The Crazy Bunch

reviewed by Laura Eve Engel

“[O]ne could say it was as if my life saw me seeing my life and said, Yo, Skinicky, when you gonna tell that story about the crew? You ever break night with a brick?” Brimming with youthful energy and tenderness, Perdomo’s deeply personal fourth collection sings of one summer in East Harlem in the early 1990s, “[t]he same summer we became pundits & philosophers, poets / & pushers; that we all tried to fly, but only one of us / succeeded.” Moving between paean and elegy with incredible verve, these poems, full of affection and nostalgia, also memorialize moments of violence and loss, the formative context in which these losses occurred: “One could say we gave the Block gasp & gossip, body & bag, / a folktale worth its morphology.” Pushing the notion of documentary poetics in addressing street violence, police brutality, and suicide, Perdomo invites the voices from his childhood to reveal themselves and their complexities in vividly rendered speech—"Whenever Brother Lo preambled stories with Not / for nothing, honestly & truthfully, we knew he was / lying his way into history.” Subjecting himself to repeated interrogations from “The Poetry Cops,” he declares, “I wrote what I saw in the face of what I remember. [...] The you is you. Us, we, all of them, and the others.” Nearing the collection’s end, one such “you” remarks, “They won’t find us in books,”—only now, and gratefully, they—we—will.

This review originally appeared in the Books Noted section of American Poets, Spring-Summer 2019.