Sunday, May 9, 2010

Rane Arroyo, In Memoriam (1954-2010)



The great Puerto Rican poet Rane Arroyo died on Friday morning (3:40 am) in Toledo, Ohio. His long-term partner Glenn Sheldon was at his side. I wrote the following about Rane for the Heath Anthology and have updated it:

Rane Arroyo b. 1954 - d. 2010

Born in Chicago to Puerto Rican migrant parents, Rane Ramón Arroyo was a prize-winning poet and playwright that also lived in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where he received a Ph.D. in American Literature and Cultural Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. A self-professed gay writer, he was also a literary critic and performance artist, and directed the University of Toledo’s Creative Writing program. Arroyo’s work is marked by his references to Caribbean and Latino life in the Midwest (particularly in Chicago), by his consistent engagement with canonical literary figures of American and English modernism as well as with Latin American and Spanish poets, and by his exploration of his own personal experiences, including his longstanding relationship with the poet Glenn Sheldon, his affection for his cat Diva, and his awareness of his own process of aging.

Arroyo’s self-reflexive poetry often focused on the inner conscience of a poetic persona, a gay Puerto Rican bard who feels out of place in the world and who is constantly struggling to grapple with what it means to be a poet marked by racial, sexual, and linguistic difference. In this universe, poetry is construed as the space where memory comes together, the space for the appreciation of that which surrounds the individual, a way to come to terms with the world and to reflect about politics, news, racial relations, immigrant experience, and quite markedly, with what it means to be an American.

At the core of Arroyo’s universe is his family and the Puerto Rican traditions (dance, music, food, the Spanish language) and social experiences (factory work, poverty, migration) that characterize them. There is a recurrent set of characters that reappear throughout Arroyo’s four books; these include Mami, Papi, Aunt Sylvia, Uncle “Rachel” (the transvestite uncle), as well as his many cousins. The poems often express intimate (and evolving) relationships with these individuals, highlighting issues of masculinity and gender in relation to the father and uncle, of tradition and assimilation in relation to his mother, and of youth and coming of age with the cousins.

One of the most striking features of Arroyo’s poetry is his play with traditional forms (what appear to be rigid stanza sequences, often couplets and tercets, and set-length verses) employed to give shape to strongly prosaic content; the verses constantly make use of enjambment. Arroyo’s poetry is marked by the variety of topics it covers in a most colloquial way, wandering from considerations of Latino popular and mass culture (Andy García, Antonio Banderas, Ricky Ricardo, Rita Moreno and West Side Story, Speedy González, Taco Bell), to revisionist historic dialogues with Christopher Columbus and conquistadors such as Juan Ponce de León, to profound analysis about the specific environs of a particular neighborhood or serious critiques of racism or of the effects of drug trafficking and drug addiction. It is a poetry that tries to reconcile geographic specificity (his own love of Chicago, his parents’ Puerto Rico) with cosmopolitanism (a learned engagement with the Western tradition and extensive travels throughout the world). There is a clear attempt to address dominant conceptions of Latinos in the United States, engaging with damaging stereotypes as well as with issues specific to Mexican-Americans/Chicanos, Cuban-Americans, and Puerto Ricans.

The strong literary bend of his work is established by constant mentions of and dialogues with poets such as William Carlos Williams (whose mother was Puerto Rican), Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane, Diane Williams, and Seamus Heaney, as well as Latin American or Hispanic greats such as Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Federico García Lorca, Octavio Paz, and Pablo Neruda. In fact, the poet’s careful attention to form and literary language as writerly phenomena bring him closer to Víctor Hernández Cruz than to other US Puerto Rican poets.

Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

PRIMARY WORKS
Columbus’s Orphan, 1993; The Singing Shark, 1996; Pale Ramón, 1998; Home Movies of Narcissus, 2002; The Portable Famine, 2005; How To Name A Hurricane, 2005; The Roswell Poems, 2008; Same-Sex Séances, 2008; The Buried Sea: New & Selected Poems, 2008; The Sky's Weight, 2009.

2 comments:

p swartzfager said...

Thanks so much for honoring Rane with this extensive praise of his work. I only recently came to find his poetry and hear him read. I had the fortune to buy a few of his books and love his work.

Ellie said...

I'm so sorry to hear about Rane's death. Such a sweet man, a friend and colleague.