From earliest childhood, National Slam Poetry winner Melissa Lozada-Oliva says, she wrote everything down so she wouldn’t forget anything. “I’ve always been a writer,” she said. “Spoken word poetry allowed me to do a more performative thing.”
Now pursuing an MFA in poetry at NYU, Lozada-Oliva says the dichotomy between poetry for the stage and the page is “unhelpful.” Whether performed by her in front of an audience or on the page, as in “Peluda,” her first collection, the Newton native’s work is rich with dialogue and humor. What matters, she added, “is being true to my ear, the conversation I’m having with myself.”
The poems in “Peluda” often center on growing up with immigrant parents, including an expert beautician mother (the book’s title means “hairy” or “hairy beast,” an epithet familiar to a girl who got her first lip wax at age 10). “I would say my book is very much a coming of age collection of poems,” Lozada-Oliva said. “They have so much to do with girlhood and the ways that I perceived myself in a world where not everyone looked like me.”
In poems about hair removal, Lozada-Oliva explores not only ideas of bodily shame and beauty image, but also ethnic identity. “Truly I wrote it for a younger version of me, who was like searching and searching for someone who looked like me, whose mom had an accent like mine did,” she said. “In these poems I’m trying to find the best way to love myself.”
So far, the reaction from readers has confirmed her work’s success. “Something that always feels cool is when girls who look like me come up to me after a reading,” Lozada-Oliva said, “and tell me, ‘I’ve never seen myself anywhere and you made me see myself finally.’ ”
Lozada-Oliva will read at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, along with fellow poets Sabrina Benaim (“Depression & Other Magic Tricks”) and Clementine Von Radics (“For Teenage Girls With Wild Ambitions and Trembling Hearts”), at The Sinclair, 52 Church St., Cambridge. Tickets at axs.com.
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Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.