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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

 

Latin & Soul

Victor Hernández Cruz, 1949
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 dancing    falling
out that space      made for dancing

they should dance
on the tables            they should
dance inside of their drinks
they should dance on the
ceiling they should dance/dance

thru universes
leaning-moving
                          we are traveling

where are we going
if we only knew

with this rhythm    with
this banging     with     fire
with this     all    this    O
my god i wonder    where are
we going
           sink into a room full of laughter
           full of happiness     full of life
           those dancers
           the dancers
           are clapping their hands
           stomping their feet

hold back them tears
                                     all those sentimental stories
cooked uptown       if you can           hold it for after

we are going
                     away-away-away
                     beyond these wooden tables
                     beyond these red lights
                     beyond these rugs & paper
                     walls beyond way past
                     i mean way past them clouds
                     over the buildings    over the
                     rivers    over towns    over cities
                     like on rails   but faster   like
                     a train    but smoother
                     away past stars
                     bursting with drums.


2

a sudden misunderstanding
                                                a cloud
                                                full of grayness
a body thru a store window
                                                a hand reaching
                                                into the back
                                                                      pocket
a scream
               a piano is talking to you
               thru all this
               why don't you answer it.

From Maraca: New and Selected Poems 1965-2000 by Victor Hernández Cruz. Copyright © 2001 by Victor Hernández Cruz. Published by Coffee House Press. Used by permission of the publisher.

From Maraca: New and Selected Poems 1965-2000 by Victor Hernández Cruz. Copyright © 2001 by Victor Hernández Cruz. Published by Coffee House Press. Used by permission of the publisher.

Victor Hernández Cruz

Victor Hernández Cruz

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

by this poet

poem
The Empire State Building
Is on 63rd Street
Ramon wanted to bet Manolo
Manolo said impossible
The Empire State Building 
Is on 72nd Street
They made a ten dollar bet
And borrowed Cheo's car
And headed towards Brooklin
When they came back
Late that night
All that Manolo wanted to know
Was
If Gloria cooked
poem
In a city that now floats
in a bottle,
In a dimension outside
of the census,
within walls that were unregistered,
there was a painter,
Who performed his roll
like the Taino cave etchers,
the pyramid illustrators of
Mexico,
the scribblers of hieroglyphs.
Vigo painted the hallways
of the tenements,
While through
poem

 

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