The Crazy Bunch, by Willie Perdomo
This is an odd but interesting book of poems that relates to an attempt at understanding a story in the youth of some people, where violence snuffed out the life of several and ended a period of perceived innocence among them. How you feel about this book will depend largely on your own belief system and opinion when it comes to urban crime and gang violence. I myself looked at this book as somewhat experimental (and not in a bad way) but had very little sympathy for the people involved, most of whom were up to no good and paid an appropriate price for their criminality. In general it might be said that I have little sympathy for criminal classes. Yet the story itself is compelling apart from the fact that it deals with young people involved in the wrong sort of activity. After all, most of the discussion involves questions of family, friendship, loyalty, and love, and the fascinating way in which different people have varying perspectives on the same events. Told through a connect series of poems and dialogues, this makes for an interesting approach, and certainly one that I may consider worth emulating in future works.
As far as poetry books go, this one is more coherently organized than the vast majority of poetry books I have read. The book begins with an introduction about the supposed “poetry cops” who behave like a detective asking questions to occasionally unwilling or unreliable witnesses and participants in the events of the book. After that the first section of the book looks at the reliability or unreliability of memory “in the face of what you remember.” After that there are some poems that relate to the lovesick nature of the protagonist of the poem, who is called by various names like Papa and Skinicky, whose amorous interests are not viewed as highly by the object of his affections. This leads to a discussion about how “you lose something each day,” and also a discussion about how it is necessary to “forget what you saw” and to “forget what you heard,” both of which are small sections with a few subjects dealing with alibis and prison and the drug war. The book closes with a series of poems that look at “a spot where you can kiss the dead,” reflecting on the losses faced by a group of young people over a short period of time, after which the book ends with shout outs.
This book provides a compelling way to frame a narrative within a series of related poems that include dialogue as well as verse, and several different types of poetry that range from well-written free verse poems to prose poems of considerable worth as well. For those readers who have an animus towards the drug war or feel more empathy towards those involved in youth hooliganism, this book will offer a thoughtful view of youth involved in such matters reflecting over matters of life and love. If the subject matter that the author is writing about is not necessarily new, he does at least provide a compelling way to look at familiar problems and perspectives that are rarely seen in poetry this articulate and this thoughtful (and I have read a lot of bad contemporary poetry, alas, dealing with some of these subjects). When someone writes a book that can be appreciated for its sheer technical ability as well as its subject matter for those who are so inclined, that is a rare and notable achievement indeed, and one worth celebrating at least a little.