Poetry is one of those writing genres that everybody expects an emotional response out of. Whether it be despair, anger, beauty, loss, pain, we all expect poetry to do something for us. When I started reading Urayoán Noel’s book of poetry, Buzzing Hemisphere, I expected the same thing. I expected to read about love and heartache and everlasting feelings of longing and hopelessness, you know, all those poetry things. What I didn’t expect out of Noel’s book was to feel immense nostalgia for my childhood.
This nostalgia came from reading one poem in particular, titled “Signs of the Hemisphere”. In this poem, Noel begins and ends each page with in-all-caps descriptions of the signs he sees during his bus ride through the state of New York. One example reads:
TAGS AVAILABLE REDUCE SPEED SERVICE AREA VINCE LOMBARDI $AVE MONEY GEICO GET LOST RIO FORT LEE GEORGE WASHINGTON HACKENSACK PATERSON HAMPTON INN CHALLENGER ROAD LOEWS THEATER SAMSUNG AVAILABLE LAND NO TURNS KEEP RIGHT LEONIA TEANECK EXPRESS NORTHRAMP YOUR SPEED WELCOME TO HACKENSACK RAINBOW CLEANERS QUEEN ANNE THEATRE LITTLE FERRY LUKOIL NO TRUCKS MORE FUN IS MORE FUN MT. AIRY SWIFT AT&T COVERS 97% PERCENT OF AMERICANS WOW!
As I was reading this passage and others like it, I found myself a bit confused and at a loss. I couldn’t figure out what exactly Noel was trying to convey with all of these un-related words and strange names and phrases. It wasn’t until I stopped looking for the meaning behind it that I actually found one for myself.
Once I started reading these passages just to read them, and without trying all that hard to actually understand them, I started getting images in my head of all these words and phrases posted up on billboards or outside of motels. I started seeing them flying by over my head with just enough time to read what they were saying. I started picturing myself in the backseat of my mom’s car, poking my sister, kicking the back of my mom’s seat because that’s as far as my legs could reach, and watching each new colorful sign fly past my head. I remember asking my mom “What does that one say?” I remember road trips to places I now can’t remember, and I remember truck stops with greasy men I was told not to talk to. I remember playing the road sign game with my sister, where we made a competition out of how many wacky and unexpected signs we could spot out.
As I read this poem by Noel, I remembered the signs of my childhood.