Victor Hernández Cruz (b. 1949)

    Contributing Editor: Frances R. Aparicio

    Classroom Issues and Strategies

    Cruz's poetry may seem hermetic at times, and partly this is due to the use of imagery, words, and references that originate in Hispanic culture or mythology. Also, his poetry demands a reader who is familiar with both English and Spanish since he frequently plays with both languages.

    I would advise students to read carefully and aid them by preparing a glossary or handout that would clarify the difficult references. (The problem is that not all English teachers have access to the meaning of local references to Puerto Rican towns, Indian gods, mythological figures.)

    I would emphasize the importance of the concrete poetry movement in relation to Cruz's work. The importance of the collage text, the use of space, the page, the graphics, and the significance of play as integral elements in the reading of a poem, could be clearly explained by a visual presentation of concrete poems from Brazil, Europe, and the United States.

    Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues

    Urban life; meaning of language as an identity construct; importance of the cultural and historical past and how it flows into the present; importance of music and drugs as a basis for the poet's images; Hispanic culture and identity: how is it reaffirmed through literary creation?

    Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions

    Focus on the importance of collage or hybrid texts; influence of concrete poetry; linguistic mixtures and lucid bilingualism; concept of metaliterary texts; contemporary American poetry: free verse, fragmentation, minimalism, surrealism.

    Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections

    Compare and contrast with Allen Ginsberg and other poets of the beat generation (use of imagery based on drugs, music of the '60s, influence of surrealism and irreverent language); an additional comparison to E. E. Cummings, as well as to the concrete poets, would be helpful in terms of use of space, punctuation, and the page as signifiers. Contrast with poets like Pedro Pietri and Tato Laviera, in which the elements of popular culture are central to the understanding of their works (Cruz is much more introspective and abstract, and does not fit totally into the paradigm of Nuyorican aesthetics).

    Questions for Reading and Discussion/ Approaches to Writing

    Study questions will focus mostly on the assigned text and would require students to identify major theme, use of language and imagery, and aesthetic effect of each poem.

    Paper topics would focus on major themes. For example:

    1. Discuss how "Speech changing within space," the epigraph to By Lingual Wholes, encapsulates Víctor Hernández Cruz's poetics.

    2. Would you agree that English is transformed or affected by Spanish in Cruz's works? If so, how is this achieved?

    3. Discuss the presence of Hispanic culture within contemporary, urban life in the United States as it is reflected in Cruz's literature; that is, how he tropicalizes the U.S. cultural identity.

    4. Analyze Cruz's texts as an example of urban literature: How do his point of view, attitudes, imagery, and rhythms create a sense of life in American cities?

    5. Write on Cruz's use of music and drugs as basis for his poetic imagery.


    Acosta-Belén, Edna. "The Literature of the Puerto Rican National Minority in the United States." Bilingual Review, Vol. 5, no. 1 and 2. Jan.-Aug. 1978: 107-16.

    Aparicio, Frances. "Salsa, Maracas and Baile: Latin Popular Music in the Poetry of Víctor Hernández Cruz." MELUS 16:1 (Spring 1989-1990): 43-58.

    Cruz, Arnaldo. "Teaching Puerto Rican Authors: Modernization and Identity in Nuyorican Literature." ADE Bulletin. MLA, Dec. 1988: 45-51.

    Cruz, Víctor Hernández. "Mountains in the North: Hispanic Writing in the USA." The Americas Review, 14: 3-4 Fall/Winter 1986: 110-14.