Poetry Review

Francisco, Rudy. Helium, Button Poetry, 2017. ISBN-978-1-943735-19-8. Paperback. 95 pp. US$16.00


Multiple poetry slam award winner, Rudy Francisco, born in 1982, earned his Bachelor of Psychology and his Master of Organizational Studies. He was three years into a PH.D. program before quitting to work full-time on his love— writing poetry. Performing and lecturing at public venues within and outside the US – colleges, universities, schools, and community centers, to name a few – Francisco’s work garnered the attention of Jimmy Fallon, who asked him to appear on the Tonight Show in March of 2018 to perform his poem “Complainers.” 

The most recent of his five published books of poetry is Helium (2017). Through themes of awkward youth, unrequited love, painful breakups, and what it means to be an African-American today, Helium reminds the reader that in spite of the pain of heartbreak, the heart beats unabated. Francisco captures the spirit of the ageless, raceless, and genderless human soul.

His poem “Skin II” gives the reader a glimpse into his childhood as a black youth growing up in San Diego, California:


“When you are the only black man

in the whole neighborhood,


your skin is the one friend who

meets everyone before you do”


Francisco invites the reader to take an honest look at what it means to be black and living in America today; to understand what it means to be judged for the color of one’s skin rather than their heart and soul.

While African-American life is an abundant theme in the book, there is something for everyone found within the pages of Helium, showing that regardless of the reader’s age or skin color, their humanity – their desires, their needs – are what connect all humans.

With only one quatrain, and a mere fifteen syllables, his poem “Why Did You Leave?” narrows down the large topic of everything that is amiss within a toxic relationship to a single, short, but powerful statement:



you wouldn’t let me

love both of us

at the same time”


This kind of emotive and effectual expression of feelings throughout this and his previous books is why videos of Francisco performing his poetry have gone viral on the internet, garnering thousands to millions of views each.

From Helium’s short poems, as small as a single quatrain, to longer narrative poems, Francisco’s spoken word poetry demonstrates his mastery of inflection, intonation, and word play. Whether the reader is a young African-American boy, a middle-aged white woman, or anywhere between or thereafter, Helium exposes the reader’s vulnerabilities to the possibility of healing.