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