CITY OF A HUNDRED FIRES by Richard Blanco

CITY OF A HUNDRED FIRES

KIRKUS REVIEW

This year's Starrett Award winner is a civil engineer from Miami, where he grew up among the Cuban exile community--a ""culture of cafÆ’ and loss"" and the main subject of these often romantic and nostalgic poems, an aromatic ethnic brew of food, music, and dance. Blanco's mostly free-verse poems record family life growing-up bicultural, as the tug of American values compete with old country ways. When the family tries turkey for Thanksgiving (""America""), its failure is relieved by a group merengue. Blanco records his butcher father dressing a rabbit (""The Lesson""), saving his pay for a shiny Malibu (""El Malibu""), and shaving his dark beard (""Shaving""). His mother's past finds its best expression in the longer narrative based on her letters, in which she justifies leaving Cuba to her true-believing relatives--it's a conflict Blanco elsewhere tries to transcend with ""common genetic geometry."" Poems written about Cuba, when the poet visits the city translated in the title (""Cienfuegos'), find a resort from the '50s restored for tourists seeking prostitutes; and in the superb ""Last Night in Havana,"" he meets with his disillusioned cousin, who hopes to escape. In a few sonnets--one on Batista's Havana, another on a Cuban bag lady in Miami--Blanco picks up the Latin rhythms, but most of his work follows a drab, Anglo beat. A likable volume filled out with a number of throwaway poems (including a list of Guantanamo detainees), Blanco's debut also falters with his obtrusive editorializing and awkward word choices.

Pub Date: Oct. 8th, 1998
Page count: 76pp
Publisher: Univ. of Pittsburgh