Victor Hernández Cruz, who was born in Puerto Rico, grew up in New York City and remains in the forefront of the “Nuyorican” poetry scene that began developing in the late 1960’s. “Listening to the Music of Arsenio Rodriguez Is Moving Closer to Knowledge” salutes Afro-Cuban music and the great musician in its title, as well as those who love this music. Rodriguez was a blind percussionist, player of the tres (a small nine-stringed guitar), composer, and bandleader. His impact on the mambo style in Cuba in the 1930’s was immeasurable, and he was responsible for the mambo craze that took the Northeastern United States by storm in the early 1950’s. In New York City, the Caribbean Hispanic community enjoys Afro-Cuban music under the general rubric of salsa. Nuyorican poets such as Hernández Cruz, Sandra María Esteves, and Pedro Pietri are close to their musical culture; the study The Latin Tinge (1979) by John Storm Roberts offers valuable insights into the character and popularity of salsa.
Hernández Cruz has written a free-verse poem of five stanzas that dispenses with nearly all punctuation. His speaker raves about the influence of Arsenio Rodriguez’s music and ridicules those “researchers” who would attempt to study the results of its impact. The stuff of knowledge is in the music; to study its aftereffects—the “puddles of water” that the listeners have become—is inane.
The speaker shares a...
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