This selection consists largely of some of my pet interests and makes no attempt to be canonical: these are just some books that I like and have found useful; there are far too few living authors here and that partly reflects the difficulty of finding out what's going on in contemporary Hispanic poetry, and also the fact that I have explored very little of contemporary Iberian poetry other than through the pages of anthologies. These pages will be expanded as and when others occur to me, or worthwhile additions arrive on my shelves; I have been reading a lot of contemporary Mexican poetry recently and many of these books have been finding their way into these recommendations. Mexican books available online are listed in Mexican pesos (MXP); the peso is worth about 10 american cents, making all of the books very cheap indeed. If you order them online, they will be shipped by courier, which will add a considerable amount to the total price, but you will still come out having paid less than you would in the UK or the US for equivalent volumes. It's worth pointing out here that there are no editions in the UK of any of the following great Spanish 20th-century poets: Jorge Guillén, Gerardo Diego, Vicente Aleixandre, Rafael Alberti, Luis Cernuda, and that the representation in UK publishing of Latin American poets, beyond Neruda, Paz and Borges is ridiculously small. Not even a Penguin anthology these days. Lastly, if you read Spanish do try the online anthology of 'poesía hispanoamericana'.
Go here for a list of recommended outlets for Spanish books.
Rafael Alberti (1902–1999): Antología poética (Losada, Buenos Aires).
There is a Spanish edition with the same title from Alianza of Madrid, priced around €7.50, as well as the beginnings of an Obras completas—Vol. 1 covers the fascinating early years. The Antología is a useful introductory volume covering the whole life of this fine poet. There are some translations but I've only seen the rather good edition of Concerning the Angels, a version of the important 1929 text Sobre los Angeles, translated by Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno (City Lights, San Francisco). The original Spanish version of this poem is available in a useful cheap edition (see above left) from Cátedra, Madrid.
Homero Aridjis: Ojos de otro mirar. Poesía 1960–2001 (Fondo de Cultura Económica, Mexico City, 2002. 882pp, h/c, ISBN 968-16-6697-6); Eyes to See Otherwise / Ojos de otro mirar. Selected Poems 1960-2000 (ed. Betty Ferber & George McWhirter, Carcanet Press, Manchester & New Directions, New York, 2002. 312pp, pb, &12.95, $19.95).
Aridjis is perhaps the most important Mexican poet after Paz. The updated collected poems, which confusingly carries the same title as the UK/US Selected, is a splendid volume, more than double the size of the previous collected edition from 1991. There seems to be a selected, the Antología poética 1960–1994 (Fondo de Cultura Económica, Mexico City, 1994) priced at $19.95 at amazon.com, but I suspect that this is in fact out of print. A scan of the loslibros.com database indicates that only Aridjis' novels are in print in Spain, which is frankly ridiculous. The new bilingual selected is wonderful (US edition shown here), and is the most recommendable book for anglophone readers. Eliot Weinberger's excellent earlier edition, Exaltation of Light (BOA editions, 1981), may still be available, but the new book is much more thorough and, in any event, includes a large number of Weinberger's fine versions from the earlier book.
Baranda: Atlántica y El Rústico (Fondo
de Cultura Económica, Mexico City, 2002. Pb, large
format, 154pp, MXP86); Nadie,
los Ojos (Conaculta,
Mexico City, 1999. 89pp, pb, MXP30).
Baranda is another of the startling group of women poets to have emerged in Mexico in the past twenty years. Born in 1962, she has a lyric voice, but of a kind we don't see in England or the US. Her work is startlingly modern, deceptively easy to read but hard to settle down—just when you think you have it, it's gone. My selection here is inadequate as a survey of her work, but it's all I have right now. I will be searching for more, and so should you.
Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986): In common with many others, I value Borges' prose more than his poetry, but the large Penguin Selected Poems (ed. Alexander Coleman) is well worth having, even if—were you to have just enough money for one volume—I'd suggest that you first buy The Total Library (ed. Eliot Weinberger, Penguin; published in the USA as Selected Non-Fictions). There must be a decent Obras completas somewhere (in fact loslibros.com lists one in 3 volumes from Emecé, and Galaxia Gutenberg of Barcelona appears to have a 4-volume edition). I have an earlier one in two volumes from Emecé, but it's laughably inadequate, being simply a splicing-together of the best-known books in chronological order. One would be best advised to acquire a collected poems, a collected Ficciones and a collected non-fiction. The Plaza & Janes Antología poética looks like a reasonable selection of the poetry for those with enough Spanish.
Omar Cáceres (1906–1943): Defensa del Ídolo (Ediciones El Tucán de Virginia, Mexico City, 1996).
