Poets of Contemporary Latin America: History and the Inner Life

Poets of Contemporary Latin America: History and the Inner Life

Poets of Contemporary Latin America: History and the Inner Life

Poets of Contemporary Latin America: History and the Inner Life


What came after Neruda and Vallejo? This is the first book to answer that question, presenting the new movements in Latin American poetry since 1950. Eight poets are selected, with substantial excerpts from their work and parallel translations in English: the test for inclusion is whether their writing expands the possibilities of poetry. Some - for example Juan L. Ortiz, Nicanor Parra, Gonzalo Rojas, Ana Enriqueta Teran - reached maturity well before mid-century, but have continued to explore new poetic expression in the decades since; the younger generation of poets chosen includes Ernesto Cardenal as well as lesser-known figures: Jorge Eduardo Eielson, Carmen Olle, and Raul Zurita. Together they display the new forms and languages of poetry which have been emerging in contemporary Latin America. Revealing the freshness of the poems, as they invite new perceptions of the world and of language, is paramount in this study. Its method is to bring together poetics with cultural studies, presenting detailed readings of the work of each poet, as well as exposition and discussion of their poetics, especially where they grapple with the tensions between the inner self and history in the later twentieth century.


How terrible the mind
Is, open
To the world.

(George Oppen)

Ways of reading

For poets writing in Latin America since the 1950s there have been two main inheritances to be used, modified, or abandoned: the work of the avant-gardes and the tradition of politicized poetry. But whereas the latter is widely known, and associated in particular with the name of Pablo Neruda, the general reader is less likely to have come across the contributions of Latin American poets to the avant-garde tradition of experiment with language and form. Avant-gardism is regarded as a European phenomenon, with Surrealism and Dada as the prime examples, and Latin American poetry is taken to be distinctive in its preoccupation with politics. That view could be traced to a number of influences, such as the coloniality of established literary history and the populism of the Left, but the fact is that the way it divides up the territory is not accurate. Crucially, it diverts attention from the poetic imagination and its capacity to invent forms, which is a power that moves through all varieties of poetry. To perceive and respond to this is a prime condition for reading poetry.

A historical perspective can help to bring some clarity to the question of politics and poetic form. the debate about the political commitment of writers took hold in the 1930s. Increasing polarization of intellectuals between communism and anti-communism was intensified and dramatized by the

the recent and otherwise useful reader V. Kolocotroni et al. (eds.), Modernism: An Anthology of Sources and Documents (Edinburgh, 1998) includes in its 618 pages of text only 2 by a Latin American.

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