cover image The Crazy Bunch

The Crazy Bunch

Willie Perdomo. Penguin, $18 (128p) ISBN 978-0-14-313269-1

In the latest book by Perdomo (The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon), the “Crazy Bunch” refers to a rotating cast of characters from an East Harlem block. The people who move through these pages are casually introduced (“Jujo spit and spit and spit and spit.// Popeye had a villainous laugh.// Dre loved to crash revivals”). Their slang, shibboleths, and habits are presented with an immediate intimacy, as if the reader affectionately knows each or grew up on the same street. Perdomo sprinkles in riffs on Gwendolyn Brooks (“Okey Doke/ Flat Broke// Hang Out/ No Doubt// Black Out/ Death Count”), dialogue, rules and lists, Santería ceremonies, and funeral rites, creating both a novella-in-verse that tells the story of a weekend in Harlem and a compelling portrait of a time and place long gone. Perdomo’s masterful eye and ear stand out: the musicality of these poems is as rich as the detailed histories of the people inside them. By the end, the reader, too, yearns for the past and all the people lost in these pages: “Who among us believed in the great scheme of life and still had enough stage presence to carry the night?” (Apr.)