Sunday, August 2, 2009

My Review of Richard Blanco's collection, "City of a Hundred Fires"

Thanks to the Springfield (MA) Public Library's Summer Adult Reading Club, I have been inspired to write reviews of collections of poems and will make it a habit to do so on this blog. Here is one for today.

Richard Blanco's award-winning collection, City of a Hundred Fires (Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. First Edition. University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh: 1998) of well-crafted, evocative, narrative poems transform personal and family histories of being Cuban and an exile in the United States that will resonate not only with Cuban-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and other Spanish-speaking cultural and ethnic groups but also with anyone who has ever experienced or witnessed displacement and the struggle to preserve one's cultural roots.

Poems range from those that engage many of the senses such as "Mango, Number 61", "Crayons for Elena", "Los Santos of the Living Room", "Mother Picking Produce", to poems that channel the tensions of cultural adaptation such as "Thanksgiving" and painful exilic limbo, "La Revolución at Antonio's Mercado", and "Partial List: Guantánamo Detainees". The first poem in the collection, "América", is poignant in capturing a child's naïve attempt to be both cultural mediator and teacher of cultural assimilation to his older family members. For those who are bilingual in English and in Spanish, the code-switching between the two languages will sound fluid and, for English-only speakers, it will add to the music of each poem.

Only a few of the poems leave this reader wanting more: "Postcard to W.C. Williams from Cienfuegos", "The Reservoir", and "Zafra", or don't read like final drafts: "Abuela Valdés". Visually speaking, the editor's need to italicize every Spanish word irritates this reader; code-switching poets don't speak or write in italics. Overall, though, this is a thoughtfully organized, memorable collection of poems that I will definitely purchase for my own library, reread, and recommend to poets and lovers of poetry.

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