Martín and Meditations on the South Valley

Martín and Meditations on the South Valley

Martín and Meditations on the South Valley

Martín and Meditations on the South Valley

Synopsis

Fiercely moving, the two long narrative poems of Martén & Meditations on the South Valley revolve around the semi-autobiographical figure of Martin, a mestizo or "detribalized Apache." Abandoned as a child and a long time on the hard path to building his own family, Martin at last finds his home in the stubborn and beautiful world of the barrio. Jimmy Santiago Baca "writes with unconcealed passion," Denise Levertov states in her introduction, "but he is far from being a naive realist; what makes his writing so exciting to me is the way in which it manifests both an intense lyricism and that transformative vision which perceives the mythic and archetypal significance of life-events."

Excerpt

Novels in verse, poetic autobiographies, epics—none of these genres is encountered very frequently, though perhaps each generation produces a few examples of the first two (the genuine epic is obviously far rarer) and there has been a distinct interest in narrative poetry in general in the last few years. Notable examples of the novel in verse to appear in recent years have been Vikram Seth’s witty (and often moving) The Golden Gate, modeled on Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, and the English translation (by Randy Biasing and Mutlu Konuk) of Nazim Hikmet’s Human Landscapes, that amazing work which borders on epic, and is more closely related to Kazantzakis’s continuation of The Odyssey (and to its inspiration) than to Pushkin or, let’s say, Crabbe. Jimmy Santiago Baca, in Martín and its sequel, Meditations on the South Valley, clearly has more affinity with Hikmet than with Seth’s “new formalism.” He draws directly upon personal and documentary material rather than on more distanced fictive constructions; and he writes with unconcealed passion: detachment is not a quality he cultivates. But he is far from being a naïve realist; what makes his work so exciting to me is the way in which it manifests both an intense lyricism and that transformative vision which perceives the mythic and archetypal significance of lifeevents.

The story told in Martín draws upon elements of Baca’s own history, but does not duplicate them. Fictive names are employed, events telescoped, and whole epochs of experience eliminated, so that the core significance not be obscured or cluttered. The tale may be outlined: A boy abandoned by his parents lives first with a grandmother, then is placed in an orphanage. Relatives from both sides—the rural poor ones and the town bourgeois—take him out to visit occasionally. At ten he . . .

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