

Lose your virginity.

Become a star.

Send money to your mother.

But why are we drawn in, almost religiously, as if let in on a secret? One might say, as he has personally stated in a Q & A, “maybe it has something to do with being Catholic, being trained to confess my secrets, my sins.”

In the new portion of Dear Prudence: New and Selected Poems, “Black Telephone” —which was entirely written after the selected portion was put together— Trinidad predictably doesn’t shy away from one of his passions: collecting. In an Interview with the Poetry Foundation Trinidad says, “The passion for collecting came out of a kind of midlife crisis, a way of trying to reconcile certain conflicts, such as some friendships that ended badly, or my disappointment with the competitiveness of the New York poetry scene.”  The same hording passion which fuels Trinidad to write about those things and friends who have either entered or exited his life, are obvious, if not awakening, in the eerily calm poem which list those who have departed, and their affect on his life, “The Dead”:

The patter of rain on the roof,

a late-night comfort,


The knife in the back,

removed and blessed,


absorbed by the lake….


acquaintances and friends,

strangers drawn to and


crowding the frame, like extras

aching for some screen time.


Tonight, lulled by gentle rain,

I’ll claim as many as I can name.

And Trinidad does claim them! His concrete detailing and unyielding forms is what makes Trinidad’s writing as solid as a picture frame. His coming-to-terms with pain and suffering, loss and life—his own and other’s— and the wisdom that emerges out of that cynicism and despair, all with such acute consciousness and alertness, says “Take that!” almost super-hero, Wonder Woman-like. It is with that awareness Trinidad casts his spell.  And it is that awareness that he lassos us in. And it is that awareness which makes this collection so strong.


Dear Prudence: New and Selected Poems
By David Trinidad
Turtle Point Press
Paperback, 9781933527475, 512pp.
September 2011