Victor Hernández Cruz was the first of the Puerto Rican poets writing in the English language to reach a broad American audience. However, rather than label him an English-language poet, it is more accurate to view him as a bilingual or a multilingual writer. Cruz enjoys his native language, with its Arabian and African words and its unique rhythms and patterns. His poetry incorporates many strains: his family’s vital oral tradition, traditional Spanish, New York-Puerto Rican slang, and black English. He discovered various “Englishes” and was intrigued by fellow writers, such as Polish author Joseph Conrad, who wrote in English as a second language.
After the early success of Papo Got His Gun! and Other Poems, a chapbook that had gained notice in Evergreen Review, Random House published Snaps. This collection’s hip, barrio voice, its jazzy rhythms, and its snapshot technique of realistically portraying street life brought Cruz immediate recognition. Random House honored his irreverence for grammar and formalities of style and thus helped launch the young poet’s ongoing fascination with the relationship of sound and sense, of language and life.
The poems capture the true essence of urban ghetto life. Clacking subways, dance clubs, smoking, girl-watching, and knife fights form the gritty realities of street life. The rapid staccato of half-learned English enriches the poems. Cruz’s...
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