Before Island Is Volcano

Beacon. Apr. 2022. 160p. ISBN 9780807014578. pap. $16. POETRY
The issue of Puerto Rico’s political status crosses over into literature in this collection by Salas Rivera, a nonbinary Puerto Rican translator, editor, and National Book Award–nominated, Lambda Award–winning poet who served as the fourth Poet Laureate of Philadelphia. Of varying length, from a couple of lines to several pages, the bilingual texts are arranged sequentially, with Spanish first. (Both texts are supplied by the author.) All the poems focus on the theme of hope for a decolonial Puerto Rico. The format is unconventional: most verses are written entirely in lower case, the others are composed as posters, and the lines in the last of the seven Puerto Rican independence poems gradually compress. Probably the most relatable sequence compares Puerto Rico’s status to that of the island in The Tempest, which Caliban claims Prospero usurped. The poem “dependency theory” from that sequence succinctly states the poet’s case: “the more they take, the more we give.” The stirring last poem pays homage to José Martí as Salas Rivera modifies the famous first poem of Versos sencillos of the Cuban patriot poet to suit his own purpose.
VERDICT The anti-imperialist theme, reminiscent of Neruda’s Canto general, will be especially appealing to Latinx readers in general and to the Borinquen community in particular.
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