- Series: Camino del Sol
- Paperback: 96 pages
- Publisher: University of Arizona Press; 1 edition (September 1, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0816524793
- ISBN-13: 978-0816524792
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,001,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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“Takes the reader on a splendid journey through time, love, family, and heritage.” —Multicultural Review
“This heartfelt collection of poems is an endless pursuit of what we hope to become.” —Multicultural Review
"Directions to the Beach of the Dead is absolutely breathtaking and gorgeous in its quest for place, family, self-discovery. For all poetry lovers, this will be a difficult book to top." —Virgil Suarez
"Part travel diary and part journal in time, Directions to the Beach of the Dead takes Blanco into uncharted territory, emotionally as well as geographically, showcasing his great gift for the precise notation of sights, thoughts, and feelings. This book confirms Blanco's place as a strong and distinctive voice in American poetry. —Gustavo Perez Firmat
From the Inside Flap
In his second book of narrative, lyric poetry, Richard Blanco explores the familiar, unsettling journey for home and connections, those anxious musings about other lives: aShould I live here? Could I live here?a Whether the exotic (aIam struck with Maltese fever a]I dream of buying a little Maltese farma]) or merely different (aToday, home is a cottage with morning in the yawn of an open windowa]a), he examines the restlessness that threatens from merely staying put, the fear of too many places and too little time. The words are redolent with his Cuban heritage: Marina making mole sauce; TA-a Ida bitter over the revolution, missing the sisters who fled to Miami; his father, especially, ahis hair once as black as the black of his oxfordsa]a Yet this is a volume for all who have longed for enveloping arms and words, and for that sanctuary called home. aSo much of my life spent like this-suspended, moving toward unknown places and names or returning to those I know, corresponding with the paradox of crossing, being nowhere yet here.a Blanco embraces juxtaposition. There is the Cuban Blanco, the American Richard, the engineer by day, the poet by heart, the rhythms of Spanish, the percussion of English, the first-world professional, the immigrant, the gay man, the straight world. There is the ennui behind the question: why cannot I not just live where I live? Too, there is the precious, fleeting relief when he can write "a]I am, for a moment, not afraid of being no more than what I hear and see, no more than this: ..." It is what we all hope for, too.
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The volume's opening section offers glimpses into Blanco's travels in Rome, Venice, Barcelona, France, and Guatemala and Brazil. The collection's title poem instructs the reader on how to reach the "Beach of the Dead": "Go to Europe, go to Spain, in Barcelona, walk/under centuries hanging from the iron lamps" (ll 1-2). The poet then offers more personal suggestions for the journey: "Pull out your map, follow/the town's names lettered straight out to into the sea/ . . . you'll ask yourself: Should I live here? Could I live here? Don't answer" (ll. 20-21 & 27-28 [author's italics]). Arriving at the beach, the poet tells us to "take your sandals off, . . . take off your clothes,/lie between the sun and the earth, fall asleep" (ll. 44 & 46-47). The writer gives you his confidence, trusts you with the secret of how to arrive at the "Beach of the Dead." His trust gives us, his reader and companion, the confidence to cast aside our inhibitions, our guards against intimacy, and lie naked, as he has done, on the beach. The poem then is our journey through the underworld with Blanco, standing as a type of Dante's Virgil, guiding us through our realization of our vulnerability, our mortality, and our potential for re-animation in the minds of those travelers who come after us. The "iron lamps" that marked the initial stages of our journey can then stand as symbols both for "centuries" of longing and of light, of the imaginative illumination necessary to see ourselves as part of a long march of pilgrims to the "beach of the dead" and to its attendant realizations.
Blanco's poetic persona follows in a long line of travelers and allegorical journeys. Like the stories in ancient texts of the mysterious and mystical journeys of St Brendan or of Odysseus, Blanco's poet guide takes us from place to place, offering insights not only into the local geography but also making a connection between the landscape and the spiritual potential to which the landscape grants us access. In Central America, Blanco's poet finds himself, in "Winter of Volcanoes: Guatemala," "terrified" that he, might "let" himself "be seduced by the pure, living heart/of the raw earth" (25 & 26-27). In the moment of seduction there lies a tension between retaining an individual consciousness while, simultaneously, longing for total absorption within our fascinations, our seductions, our sensual pleasures. There lies, within the volcano and within the poet's temptation, a desire to become one with the forces of creation but also a desire for self-realization and self-consciousness; Blanco's poet-traveler "spelled out" his "name with/freshly minted stones" he "laid down to claim I was here" (ll.17-18 [author's italics]). The poet finds in the landscape the meeting place between mortality and immortality, an association that very place also carried for the writers of the ancient epic, the Papol Vuh.
The poet/traveler also explores landscapes specific to Blanco's past, using a film projector as a "a tiny, black time-machine" (l. 1) that "opens a hole in the living room wall like a portal/into lives I never knew, years I don't remember living" (ll. 3-4). In the recollections of various memories his family, Blanco, specifically recalls seeing his father, who "speaks into the camera,/but the film is silent, cloud shadows darken over /his dark lips, a voice I can't hear forever" (ll. 23-25). Blanco considers his father in other poems in the collection: In "What's Love Got to Do?" (a narrative prose poem) he waits for his father to "say something" that communicates deep meaning to his son, while sharing a drive to work with his father. His father tells his son stories of listening and dancing to Tina Turner's music when he was in Cuba. The poet recalls how his father "embarrassed" him "with his singing all summer, that summer before his throat smelled, before the weekly visits to Dr. Morad, before the Mitomycin and Hail Marys failed, before he'd never sing again. That summer when all I managed to ay was " Yeah, I love Tina too." Blanco recalls his father's inability to speak and, even before his father's cancer, of how they were unable to communicate through speech. There is an absence in these poems, an emptiness that the poet fills with longing and with love. His father anticipates their eventual contact in "Papa's Bridge," telling Blanco, from a bed in a hospital as his son "took his hand" (l. 33), that "You'll know how to build bridges like that someday" (l. 35 [author's italics]). Returning from memory into present recollection, Blanco crosses the bridge that was visible from his father's hospital bed, "spanning/the silent distance between us with the memory/ of a father and son holding hands, secretly in love" (ll. 36-38). Blanco's love communicates his longing for his father, recreates the love through imaginative recollection, recalls the pain of absence and the trauma of separation.
The cover of Blanco's Directions to the Beach of the Dead includes, in addition to Sandra Cisneros' remarks, an intriguing photo by Carlos Betancourt. A man lies face down on a beach, partially covered by sand. Markings and stones cover his naked torso (lines and characters in deep-blue-black, figures in bright red and pale-but-vibrant blue), suggesting a protective covering of spells and magic against naked exposure to the elements or even to a readers intrusive gaze. The figure in the photo though invites us in even as he shields himself from our encroachment. The man in the picture (Blanco himself is the model) is alive and strong but also vulnerable, like the poetry in the volume, offering self up for sacrifice but also for the potential of imaginative unity and transformation.
Bernard McKenna, PhD
Assoc. Prof of English,
University of Delaware