Nuyorican Poet Willie Perdomo Chats About 'The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon' and the Poetry Process
Nuyorican poet Willie Perdomo has offered his audience rich, gratifying and inviting works for the last three decades. His 1996 collection "Where a Nickel Cost a Dime" was followed by the 2002 release of "Postcards of El Barrio," then by the 2003 release of "Smoking Lovely," and now to the 2014 publication of "The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon," a melodic and masterful account of a man, a woman, his music and his nephew — a poet who has love and respect for his uncle but has never known him.
"123rd Street Rap," a piece from Perdomo's first collection, is how many first came to know him. The curt, vibrant, and grabbing poem draws image to sound and sound to landscape, explicating the poet's ability to capture experience, made possible by being "in-tune with your surroundings, your environment, and really [listening] to what's happening around you in terms of language," according to Perdomo.
In an interview with Latin Post, Perdomo spoke about his new work, "The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon." The collection's potent images and dulcet characters feel driven by electricity, affixed to a canvas where the three characters "persuade each other of their love, their art, and their sense of freedom." The poet gathers Shorty's recollections and memories, and goes on a journey with Shorty. But they must also contend with Rose, who has her own recollection of things.
"Whether it's music, whether it's an argument, whether it's a conversation, the way we go about constructing language to construct a world, if that world is inherently electric, then hopefully the language that emerges would be just as electric as that world that you're trying to inhabit," Perdomo said about his ability to bring life to the page. "One of the fun things about writing 'The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon' were the interviews that I read with musicians and the way that they used language to tell stories."
Blending the figurative, metaphorical and hyperbolic language used by his cousin, his brother, and a master percussionist, Bobby Sanabria, with his own, Perdomo was able to communicate the musical tone that plays between musicians. He honed that voice by reading interviews with Larry Harlow and Johnny Pacheco and perfected it with the stories given to him by his mother, who offered him recollections of the glorious and magically transcendent late '60s and '70s; when his uncle was a magnetic and swaying musician.
"I'd never met my uncle, but I'd heard stories about him through my mother and her recollections of that time. My uncle started to take up a lot space in my unconscious," said Perdomo, whose writing has always been influenced by Harlem's mythical status and its legendry stylistic and linguistic swag. "Historically, music has been used to send messages, coded messages, so it's possible that my uncle's legacy visited me in a coded way through his music. When the first poem was written, I automatically attributed the voice to my uncle. And that freed me up. As poets, we wonder 'What's my voice, how do I find my voice?' You have to be kind of a medium for that discovery. That was the process, I was a conduit for the book; then I started doing the research, and then I started reading poems about music."
Perdomo shared that at that point, the writing became less about his own emotions cathartic release. Instead, it became a way to communicate the legacy of his uncle, celebrate his mother's memory, and work multiple voices into the set.
David Tomas Martinez, writer of "Hustle;" Rich Villar, writer of "Comprehending Forever;" John Murillo, author of "Up Jump the Boogie;" Xavier Cavazos; Shelia Maldonado and a number of other up-and-coming writers can be credited with drawing Perdomo back to the poetry scene, giving him kick he needed to write. But beyond working on the current collection, Perdomo has kept himself busy the last few years. He published two children's books ("Visiting Langston" and "Clemente!);" he's currently an English instructor at Phillips Exeter Academy, which has taught him to be a good listener; and he's been managing his publishing house, Cypher Books, which has been on hiatus but won't be for much longer.
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