www.ambiente.us  SEPTEMBER | SEPTIEMBRE 2009

Spic Chic, by Luis Chaluisan
(Fly by Night Press, 2009)
Review by Charlie Vázquez

The rules of poetry are created by its author, much as a criminal operates both within
and away from society, as he or she sees fit. Thus, it’s no wonder that so many poets
past and present have dabbled in crime and write about these adventures of
subculture, as with Luis Chaluisan, who surfaced in the earliest days of the Nuyorican
poetry scene. Chaluisan’s poems are odes—both celebratory and regretful—to his
experiences as a New York-born Puerto Rican surviving on the streets of New York.
And I’m not talking about the well-heeled New York of today, but of the smoldering
1970s and 1980s. I remember living in the East Tremont neighborhood of the Bronx
during the mid- to late-1970s, and anyone involved in crime who survived to write about
it gets instant applause for that alone.

Luis “El Extreme” Chaluisan—a musician, writer, and former news reporter—is in no
denial of his controversy, as spelled out in the book’s opening disclaimer statement.
Although I thought I knew what I was walking into when I read this book by the Section
13 jetty of the “Bronx Riviera” recently (Orchard Beach),

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I was thrown for some surprises. These twenty-plus pieces range from serious
(“Johnny Boy”) to whimsical (“Surfing in the South Bronx”), and Chaluisan’s greatest
effectiveness is achieved when he releases his honest emotions for public viewing—
which you almost don’t expect him to do (“I slide precariously alongside her path, at
once tender, then off-center,” from “Carmen Baby”).

In “Wilfredo the Anointed Apostle”, about a gay santero barber, Chaluisan explains, “So
before we crucify him with whispered nails…homo, queer, fazzy hole…stop and
think…perhaps a person’s lifestyle is really a blessing, for who are we to know God’s
ways and plans…when we’re walking together, people just stop and stare…but if you
could see him through my eyes, he wouldn’t be a faggot but a man.” Spic Chic is an
exciting tour of jazz and salsa clubs, women of pleasure, of the island, of desperate
people struggling to survive—of joy and pain—but it’s also about transformation. It’s
really about becoming greater and wiser than what doom had planned for your soul.

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