Poet Rodriguez (Concrete Pastures of the Beautiful Box, 2008, etc.) brings his Bronx Trilogy to a resounding, satisfying conclusion.
There are few cities that have been the subject of more poems than New York. Leopold Senghor celebrated the metropolis in “To New York” (1956), Amy Lowell plumbed its mysteries in “New York at Night” (1912), and Hart Crane gave it a book-length treatment in The Bridge (1930). A complete list of similar works would run the length of Fifth Avenue, but all this verse gives limited attention to the city’s northernmost borough. Many artists—and not just poets—have fallen in love with Manhattan, but few often venture much above 125th Street. The same can’t be said for Rodriguez, whose latest is the third in a trilogy of books lovingly devoted to the Bronx. His verse is unpretentious though never unprepossessing, and in it, the author wears his love for the borough on his sleeve. For example, he calls Cypress Avenue, in a poem named after that South Bronx street, “a half mile of peace and simple wonder,” before continuing, coyly, “or is it just childhood illusion.” The fact that Rodriguez’s obvious affection for the city is cut with such caution—or perhaps it’s just reserve—makes his reflections both more believable and more satisfying. Later, in the poem that gives the collection its title, the poet sounds like Allen Ginsberg in the breathless rush of his lines: “and the bootblacks toil and sweat drops from their brows / and the bootblacks beat beauty into old shoes / and the bootblacks earn a living one dollar at a time / in america where we vote for our kings / and the police beat whom they wish / and the strong beat the weak.” In these lines and elsewhere, Rodriguez makes room for a strand of social commentary that not only lends his writing weight and force, but also makes the collection a compelling read for New Yorkers and non–New Yorkers alike.
A long, beautiful praise song to the land north of the Harlem River.