This is the Mexican edition of a Venezuelan reprint (by Pequeña Venecia, Caracas) of a Chilean book from the 1930s. It's one weird book, and the story behind it is just as fascinating. You can read Eliot Weinberger's essay about the poet in jacket by clicking here. Oddly enough, I found the book at a Mexican book fair shortly after reading that article, otherwise I don't think I'd have picked it up. There must be other editions. The introduction is by Huidobro and the afterword by Volodia Teitelboim, who anthologised him in 1935 (a seminal collection, recently republished in Santiago), and was in fact the person to whom Cáceres gave that first poem, as related in Weinberger's essay.
Luis Cernuda (1902–1963): Obras completas, Vol. 1: Poesía (Siruela, Madrid, 4th edition, 2002. 863pp, h/c, €32.70); Antología (Cátedra, Madrid, €6.20); Selected Poems (tr. Gibbons, with an essay by Octavio Paz (Sheep Meadow Press, Riverdale-on-Hudson, NY, 1999.185pp, pb, $17.95).
Cernuda is fascinating and one of the fabled Generation of '27. He died in exile in 1963 after a difficult life in which he never settled down and seemed never to come to terms with his own sexuality. Notwithstanding this, he was a fine poet of love. The Collected (above left) is the book to have, and is beautifully produced. The Gibbons translation is efficient, and is accompanied by the Spanish texts. The introduction and the Paz essay are both excellent. If you want a cheap Spanish-only introduction, the Antología from Cátedra, shown here, does a good job at a low price.
Elsa Cross: Canto Malabar y otros poemas (Conaculta, Mexico City, 1994. 164pp, pb, MXP22); Los Sueños. Elegías. (Conaculta, Mexico City, 2000. 62pp, pb, MXP35); Jaguar y otros poemas (1985–2000) (Conaculta, Mexico City, 2001. 101pp, pb, MXP60); Espirales (Poemas escogidos 1965–1999) (UNAM, Mexico City, 2000. 438pp, pb, MXP 180, ISBN 968-36-8018-6). Ultramar. Odas (Fondo de Cultura Económica, Mexico City, 2002. 72pp, pb, MXP 58); El vino de las cosas (Conaculta. Mexico City, 2004. 87pp, pb, MXP 80).
Elsa Cross is a Professor of Philosophy and Comparative Religion in Mexico City, with a particular interest in eastern religions. She is also one of the most interesting poets at work in Mexico today, maybe even a great one. She's a metaphysical poet and demonstrates a total mastery of form and of language. I have rarely read more impressive work. Of the volumes listed above, Jaguar is a particular favourite, the poems rooted in Mexico itself, and indeed in the pre-Columbian Mexico of the Maya, the Aztecs, the Totanacs and others—though contemporary reality sneaks in, with a poem dedicated to Subcomandante Marcos, leader of the indigenous rebel group in the southern state of Chiapas. The substantial selected edition, Espirales, is easily the best introduction to the author's work, and is a fine small-format paperback edition from the UNAM university press. Highly recommended. Her most recent volume is El vino de las cosas, a collection of dithyrambs in honour of Dionysos, the third part of a trilogy composed as a lyric vision of antiquity (the first two parts being Los sueños and Ultramar). This book further demonstrates the power of her work and is essential for any collection of contemporary Latin American poetry.
Rubén Darío (1867Y–1916): Selected Writings (ed. Stavans; trans. Hurley, Simon & White; Penguin USA, 2006, pb, £9.99); Selected Poems (edited & translated by Alberto Acereda & Will Derusha, Bucknell University Press, Lewisburg & London, 2001. 268pp, h/c, $42.40).
Rubén Darío (pseudonym of Félix Rubén García Sarmiento) is the fount from which modern Hispanic poetry flows. Nicaraguan, he spent most of his adult life outside his home country and his most significant books appeared in Valparaíso, in Buenos Aires and in Madrid. To be honest, I find his work pretty indigestible and, although the Bucknell UP volume is a useful—if expensive—edition, the editors' repeated self-congratulation is an irritant. The breakthrough volume Azul... is translated pretty well here, however. If you need only a Spanish text of Azul (this Selected is a bilingual editon), Cátedra of Madrid does a good cheap paperback. Personally, I could do without the rest of his work but, historically, he's too important to be ignored. Students of Darío should actually ignore the Bucknell volume completely and go for the new Penguin, which is indispensable and includes a lot of the prose as well as an excellent introduction. A model of its kind.
Gerardo Diego (1896–1987): Antología de sus versos 1918-1983 (Eds. Espase Calpe, Madrid, 1996. 543pp, pb, out of print); Manual de espumas & Versos humanos (Cátedra, Madrid, €6.20).
Diego is a poet I'm still getting to know, but he interests me for his early period, when he was associated with Huidobro and the short-lived Creationist movement. This large antología has disappeared from the catalogue, but will no doubt be reprinted. The Cátedra edition contains two important collections from the 1920s. There is a five-volume Obras completas (the first three of which are devoted to the poetry) from Ed. Alfaguara at around €21 per volume, but I've not seen it.
