poem index

October 21, 2011The Skirball Center for Performing Arts, NYUNew York, NYFrom the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

Victor Hernández Cruz was born on February 6, 1949, in the small mountain town of Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico. He moved to the United States in 1954 with his family and attended high school in New York.

Cruz began writing at the age of fifteen, as he explained: "to balance a lot of worlds together ... the culture of my parents and the new and modern culture of New York, its architecture, its art, and its fervent intellectual thought."

In 1966, he published the chapbook Papo Got His Gun, followed by his first full-length collection of poetry, Snaps, published by Random House in 1969 when Cruz was twenty. About Snaps, Allen Ginsberg wrote: "Poesy news from space anxiety police age inner city, spontaneous urban American language as Williams wished, high school street consciousness transparent, original soul looking out intelligent Bronx windows."

In the 1970s, Cruz lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he emerged as a distinctive voice in the Nuyorican school of poets. Much of his work explores the relationship between the English language and his native Spanish, playing with grammatical and syntactical conventions within both languages to create his own bilingual idiom.

Cruz is the author of numerous collections of poetry, most recently: In the Shadow of Al-Andalus (Coffee House Press, 2011); The Mountain in the Sea (Coffee House Press, 2006); and Maraca: New and Selected Poems 1965-2000 (Coffee House Press, 2001), which was selected for the shortlist of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and the International Griffin Poetry Prize. His earlier works include: Panoramas (Coffee House Press, 1997); Red Beans (Coffee House Press, 1991); and Tropicalization (Reed & Cannon Co,1976). He is also the editor of the anthology Paper Dance: 55 Latino Poets (Persea, 2000).

In the citation for the International Griffin Poetry Prize, the judges wrote: "Victor Hernández Cruz has long been the defining poet of that complex bridge between the Latino and mainland cultures of the U.S. Maraca: New and Selected Poems 1965-2000 proves the extraordinary range of this great, enduring poet, whose articulately persuasive humor and intelligence bear persistent witness to a meld of peoples."

Cruz is a co-founder of both the East Harlem Gut Theatre in New York and the Before Columbus Foundation and a former editor of Umbra Magazine. He has taught at the University of California at Berkeley and San Diego, San Francisco State College, and the University of Michigan.

His honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2008 to 2013. Cruz divides his time between Morocco and Puerto Rico.


Selected Bibliography

In the Shadow of Al-Andalus (Coffee House Press, 2011)
The Mountain in the Sea (Coffee House Press, 2006)
Maraca: New and Selected Poems 1965-2000 (Coffee House Press, 2001)
Panoramas (Coffee House Press, 1997)
Red Beans (Coffee House Press, 1991)
Tropicalization (Reed & Cannon Co, 1976)

Multimedia

From the Image Archive

 

The Face Without Makeup

Victor Hernández Cruz, 1949

 

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Victor Hernández Cruz

Victor Hernández Cruz

Victor Hernández Cruz was born in 1949 in the small mountain town

by this poet

poem
A campesino looked at the air
And told me:
With hurricanes it's not the wind
or the noise or the water.
I'll tell you he said:
it's the mangoes, avocados
Green plantains and bananas
flying into town like projectiles.

How would your family
feel if they had to tell
The generations that you
got killed by a flying
poem
By the East River
of Manhattan Island
Where once the Iroquois
canoed in style—
A clear liquid
caressing another name
for rock,
Now the jumping
Stretch of Avenue D
housing projects
Where Ricans and Afros
Johnny Pacheco / Wilson Pickett
The portable radio night—
Across the Domino sugar
Neon lights of the Brooklyn
poem
for Joe Bataan

1

some waves
                     a wave of now
                                               a trombone speaking to you
a piano is trying to break a molecule
is trying to lift the stage into orbit
around the red spotlights

a shadow
the shadows      of dancers
dancers     they are