Thursday, May 16, 2013

Review of "Looking for The Gulf Motel"

Like Miami, Richard Blanco's writing is lush and seductive, crackling with a sophisticated sensuality.
Blanco's prose glows like a slow burning Key West sunset in his newest book of poetry Looking for the Gulf Motel. As in his other collections, Blanco escorts the reader on a rich spiritual journey of self-discovery as he seeks to understand his complicated Cuban past and present. For so many Cubans, the crocodile-shaped island is a virtual country, one that many generations can't help but wax rhapsodic over after hearing their parents' stories. Or as Blanco writes "still trying to reach that unreachable island within the island...I thought I was done with Cuba, tired of filling the blanks, but now I'm not so sure" he writes in "The Island Within" p. 16.

Blanco's writing sparkles with the details of everyday life from Miami to Maine and anyone who has lived or visited those places will instantly recognize Blanco's spot on descriptions. There's his childhood living room where he "sat along for hours with butterflies frozen on the polyester curtains and faces of Lladro figurines'' to "the White Mountains etched in my living room window" as Blanco prepared to cook with his mom during her visit to Maine.

Seashells (que South Florida!) serve as literary devices that split the book into three sections - Blanco recalling vacations in South Florida (hence The Gulf Motel) ; how he wrestled with his homosexuality as an effeminate kid in a Latin household; and how as an adult, he tries to come to terms with his triple identity - Cuban, American, gay man.

Blanco in Fort Lauderdale last month
Although the settings change, the poems share a common theme - the meaning of home and how those places and the people in them intertwine and shape who we are, from childhood to adulthood.
A recurring character: Blanco's watchful abuela!
One particular poem, "Queer Theory: According to My Grandmother" (p.34) stood out for me. It's an ode to Blanco's late grandmother who verbally scolded him for being who he was - a gay Cuban boy and young man in Miami. (Something I related to growing up as a budding writer in Miami Beach.)

Blanco lists all the do's and don'ts - the pato commandments - that his grandmother barked at him:
"Stop eyeing your mother's Avon catalog, and the men's underwear in those Sears flyers. I've seen you.''
"Stop click-clacking your sandals - you're no girl."
"Don't stare at the The Six Million Dollar Man. I've seen you.''
"you will not look like a goddamn queer, I've seen you...even if you are one."

In a similarly-themed poem, "Afternoons with Endora'' (p. 33) Blanco recalls being "a boy who hates being a boy who hates cats and paint-by-number sets." He describes how he enjoyed watching "Bewitched" and wished he had Samantha's wiccan powers so he can be whom he really was.

In one scene, he uses his make believe powers to make his grandmother vanish.
" poof- she disappears in a cloud of smoke, leaving me alone in my room again, the boy afraid of being a boy, dressed like a witch, wanting to vanish too."
That soulful (and bittersweet) sharing has become a hallmark of Blanco's writing which is intense and muscular (like Blanco!)

My only critique is the length -- it's a small book(let) with 81 pages. So a reader should treat the volume as a delicious cup of cafecito from Versailles in Little Havana. Breathe in the brew's aroma, sip s-l-o-w-l-y, savor each drop ... and make each page last.

Blanco signing books at Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale.