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Book Review Torchbearer for Puerto Rican liberation

The Tertiary (Lo Terciario)
by Raquel Salas Rivera
(Timeless, Infinite Light, £12.99)

THE PROMESA (promise) — Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act of 2016 — is a US federal law and The Tertiary is a poetic response to it, seeking answers to the endemic political corruption and widespread poverty stemming from US neocolonialism.

“I remember that first time I read marx,/i wanted to be marx,” writes its author Raquel Salas Rivera, a queer poet who offers a decolonising critique and a reconsideration of Marx. He dissects Puerto Rico’s neocolonial present in thrilling language that is luminous, potent and rich.

The Latinx poet, who lives and teaches in New York where he emigrated from Puerto Rico, “picks” the titles for his poems from the popular 1976 translation of Marx’s Capital by Pedro Sacron. But Rivera employs an improvisatory “third-degree proximity” when ideologically fleshing out his poems.

For Rivera, “the imported mangos taste like pineapple./the manholes/are replaced by orange barrels:/all metal has value on the market” — all desperate signifiers of a present degraded by economical and social underdevelopment — while “puerto rico turns on its fireflies/in order to appear:/an anxious light on the world map.” But does anyone notice? Will the reader?

In a poem dedicated to “my queerfolk,” Rivera reminds us that “today they killed more lorcas than yesterday./today june twelfth./today june 12./but still g.m. and I cleansed/and lit their wax dildos./in puerto rico there will be no clear water./today june 12./today june twelfth./but still gaddo, max, and leone/diminish their nailless fingers,/cleaning their hands in their mouths,/cleaning ritual with the saliva incense of our mass.”

According to the collection’s editor Colette Arrand, “Rivera is a torchbearer and The Tertiary is the Puertoricans’ torch,” adding that “Rivera’s poetry will follow his fellow countrymen and women wherever they will lead it.”

That judgement is reinforced by the fact that this bilingual edition has been long-listed in the US for the 2018 National Book Awards for poetry. If it wins, so will Puerto Rico and all who support its struggle for emancipation.


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