Omar Pérez: Did You Hear About the Fighting Cat?
Published 15 November 2010
Translated from Spanish by Kristin Dykstra
Paperback, 146pp, 8.5x5.5ins, £9.95 / $17
This book takes up the experiment of connecting Buddhist practices to an American landscape. In a 2008 interview Pérez states, "If Buddhism is to have a role in Cuban life it must be in harmony with the basic ethical and natural values of this land; it must give, so to say, its blood and marrow to the soil. Pérez seems to have thrown even "revolutionary" readers for a loop by pursuing that harmony, synthesizing island poetics with Zen Buddhism. What, asked his fellow writers, does Zen have to do with Cuba and its cultural traditions?
The question of Zen's potential relation to Cuban culture is at once raised for debate and answered (albeit indirectly) within these poems. One of the threads running through the pages is music, ranging from minimalist intonations to the high energies of the urban guaguancó, and beyond Havana's city lines to symbolic sources such as the Cuban national anthem. As the last example hints, another thread in the book takes up the experience of patria (homeland). The Buddhist quest for enlightenment intersects with evocations of Havana in the late 1990s, yielding an other zone from which the nation and its call are never quite absent. Like the Zen dojo in the center of a lively city, the poetry becomes a place to sound the many layers of Havana's vivid surrounds.
See Daniel Bozutsky's article on Omar Pérez, Zen in Cuba, at the Poetry Foundation here.
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