“She passed through the world, small, with her great eyes of green hope, fragile but proud, filled with dreams, loves, and misfortunes…. A rebel, inevitable, lost within herself … she died alone, withdrawn, murdered by water, without a friendly hand to stop her relentless descent.” Such is the portrait that Chilean writer Humberto Díaz-Casanueva gives of the troubled life of poet Eunice Odio (p. 9). 1 Born in Costa Rica in 1919, Odio was from her childhood at odds with the provincial character of her small country. Precocious and fiercely independent, she would sneak out of her house at the age of four to wander the streets alone. Her wild spirit was partially tamed at the age of eight when, within the space of two days, she learned to read and quickly immersed herself in the world of books. It was just a matter of time before the reader turned writer: her first volume of poetry, Los elementos terrestres [The Earthly Elements] won an important literary prize in Guatemala in 1947 and was published the following year.
Odio next embarked on what would prove to be her defining project, El tránsito de fuego [The Passage of Fire]. Completed in 1955 and published in 1957, this immense work (456 pages in its first edition) cemented her reputation as a serious and profoundly challenging poet. Much of the text recalls the surreal images and fluid lyricism of Federico García Lorca, but it is also suffused with elements of biblical and mythological discourse far removed from the predominant literary currents of her time and place.
By 1962 Odio had moved to Mexico and established citizenship there. Although she became friends with many of the preeminent Latin American writers and intellectuals of the day, she was never able to reconcile herself to the politics of the Mexican literary world and consequently lived outside of it, intransigent in her disdain of social and literary fashion. “If I were told that I could be given a single poem in exchange for extreme poverty,” she once wrote, “and that it would be a great poem, I would choose the great poem”