Listening to the Music of Arsenio Rodriguez Is Moving Closer to Knowledge Analysis

Victor Hernandez Cruz

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 457 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Hernández Cruz writes poems that mingle allusions and direct references to salsa and Latino culture, using speech patterns and idioms that are popular among Puerto Ricans in New York. He uses metaphor conventionally to illustrate that music allows one to attain knowledge and self-esteem. Arsenio Rodriguez’s music is as magical, mystical, and vital as life-sustaining water. Its damage is constructive, not negative; here Hernández Cruz reverses the usual meaning of the word “damage” in keeping with common practice in African American and Northeastern Latino jargon, in which “bad” means very good.

When Rodriguez plays the tres, the listeners absorb the music by allowing his playing of their sensibilities to be the creative force of the music itself. That they are all “nervously plucking” means that they are approaching wisdom. The adverbial adjective “transformationally” is mock-intellectual slang.

The predominant figurative device used by Hernández Cruz in this poem is little known to non-Hispanic people. It is “Spanglish,” a deliberate form of slang that blends Spanish and English words or phrases, resulting in a colorful idiom. The poem contains three phrases that could be considered Spanglish: “to liquidarse,” or liquefy; “flowers in the wind/ who know no bossordomos”; and “to dance el son,” to dance the son rhythm. Hernández Cruz himself may have coined...

(The entire section is 427 words.)