Academic journal article Parnassus : Poetry in Review

One Hundred Years of Company: Remarks on Latin American Poetry

Academic journal article Parnassus : Poetry in Review

One Hundred Years of Company: Remarks on Latin American Poetry

Article excerpt

Marjorie Agosin. Circles of Madness. With photographs by Alicia D'Amico and Alicia Sanguinetti. White Pine Press 1992. 128 pp. $13.00 (paper)

Marjorie Agosin. Dear Anne Frank. Translated by Richard Schaaf, Cola Franzen, and Monica Bruno. Brandeis University Press 1998. 121 pp. $10.95 (paper)

Marjorie Agosin. Starry Night. Translated by Mary G. Berg. White Pines Press 1996. 111 pp. $12.00 (paper)

Oscar Hahn. Stolen Verses and Other Poems. Translated with an introduction by James Hoggard. Northwestern University Press 2000. 109 pp. $22.95

Enrique Lihn. Figures of Speech. Translated by David Oliphant. Host Publications 1999. 187 pp. $12.00 (paper)

Pablo Neruda. Isla Negra. Translated by Alastair Reid. Farrar, Straus & Giroux 1981. 416 pp. $16.00 (paper)

Pablo Neruda. Odes to Opposites. Selected and illustrated by Ferris Cook. Translated by Ken Krabbenhoft. Bullfinch Press/Little, Brown and Company 1995. 149 pp. $22.50

Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology. Edited by Stephen Tapscott. University of Texas Press 1996. 418 pp. $55.00 $24.95 (paper)

Remember Hitchcock's malevolent birds, restless with anticipated carnage, awaiting the instant of rending? Think "poetry critics" summoned by an instinct similarly mysterious and murderous to the place where some defenseless anthology has appeared. The more ambitious the anthology, the more savage the attack. Stephen Tapscott's Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry, published in 1996, covers more than one hundred years, involving fifteen countries, two languages, and something in the neighborhood of seventy translators. Does this, in one volume, seem ambitious? Now, I'm a tough old bird myself Age makes my feathers ruffle easily; I'm quicker to peck than to coo. But to my mingled delight and disappointment, Tapscott's Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry is very peck-resistant. For starters, it's an exceptionally orderly volume, its entries neatly based on the poet's date of birth, its selections accurate reflections of the poet's inclinations, its eccentricities (why Ernesto "Che" Guevara? why Alejandra Pizarnik? why-aside from the fact that Alejandra Pizarnik likes her-Olga Orozco?) debatable but not indefensible. Tapscott's defense lies in the legitimate demands-not all its demands are legitimate-of political correctness. Women should be fairly represented. National pride and revolutionary fervor are traceable in the very DNA of Latin American poetry. One of the purposes of any new anthology ought to be the mainstreaming of lesser-known or previously undervalued writers. And Tapscott is a very convincing salesman. His own excitement suffuses his introductory notes with a passionate, if somewhat disconcerting, critical enthusiasm that borders on the unprofessional; I mean this as a compliment. You don't realize how bored most scholarly editors seem until you read what this one has to say about his chosen people.

Admiration so sincere dreads rejection, and Tapscott's introductions, especially in the case of politically committed authors, strive not wholly successfully for an even tone of respect. Cubans-there are eight in the anthology-pose the greatest challenge. The tug of the Miami Relatives is hard to disregard ("In both his public life and his writing, Heberto Padilla has addressed the challenge of an intellectual in an increasingly totalitarian society"). Fans of Fidel receive less fervent and more distant, third-party endorsements. Nancy Morejon, for instance, likes her country "even in its cultural and economic stresses." The apparently puzzled editor doesn't expect us to take his word for it: He quotes Alice Walker's endorsement ("How refreshing and almost unheard of to read the poems of a Black Woman who is at peace with her country"). Even more refreshing is the discovery of good poems by this contented Black Woman. Morejon is hardly a household word in Latin American literary circles, and her inclusion in this anthology is an example of Tapscott's unhackneyed taste. …

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