THE BALANCE OF UNDERSTANDING - a review by Paul Skiff
"It Concerns the Madness"A poetry collection by Nancy Mercado 95 pgs. paperback Hoboken: Long Shot Productions, Inc. 2000
The fiftysix poems that comprise Nancy Mercado's collection, It Concerns the Madness, stand as uneasy residence for introspective expressions and cultural memory. A wordworker, a heart gossiper, Mercado is of that newer generation of Puerto Rican writers, born in the late 1950's, who are now making a bridge with the life of their writing, a kind of living shift through cross-cultural influences where new ground for language is being created that is not principally confrontational nor hardly complicit. The collection of poems is organized into four sections with themes that trace emotional foundations for the poet's subjects. The first section contains elegies Mercado has written for people she has had powerful relationships with. These poems are written in tones that repair loss while discovering answers for the unique, complicated and intense bonds one always mourns the passing of. It is when Mercado's voice interprets and understands this way that her words achieve the liberation of partially seen realities which make clear her position to take into control the troubled ground of her life's situation. In the poem titled as a dedication for a young African artist whose talent is now lost to us,"For Giza Daniels Endesha", there is that recognition that is perhaps most characteristic of Mercado's poetic ability; It was you Who wondered about your Ancestors within me And found A shared today...... This is the clear, straight-forward language Miguel Algarin in his praise of the book refers to as"crisp, muscular and spiritually medicinal." It is Mercado's striving, in that salvage reminiscence affords, to build a world between a people and extermination. These are the bitter terms Mercado has a strong method for reconciling in her poetry, that are carried out with quite some subtlety. On the other side of Mercado's celebration of people who helped build her relation to culture, she speaks of the styles, behavior, glamor and cultural trivia that reflect to the bi-cultural, the host cultures's ways of seeing. The cultural ways of seeing that create personalities arrayed against themselves. It is the type of observation and posture so redundantly offered by younger poets to the extent that the attitude itself has become another piece of'gear.' Except that for Mercado the warning is emotionally honest, she doesn't suggest that the consequence is assimilation, she states unequivocally the outcome is just death. That Mercado makes these points in"Adieu," a poem dedicated to the memory of the earth's ozone layer, takes the trajectory of the idea of being culturally polluted to a higher register. It is a transformation both imaginative and bracing. So Mercado has an ability to focus her poems in a very wide range through her sensibilities. This is more evident in the following two sections of her book which offer concise snapshots of urban emotional tableaus as well as lengthy protests that bare the anger from which the book's title is derived. These two sections are concerned with love and protest which gives us some insight to Mercado's alignment to basic human values she summons in defiance of the oppressive situations that are the social context for a young Puerto Rican woman in the North. The emotions that reign throughout poems in these two sections have Mercado employing language inventively, with musication, whispers, and a kind of loudness that readily allow one to appreciate she has come by her skills not a little bit through the oral tradition. Some of the writing here might be faulted for being too simplistic. Yet the forms employed, lists or repetitive lines, pursue emotive force to carry points made with styling that is probably the only method with which more raw emotions can be appropriately, and realistically conveyed. The final section of Mercado's collection holds poems that are in most ways memoirs. They have as their subjects places, people, and experiences. These chart her travels both as a Latina growing up in North America, and as an individual responding to life in a very personal way. We get a view of the social formations and the cultural connections Mercado has traversed which impose the conditions she has responded to as a poet. She consistently disidentifies from the controlling strictures one must repel in order to not just maintain a balance and preserve a sense of identity, but also to be able to transform one's life and the lives of those one touches with a sense of reconciliation and acceptance. These are very forward looking motives that are rare in current literature. Mercado does not flinch in"It Concerns the Madness" from pointing out the distortions of the social it is one's task to survive. But more satisfying than that in her poetry is to see that, for Mercado, madness is an insatiability that overtakes any form of deprivation. Her words take their pleasure from nonsatisfaction, knowing it is a source of their uncompromising search for satiation. The madness may be our collectively unsettled soul, and yet for Mercado personally, as evidenced in her poetry, it is a subtle, eloquent, almost unhumanly balanced sense of outrage brandished with the full force of her life.
Paul Skiff is an artist, writer, and producer of cultural events who lives in New York City.