cuban poetry

The sea doesn't have to be a wall

Photograph taken by Havana poet Marcelo Morales on August 14, 2015. It depicts poet Richard Blanco with an enthusiastic crowd on the occasion of the reopening of the United States Embassy in Havana, Cuba. Courtesy of Marcelo Morales.

At the function dedicated to reopening the US Embassy in Havana, Richard Blanco read from a poem that declared: “No one is other, to the other, to the sea, whether / on hemmed island or vast continent, remember.”[2His poem, “Matters of the Sea,” projects optimism about unity and renewal — or is it didacticism? — diplomacy? All of the above? 

Look
Innocence is important
It has meaning
Look
It can give us
Hope against the very winds that we batter against it.

— Jack Spicer, from Admonitions (1958)[1

At the function dedicated to reopening the US Embassy in Havana, Richard Blanco read from a poem that declared: “No one is other, to the other, to the sea, whether / on hemmed island or vast continent, remember.”[2

José Kozer and what unfolds

Photo by Keyselim Montas.

“Where New York poets and others … tended to hear a ‘cool,’ abstract, even cerebral, poetry,” writes Peter Boyle in the translator’s essay accompanying this feature, “in Latin America a more emotional, threatening, and visceral ‘magic’ surrealism developed.” Boyle places Cuban poet José Kozer’s work in this surrealist camp: time and reality become warped and subjective in Kozer’s neobaroque poems.

José Kozer's stylistics

Religion, the surreal, and the neobaroque

Photo of José Kozer (left) by Carlos Blackburn.

Across a long, extraordinarily prolific career, Cuban poet José Kozer (born in Havana, 1940) is remarkable for the consistency of his style. His work has been viewed as part of the Latin American neobaroque movement — a loose grouping of poets from the 1970s onwards who preferred a dense, multidimensional approach rather than the then-common plainspoken colloquial or conversational style — yet Kozer’s poetry is very much sui generis.

Recitations

Cuba's Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas.  Photo from Nelson Villalobos.
Cuba's Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas. Photo from Nelson Villalobos.

Where do you draw boundaries between a translator’s research and the collecting of stories about the poet?   Stories expand on the truth while distorting the truth.  Hearing them is an inevitable part of the translation process — or at least it has been for me, because I have translated materials over time from a series of writers with links to the same city, which means that my interpretations are partially influenced by the city's shifting artistic community.

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