Sunday, April 08, 2007

Too Much TV + Poem: Victor Hernández Cruz

I actually am back to watching more TV than I want to now that the new quarter has begun. Really this isn't a problem, except that I hate (most of what's on) TV, and yet easily get addicted to (more than I want to of what's on) it. From late September through late March, I usually had several manuscripts to read every evening (if I properly spaced them out, which I didn't, but that's another story), but now, with a somewhat lighter reading workload, I have a bit more time, and I haven't turned as much of the free time over to reading for pleasure (or for self-education, edification, etc.) yet. In fact, I'm still trying to find my way back to reading for pleasure (although I did finish Vladimir Sorokin's strange and very disturbing novel Ice during our recent trip, which I'll blog about soon, and finally finished Cyrus Colter's equally strange and disturbing 1973 novel The Hippodrome, which my colleague Reg Gibbons had passed on to me as part of a gift packet of several Colter works that TriQuarterly and the university's press had reprinted about a decade and some years back). I've also begun Roberto Bolaño's The Savage Detectives, which is a book for which the word "enchanting" is not too strong a term, and several books I recently brought back, including Guillaume Dustan's Dernier roman, which is anything but. (I have also been reading quite a bit on Central African religions, retentions in the African Diaspora, and so forth, but that is for two projects I'm working on, so I don't count it towards the pleasure side.)

I have also been trying to catch up on DVD movies. C. and I did finally watch Half Nelson, a pretty good film with excellent performances by Ryan Gosling and Shareeka Epps (why wasn't she nominated for an Academy Award???). I've also watched Favela Rising (better than I thought), On the Downlow (much worse, though the actors were attractive and the idea admirable), Inch'Allah Dimanche (tough to sit through and its ending was implausible), and the much-hyped new Casino Royale, with the blond buff broken-nosed Bond, Daniel Craig--and Mr. Jump Britain-Parkours himself, Sebastien Foucan (!), who [SPOILER ALERT!], like all the main Black male characters, ends up either being killed off or turns out to be a dupe. (My tolerance for such default nonsense is minimal, but the movie was still entertaining and, compared to most of the last few Bond films, thrilling.)

Nevertheless I have been watching a lot more TV. I'm amazed at how easily I get lured in and end up not only watching, but wasting precious time psychologically (and sometimes emotionally) immersed in some of these shows. I don't feel guilty for watching them, but I do often feel as if something vital has been drained out of my brain, and only the most persistent efforts will recover it. I also feel that so much TV these days entails a problematic form of highly mediated voyeurism that seeks to make viewers increasingly more passive and more infantile--and with the steady bombardment of ads and the widespread product placement--TV is well along the path of serving as the chief instrument for turning all of us into consumers whose consciousnesses are thoroughly industrialized. Knowing all of this, I still keep watching. And I'm not talking about C-SPAN, local access TV (which is fascinating both in Chicago and NY), and the paltry offerings of PBS (which I do watch regularly) or any of the most informative shows that occasionally pop up on TV these days. I've become hooked on Survivor: Fiji, after vowing not to watch that show (ever) again, in part because instead of the cheap racialist stunt they started off with last season, this time they've gone the opposite approach, which is to find the most diverse (and not obnoxious or stereotypical) cast in a while; BET's College Hill, which this season pairs 4 Americans with 4 Virgin Islanders, and the former do not come off well at all; American Idol, though primarily because of my fascination with the current cultural phenomenon that is Sanjaya Malakar; The Amazing Race All Stars 2, because I want to see if the Charla-Mirna or Eduardo-James (names?) pairs can finally win it all (Joyce-Uchenna, who'd previously won, and the really annoying "bad gay" Team Guido have both been eliminated); Human Giant, yet another bizarre MTV comedy show, which is almost like a cross between The Andy Milonakis Show with Kids in the Hall, though with more the former than the latter; and, on top of these, there are the new seasons of The Sopranos and Entourage, two shows that I was not especially interested in, and The Apprentice, for which my interest really oscillates. As I find myself facing more deadlines and my interest in some of these shows wanes (the Sopranos opener was pretty boring tonight and Entourage was both predictable and frantic), I probably will decrease my TV viewing, but right now, I'm both enjoying and struggling with the viewing....


Years ago, when I had to find poems that would both inspire and instruct the 7th, 8th and 9th grade public school students I was teaching, one of the poets I turned to was Victor Hernández Cruz (1949-), a Puerto Rican native who moved to East Harlem at the age of 5 and began publishing his poems in the 1960s. Hernández Cruz is a central figure in the development of late 20th century Puerto Rican/Nuyorican and Latino poetry. He also was linked to the Umbra group of writers, which included figures such as Steven Cannon and Ishmael Reed and edited Umbra, the group's literary journal. I want to say that I first came across his name in one of Ntozake Shange's poems, which provided a mini-education all their own, or whether I first heard Reed mention him, but either way, his books, which include Snaps, Mainland, Tropicalization, are essential reading. Here's one of his poems, which I think of as a very New York poem, from Rhythm, Content and Flavor (1989), which also appears in Globe Fearon's Latino Poetry. His play with metaphor was something the children instinctively picked up on, as well as his movement from negation to affirmation, and his seductive conversation poem, which might lead the reader to conclude at first that the poem couldn't be that profound.


I am glad that I am not one of those
Big Con Edison pipes that sits by the
River crying smoke
I am glad that I am not the doorknob
Of a police car patrolling the Lower
East Side
How cool I am not a subway token
That has been lost and is sitting
Quietly and lonely by the edge of
A building on 47th Street
I am nothing and no one
I am the possibility of everything
I am a man in this crazy city
I am a door and a glass of water
I am a guitar string cutting through the
Vibrating and bringing morning
My head is a butterfly
Over the traffic jams

Copyright © 1989, Victor Hernández Cruz, from Rhythm, Content and Flavor, Arte Publico Press, all rights reserved.


  1. I'm preparing to teach a poetry class over summer, after many years (2) teaching fiction and cultural studies. Perhaps I shall be lazy and simply use the excellent poems you've posted over the past few years. It might be interesting to see the emerging narrative.

    Which is, in part, my way of saying thanks for introducing me to several new poets and offering ways to read older ones.

  2. Thanks for the heads up.

    I have been knee deep in NYC poetry and authors over the last month. I am going through some cathartic literary bing . . . engulfing words in order to let out a certain New York imagery that has been raising to the top of my brain. The source of all this energy has to be my first 7 years in NYC -- and the introduction to a popular culture that included everyone from Frank O'Hara to Frank Zappa. Man what a world, know?

    Links to Steve Cannon are good. Thanks. I have meet the guy and read his work Groove Bang and Jive Arond.

    Hot damn!

    More later.


  3. Keguro, my pleasure, and I'd love to see the list of poems and poets you devise.

    Littlemilk, do you feel that New York has lost some of its zip, that intensity of cultural expression and production that really was a mini-schooling? Steve Cannon may still be holding his regular gatherings. Let me know if you check them out.