The Invisible Presence: Sixteen Poets of Spanish America 1925-1995 (poems selected by Ludwig Zeller; translation and introduction by Beatriz Zeller)

Reading outside our comfort zone stimulates and urges us to experiment with our own writing. The Invisible Presence reawakens the link between dreams and life, between the unconscious and awareness, between magic and reality. These poems (and the introduction to them) speak to nature and love, to politics and change. They push tradition and bridge formal Spanish forms and create space for surreal movements of the 20th century. Read as a writer and push your writing into new spaces.

I first read the sixteen poets — Rosamel del Valle, Enrique Molina, Olga Orozco, César Moro, Enriue Gómez-Correa, Braulio Arenas, Jorge Cáceres, Ludwig Zeller, José María Arguedas, Pablo de Rokha, César Dávila Andrade, Gonzalo Rojas, Aldo Pellegrini, Alvaro Mutis, Eduardo Anguita, and Humberto Díaz-Casanueva — in The Invisible Presence while vacationing last winter in Baracoa, Cuba. It seemed fitting to consider the rhythms, subjects, and shifting poetic traditions while on a Latin American island. Since then, I have read the collection many times, each reading taking me into another sensibility and place.

Beatriz Zeller’s introduction provides insight into Latin American poetry during this critical transitional period. My only wish is that I could have read the poems in Spanish, but, alas, my skill is barely sufficient for the street (and this book does not provide the original poems). Zeller writes that the poets in The Invisible Presence were influenced by “the ideas and forms of the Parnassian poets of France,” freeing them from the “constraints” of traditional Spanish forms. A door opened, allowing the “cadences of indigenous folklore” and the “marvelous” into new work of the twentieth century. Through movements like Mandrágora of Chile, Surrealism grew. These poems lead us through the door, away from traditional forms into magic, landscape, erotica, and voices that connote emotion and conversely to reality where a place of transformation becomes possible.

Of Rosamel del Valle’s poems, Beatriz Zeller writes, “The impact of reading and translating his poetry is comparable to the effect of barely perceptible breeze shaking a tree down to its roots. The irrational, the marvelous…the sumptuous imagery [results in] the invisible worlds…made palpable with a naturalness that makes it irresistible.” Her introduction includes insightful profiles of each of the sixteen poets, a useful guide into reading these unfamiliar authors.

My favourites include Enrique Molina’s “En Route,” 18-stanzas, four-lines each, that reads like a graphic dream (Argentina 1962). The passion in “High Tide” rides through; its form leans toward prose poem, but still there are line breaks:


there is no sun no sea the mad pigsty of the ports
    is not there wisdom of the night whose song I hear through
   the mouths of waters and fields with the violence of this planet
   which belongs to us but escapes us

In this poem, like many others in the collection, we experience chaotic nature as well as erotic passion.

César Moro’s “The Illustrated World moves me with every reading (Peru 1938-9). Unlike the separation of a man and woman that is Molina’s subject, Moro celebrates love:


To better moisten the feathers of birds
This rain falls from great heights
And locks me alone within you
Inside you and away from you
Like a road fading into another continent

Pablo de Rokha’s operatic prose poem “Diamond Toy” enchants and intrigues (Chile 1929) in a Lolita-like breathless onrush:


     she is like the immense fog which causes the sunset’s seeds to grow she sobs and she resembles a sea chick on her bent knees and her compact in a to-and-fro of the world her chest with torn roses

These poets deepened my appreciation of what we commonly call magic realism, and they have led me to renew an interest in Latin American writers. This summer, I also visited an exhibit of the poetry of Octavio Paz (Mexico) paired with the art of Robert Motherwell at the Art Gallery of Northumberland, an extraordinary (dare I say magical) journey through 34 pages of soul-moving poetry and lithographs. In September, I read Gabriel García Márquez’s The General in His Labyrinth (Columbia), the story of Símon Bolívar’s last seven months’ voyage down the Magdalena River. (Bolívar was the general who freed Latin America from political Spain and who dreamed of a united continent.) García Márquez takes the well-known legend to mythic levels as his Bolívar drifts, dreams, and reimagines his life from the stupor of illness and approaching death. Now I am on the search for a copy of Dust Disappears by Carilda Oliver Labra (Cuba).

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Available through your local bookstore or online: The Invisible Presence: Sixteen Poets of Spanish America 1925-1995

 

 

Book Review: The Gathering by Anne Enright

Readers will simply fall into this story—its events; its place. The writers among us might read beneath the beautiful words to think about how Anne Enright untangles memory and truth.

I do not know the truth, or I do not know how to tell the truth. All I have are stories, night thoughts, the sudden convictions that uncertainty spawns. All I have are ravings, more like.

The Gathering by Anne Enright is a provocative family saga that delves into questions of secrets, memory and truth. At its heart is the story of a sister and her brother, their intense attachment within the milieu of a big Irish, multi-generational family.

I know, as I write about these three things: the jacket, the stones, and my brother’s nakedness underneath his clothes, that they require me to deal in facts. It is time to put an end to the shifting stories and the waking dreams. It is time to call an end to romance and just say what happened in Ada’s house, the year that I was eight and Liam was barely nine.

It is also the story of marriage and children—the people we choose to live our lives with and the ones we don’t—the choices we make and decisions (or circumstances) made for us.

This sounds like a tangled, complicated story, but Enright’s writing is smooth and lyrical. The novel moves forward, while conversely it slips back into the lingering puzzles of childhood—with extraordinary and enviable storytelling skill.

The Gathering is an Irish story as only Irish writers write (think Joyce, the poetry of Seamus Heaney). It is grounded in Ireland. About three-quarters of the way along, Enright says,

This is what shame does. This is the anatomy and mechanism of a family—a whole fucking country—drowning in shame.

But if you’re not a political or history buff, don’t let that stop you from reading this unflinching look at life, life’s struggle for love. I am not alone in finding The Gathering a story to read; Anne Enright won the Man Booker Prize in 2007.

Reading as a Writer, pay particular attention to the pace of the story, how the author keeps you turning pages. Think, also, about the opening sentence:

I would like to write down what happened in my grandmother’s house the summer I was eight or nine, but I am not sure if it really did happen.

As you read, be aware how Enright stays constant to this thread, weaving the elusive “thing” and its consequences through to the last sentence.

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Available through your local bookstore or online: The Gathering