“A Short History of Monsters explodes like a cluster bomb of hilarious, acerbic, menacing, satirical, clear-eyed, and self-effacing poetry that uncomfortably lays bare Washington, DC poet Jose Padua’s experiences growing up as a Filipino in a white world and an outsider-bohemian in an overly ambitious culture where Asians are herded “naturally” toward the sciences and away from the arts. He casts a harsh, black-humorist light on our hypocrisies, foibles, and missteps, while still managing an oddly generous manifesto that incites chuckle-groans usually associated with authors like Céline, Baudelaire, or Bukowski.”
—Bart Plantenga, Rain Taxi, Winter 2019/20
“Padua is a very wry poet who, in his first book, presents stinging and riotous poems, as in the two-stanza ‘Barbie’: ‘I am Barbie / I live in your dollhouse / You change my clothes every day. / If I could get out / of here I would / kill you all.’ These are works that sharpen the mind on the micro, as opposed to the macro of our human experience. This debut collection was selected as winner of the 2019 Miller Williams Poetry Prize by Billy Collins, who invokes in his succinct preface the specter of Charles Bukowski, and indeed, the infamous barfly poet is echoed here, yet Padua’s own dry wit and driving purpose cut through. These poems evoke not bold headlines but rather a quiet righteousness or realization. In “On These Days Driving”: ‘Perfection is the moment when the worst / is behind you and the best slowly reveals itself / like a song from decades ago that only now / becomes a hit.’
— Raúl Niño, Booklist, March 2019
We are the happy riders on the stream of Padua’s consciousness . . . a smart, sympathetic mind at work.”
Drawing on the spirit of New York City in decades past, A Short History of Monsters presents the sins and obsessions of a poet nimble in beat and slam traditions. In his first full-length collection, Jose Padua wrestles with an American dream interrupted by failure, excess, and other nightmares. Often brash and unruly, these poems range from recollections of lost, drunken days to unadorned manifestations of hope. Throughout, the speaker redefines his relationship to pop culture, praising it, skewering it, and mourning it by turns.
The poems that make up A Short History of Monsters tend toward both dark humor and epiphany, diving deeply into their own despair and rising up again with existential absurdity. This is a poetry that gets down into the grit and grime of the real world, digging out a space to experience being alive as miraculous in and of itself.