In Read Leather Gloves, B. V. Olguin takes on the world of boxing with poems that jab and set the reader up for punches to the gut. The collection provides a startling view of boxing—one that could only be composed by someone who has experienced that gritty, brutal world inside the ring. Olguin, a former amateur boxer, provides an angle of the physical, mental, and emotional punches he has delivered as well as the ones that he has taken.
The first poem in the collection, “Teeth,” captures what this collection accomplishes: “I care about my nose, the shape of my face, / how much of myself I am willing to surrender” (20-21). Olguin’s poems are a testament to how much he had to surrender, through weigh-ins, knockouts, training, and even in his presumably non-boxing life. Fans see the matches, but Olguin provides a multidimensional angle. In “Stomach,” he says, “Fans don’t know about the hunger” (1). But through his poetry we come as close as we can to experiencing it.
The collection also revisits some of the history of boxing. In “Taboo,” Olguin writes about the tragic 1982 fight, in which Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini killed Duk Koo Kim inside the ring. Again, the portrayal of the fight and of the death is not from a fan’s vantage point, but rather from the eyes of a boxing veteran who reflects on the death in an intriguing light that tells as much a tale about Olguin as it does about the incident itself. Likewise, his “Ode to Ali,” is a touching tribute to a legend: “In another skin and another time \ he’d be a salon poet reciting rhymes” (15-16). Naturally, no such collection would be complete without such a homage, but Olguin stops short of sentimentalizing Ali. Instead, he depicts him as a lyricist whose words were not fully appreciated.
Olguin examines each subject--each fight, each boxer--primarily as a human, and the result is a collection that forces readers to reconsider the demands of the sport. The collection is thoughtful, thorough, and a gem. And more than that, it is overdue. Without a doubt, Red Leather Gloves is for anyone who has ever wanted to see the sport of boxing beyond the punches and beyond the victories and falls.