At Shearsman Books we hope to be publishing a translation of Manual de espumas in in 2008 or 2009, if we can pin down the permissions.
Federico García Lorca (1898–1936): Obras completas, Vol I: Poesía (ed. Miguel García-Posada, Galaxia Gutenberg, Barcelona). This poet should need no introduction to anyone; there are cheaper editions in paperback with other publishers which I'm unable to comment upon; in fact I don't have this particular volume, but by all accounts it is the most up-to-date, corrected text & costs about €35. As ever, the Cátedra editions in paperback are good options if you just want the core texts, well-printed and at reasonable prices. There's a good bilingual Selected Poems from Penguin (ed. Christopher Maurer). Recently, Michael Smith's version of the Diván del Tamarit was published as The Tamarit Poems by Dedalus Press, Dublin. This is a fine version of an under-rated late text. 2002 also saw the republication by Penguin of the Greg Simon / Steven White translation of Poet in New York (276pp, pb, £9.99) under Maurer's editorship. It's another good translation, which also includes the Poet in New York lecture from 1932, as well as a selection of letters home from New York and Havana, both translated by Maurer. The only criticisms are that the paperback is badly printed, with too large a font-size on low-quality paper, and that the edition pre-dates the rediscovery of the original manuscript(s) of the book, which means that one poem is left out and another is placed in the wrong sequence. The Collected Poems pictured above appeared in mid-2002, under the editorship (again) of Christopher Maurer. It's a fine bilingual edition (Farrar, New York, $50, h/c, $25 pb), the most complete that we have had in English, and the Poet in New York text in this case has been compiled in accordance with the rediscovered manuscript that came to light in 1999. (See Stephen Hart's article on this in the Times Literary Supplement No. 5185, August 16, 2002, pages 12–13.) The edition leaves out some juvenilia, the prose poems and some unfinished works.
You should be aware that a large number of commentators—starting with Ted Hughes, who did a version of Blood Wedding—regard García Lorca as intrinsically untranslatable. I don't actually believe this to be true. A lot does go missing, I agree, but the best translations get close enough for a forgiving reader to have some idea of the range and quality of this singular writer's work. Yes, poetry is untranslatable, but it still has to be done. Best to learn Spanish of course and fight your way through the originals but, even then, good translations can help you find your way.
Gloria Gervitz: Migraciones (2nd edition, Fondo de Cultura Económica, Mexico City, 2002. 197pp, large-format landscape pb., MXP 150). Migrations (Translated by Mark Shafer, Shearsman Books, 2004. Isbn 0-907562-49-3. 400pp, 9.25 x 7.5 ins, pb, £15.95. Not for sale outside the U.K.; US edition from Junction Press: 161pp, pb, isbn 1881523144, $23)
I came across Gloria Gervitz's work in extenso for the first time in the Reversible Monuments anthology, and was moved to hunt down more of her work. This appears to be the only volume available, but, since she writes an ever-developing long poem all the time, I guess that's ok, since this edition is up to date amd includes all six books that had been completed at the tim of publication (but see below). It's been over 25 years in the writing so far, and is somewhat outside the swim of contemporary Spanish (or Mexican) poetry, pehaps because of the Jewish background. The poetry is deceptively easy to read, but very hard to grasp, perhaps a little like the late Edmond Jabès in that respect. It does repay the effort, though, and a translation is currently in preparation. Oracular, it is, positively oracular, and it demands to be read. Shearsman Books published a bilingual edition of this magnificent book in the UK in July 2004, a volume which also includes the recent seventh, and final book, hitherto only available in a privately-published edition in Mexico. A US edition of this book, in a smaller format and arranged with facing translations, rather than with translation preceding the original as in the Shearsman edition, appeared in December 2004 from Junction Press, San Diego. North American buyers will have to go for the Junction edition as Shearsman's rights do not stretch across the Atlantiv for this volume.
Miguel Hernández (1910–1942): El hombre y su poesía; Viento del pueblo; El hombre acecha / Cancionero y romancero de ausencias; (all Cátedra, Madrid, ca. €7 each); Unceasing Lightning (trans. Michael Smith, Dedalus, Dublin, 1986. 52pp, pb); Selected Poems (trans. Ted Genoways, University of Chicago Press, 2001. 416pp, pb, $25).
