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The San Francisco Standard

Know Your Neighbors

Tongo Eisen-Martin 

Delivering Tough Love to SF Through Verse
Published Jun. 19, 2022 • 9:00am

Raised by a “revolutionary” mother in the Mission District, Tongo Eisen-Martin—San Francisco’s eighth poet laureate—has become one of the city’s brightest and most searing literary stars. His latest collection of poetry, Blood on the Fog, was selected by The New York Times as the Best Poetry Book of 2021. Its prelude, Heaven Is All Goodbyes, won a California Book Award.   

Despite his national literary success, the heart of his work remains local, looking at San Francisco with a critical—and, at times, caustic eye.

Apparently, too much of San Francisco was not there in the first place,” writes Eisen-Martin in “The Course of Meal,” clearly disillusioned with the city that raised him, “…‘this is the worst downtown yet. And I’ve borrowed a cigarette everywhere.’”

There are tender moments as well: “I like this side of the city,” Eisen-Martin writes in “Born to Local Precincts,” “the side that Queen mothers watch over / tutoring the commune meetings / bringing prosperity to the revolution.”

One might say Eisen-Martin has something of a love-hate relationship with his hometown, which is fine. After all, what would San Francisco—or any city for that matter—be without its impassioned, conflicted, relentlessly dedicated critics?

Photos by Camille Cohen/The Standard and Juliana Yamada/The Standard

Tongo Eisen-Martin - portrait

Special powers

Flying, superhuman strength and the ability to know what John Coltrane was saying with his horn.

Arch enemies

The ruling class.

Weaknesses

YouTube binges.

Lineage

Revolutionaries worldwide.

Current mission

Unity always.

'Just another service day in the theatrics of tea house fascism / In a bouquet of surveillance cameras / In the poverty of God'

-'Third in the World'

Tongo Eisen-Martin - portrait