Let's get this out of the way first. I love this powerful poetry collection, Roberto F. Santiago's strong voice, and recommend Angel Park to anyone who will listen.
Angel Park, the debut poetry collection by Roberto F. Santiago, explores the intersections of identity (familial, gender, sexual, racial, ethnic, spiritual, class, and linguistic) vis-à-vis the vehicles of travel, or motion from the familiar to the new, the loss of innocence that occurs within the process of maturation.
Now, let's get down to the book. Those few lines above are an excellent summation of what I found in Angel Park. The collection flows smoothly as it progresses throughout its three sections: Home, Away, and Far Away. That exploration of identity mentioned in the summary -- familial, gender, sexual, ethnic, spiritual, class, and linguistic -- grows stronger with each poem, in each section, and it is fabulously integrated throughout the whole collection.
Although Home holds strong ethnic and familial poems -- "Café con Abuela," "¡Canta Conquí Canta!, "A Blessing," -- they are not exclusive to this section. Home is where it all begins, however, with family and early personal experiences as the core. The section ends on a powerful note with a few poems such as "Some Birds are Exotic", "Self-portrait of a Boy Kicked Out of His House" and "The Lexington Avenue Line: III. Castle Hill Ave." "There is a boy with teardrops for eyelashes[…]" The end to Home, organically leads to Away.
In Away, the shortest section of the collection, Santiago's poems move away from early youth, gaining strength and momentum. There is a shift which, although personal in nature, sets out to discuss the very nature of racial, class and gender issues, as well as sexual identity. This momentum continues, leading to the last section, Far Away, where Santiago ends the collection by exploring queer life through bold, vibrant poems such as: "The Day He Became Queen," and "The Ways of Men."
Angel Park has been in my possession for a long time; since last year. I have read it many times since then and keep it at my bedside. I could not review it at the time. There is a good reason for that. A poem. The last poem. Was it written for me?
For Those Left Behind
When loss is all you have
left let me remind you
at cinnamon dusk
the dead can dance.
They percuss the thrash of hearts
against their chests
with dribble bounce
and ball of foot
They timpani pulse & rattle bone of ankle to knee
shimmy-crescendo their hips & neck
They raise hands like flags
waive them like freedoms.
In the realm of the spirit
there is life, and then there is
consciousness. A stillness
of breath condensed
on top of another
like fermented prayer
I can hold in my hands
as the snow crashes down
take comfort in knowing
endings are never
as final as they sound.
This, too, shall pass.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Roberto F. Santiago has an MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers University and is a Coordinator of Post-Secondary Education in San Francisco. He is a Lambda Literary Scholar and past recipient of the Alfred C. Carey Prize for Poetry. He lives in Oakland.