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Victor Hernández Cruz: 1949—: Poet, Essayist

Puns And Island Imagery Filled Works

Cruz won several major awards in the 1980s, including a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and a New York Poetry Foundation award. The title of his 1982 volume By Lingual Wholes illustrated a major feature of Cruz's work—what one might call his serious uses of puns. Cruz's poems contain English, Spanish, and bilingual puns, all employed not simply for humorous ends but in order to show, as Cruz put it in his 1991 book Red Beans (referring not only to the food but to the partly Native American population of Puerto Rico), that "National languages melt, sail into each other."

As his reputation for linguistic wizardry spread, Cruz found himself in demand once again as a teacher and lecturer in the 1990s. He taught for a year at the University of Michigan, but in an essay in his book Panoramas he rued the experience, noting that "Trying to find rhymes in English, it's like trying to find banana leaves for pasteles in Ann Arbor, Michigan." Cruz wrote mostly in English rather than in Spanish. In a poem dedicated to his daughter, he wrote, "I think of the two languages/I write in both/In one I find something/That I can't find in the other."

In the mid-1990s Cruz decided to "take the path back/To the island of vegetation," as he described it in a poem in his volume Maraca. He moved back to his hometown of Aguas Buenas, although he continued to spend considerable time on the U.S. mainland. Many of his poems evoke the landscape, culture, and music of Puerto Rico, but Maraca is a collection encompassing both old and new works, and contains poems about subjects as diverse as the Beat Generation novelist Jack Kerouac ("Americano writer/In the midst of music") and "Problems with Hurricanes" ("How would your family/feel if they had to tell/The generations that you/got killed by a flying/Banana?").

Cruz's poetry was well suited to being read aloud. He won the title of Heavyweight Poetry Champion of the World at a competitive reading event held in Taos, New Mexico, in 1987, and often toured bookstores in support of his new publications. Cruz was also a finalist for the prestigious international Griffin Poetry Prize in 2002. Cruz has said that "writing is making oneself up from what one has toward what one dreams," and in the wise but word-playing manner shown in that very statement, Victor Hernández Cruz had accomplished many of his own dreams and no doubt inspired a few others.

Selected writings

Papo Got His Gun, Calle Once, 1966.

Snaps, Random House, 1969.

Mainland, Random House, 1973.

Tropicalization, Reed, Cannon and Johnson, 1976. By Lingual Wholes, Momo's Press, 1982.

Rhythm, Content and Flavor: New and Selected Poems, Arte Público Press, 1988.

Red Beans, Coffee House Press, 1991.

Panoramas, Coffee House Press, 1997.



Contemporary Poets, 7th ed., St. James, 2001.


Publishers Weekly, September 6, 1991, p. 99; September 3, 2001, p. 83.

World Literature Today, Summer 1998, p. 619.


Academy of American Poets, www.poets.org (March 21, 2003).

Contemporary Authors Online, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (March 21, 2003).

"Home Is Where the Music Is," About.com, http://poetry.about.com/library/weekly.aa012098.htm (March 21, 2003).

"Victor Hernández Cruz - Biography," Griffin Poetry Prize, www.griffinpoetryprize.com/gpp2002/cruz.html (March 21, 2003).

—James M. Manheim

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Ciara Biography - Wrote Out Goals to Elizabeth David (1913–1992) BiographyVictor Hernández Cruz: 1949—: Poet, Essayist Biography - Poetry Influenced By Early Life, Puns And Island Imagery Filled Works