Book Review: Doña Julia
Book Reviewed by Rondall Brasher
Do’a Julia and Other Selected Poems" by Alberto O. Cappas is written with tremendous amount of pride. It is a book that comes from the heart of a man who clearly loves his native Puerto Rico and his people. His poetry however lacks the voice to raise this resounding theme to a beautiful song. Cappas is talented but his poetry is delivered without intensity and conviction.
The writing reflects Cappas' courage to look within himself and the world as he sees it. His poetry tells an objective truth that most poets lack the audacity to face or write about. This collection is an attempt to emote such heartfelt emotional content.
Cappas' efforts are commendable, but after reading the book several times, I could find neither the passion nor the compassion that he was trying to communicate. While his work is intense the intensity arises not from his poetry or the beauty of his words, but from his choice of subject matter. Cappas seemed to be preoccupied and even obsessed with death, poverty, and the encroaching potential of the ability of the United States eradicating his beloved Puerto Rican culture.
In two of his best poems, "Maria's Journey" and "Do’a Julia" Cappas writes about Puerto Rican women who have come to America searching for the fabled American Dream. These poems exemplify Cappas' constant questioning of the validity of this fabled dream. He also focuses on the price that fellow Puerto Ricans seem to be willing to pay in order to obtain it. Cappas emphasizes the cost of his characters losing their language, culture, homeland and sometimes their lives, in order to assimilate in America. A cost that his characters Maria and Julia have found so daunting, they commit suicide while dreaming of going back their island home.
"Do’a Julia and Other Selected Poems" wanted to be a testament to the rich traditions and cultural paradigms of Puerto Rico, in contrast to the hegemonic and oppressive behemoth, the United States. With this book Cappas has a medium to speak to the masses and inspire activism and liberating action in the manner of Don Pedro Albizu Campos. Instead, I find that it is a collection of socioeconomic and cultural commentary written in mediocre prose.
I can accept that Cappas writes about his world and how he sees it. What I cannot accept is that his poetry comes across as reading a distant commentary on what is going on in the streets. It lacks illustration and color. His poetry seemed two dimensional and even sterile at times. His subject matter lends itself to a tremendous amount of depth and description that rarely came to life. When I read his work I had hoped to find his subject matter capturing the essence of Puerto Rican cultural pride. Instead, I am left wondering about the potential of what could have been. In the end, the collection left me frustrated and unfulfilled. I wanted to feel, rather than intellectualize what Cappas was trying to say through the poet's allegorical meandering. I am left to ponder the possibilities, rather than savoring the excitement from a well-written collection.