Hernández was—as his dates might suggest—a tragic loss to Spanish poetry, when he died of illnesses contracted while imprisoned by the franquista government. All of his work is worthy of attention: he was sponsored in his early years by Machado and Jiménez and was befriended in the 30s by Neruda and Aleixandre, not the usual trajectory for a goatherd's son from the south. Unceasing Lightning translates one entire volume, El rayo que no cesa (Madrid, 1936). There are other versions of Hernández by Robert Bly, which I've not seen, but the new Chicago edition is at present one of only two attempts at a survey of the whole (if short) career of this very fine writer; the other, from Bloodaxe Books, is out of print. I only acquired this Selected recently and will comment upon it when I've managed to go throuigh it in more detail. Juan Cano Ballesta's 240-page paperback selected (El hombre y su poesía) for Cátedra makes an excellent introduction to Hernández's work; the other two volumes shown collect 3 separate books from the Civil War period. Viento was published in 1936 by the Socorro Rojo Internacional in Valencia (literally 'Red Aid International') but the others, dating from the late 30s, appeared only posthumously and outside Spain, until the post-franquista thaw allowed this significant literary heritage to be reclaimed.
Vicente Huidobro (1893–1948):Obra poética (ed. Cedomil Goïc et al, UNESCO Colección Archivos, Madrid, Nanterre, Mexico City etc, 2003. H/c, 1,817pp, price ca. US$40); Altazor (tr. Eliot Weinberger, 2nd, revised, edition, Wesleyan U.P., Middletown, CT, 2003. 152pp, pb, $19.95); The Selected Poetry of Vicente Huidobro (ed. David M. Guss, New Directions, New York. 234pp, pb, $14.95); Manifestos manifest (tr. Gilbert Alter-Gilbert, Green Integer Books, Los Angeles. 118pp, pb, $12.95); The Poet is a Little God. Creationist Verse. (tr. Jorge García-Gómez, Xenos Books, 2nd edition 1996. 182pp, pb, $15); Obras Completas (ed. Hugo Montes, 2 Vols, Editorial Andres Bello, Santiago, 1976, out of print).
Huidobro is in some ways the forgotten man of the Hispano-American avant-garde, and he badly needs the kind of faithful attention given to Vallejo by Clayton Eshleman and his various publishers. Yet another major Chilean poet, his collected works have long been out of print in his own country and are not available in a Spanish edition either (but see details of the UNESCO edition below). Of course, there's nothing to be had in the UK, a country that the poet had little time for, on a political level. In the USA there are four useful editions: Eliot Weinberger's version of Altazor is the pick of the bunch: a terrific translation of something that's virtually impossible to translate, and it also includes the original text. [But it's worth noting that there is no independently-established critical text for this great poem, which is akin to not having a critical text of The Wasteland.] It's a great poem that fans of the 20th-century international avant-garde need to read to understand what was going on in Spanish at that time. The revised edition shown here was published by Wesleyan University Press in late 2003. There's a good cheap Spanish edition of the original text, which also includes the wonderful prose poem Temblor del cielo, from Edíciones Cátedra, Madrid. The New Directions Selected Poetry is a good introduction to Huidobro's career, covering all aspects of his poetic work (although the Altazor translations by Weinberger have been superseded by his later revisions referred to above); the Xenos Books edition, by contrast, sticks to the earlier work that gets relatively short shrift in the ND volume, and is not a bad effort. The translations however could be more idiomatic, and have less tendency to domesticate the originals, but it's a useful enough bilingual edition for those with some Spanish. Those with no Spanish should treat it with great care. The recent Manifestos volume is useful background, even if most of the manifestos themselves are as silly, and full of posturing, as most others of their period.
Until very recently, anyone interested in Huidobro's work and wanting a critical edition, was out of luck. The last major edition was the un-critical Chilean Obras completas, which was an expansion and revision of the 1964 Zig Zag collection with the same title (which, in turn, was the first ever publication of Huidobro's collected works). Both of those Chilean editions have long been out of print. I got mine through a specialist used-book store in Santiago in 1991. Now, in 2003, a mammoth edition of the complete poetry has appeared: this one passed me by completely at the time, and I am most grateful to Valentino Giannuzzi of Lima, who informed me of its availability. This Obra poética, some 2 kilos in weight and over 1,800 pages in length, appears to be the book we've needed for many years, though I am in no position to comment upon its accuracy as a critical edition. The important thing is that the book includes the French versions of all the poems that were written in French, including the long-unavailable prose poem Tremblement du ciel (which might well have been written first in French, and is otherwise known as Temblor del cielo), and the editors have also tried to establish valid texts for all the poems included. So here is an annotated Altazor, for instance, a poem that is a bibliographic nightmare. The only problem with the Obra poética is how to actually buy it. I imagine it should be traceable with little bother in Madrid, Mexico, Buenos Aires and other major Hispanic publishing capitals, but it is not to be found where it should be: on the UNESCO publications website, which is hopelessly out of date. I purchased my copy from the Conaculta's Mexican website; the list price including courier shipment to England, came to about $75, of which some 50% represented shipping costs. That sounds a lot, but this is a huge book. Illustrations are provided of the painted poems, and the other visual poems, such as Tour d'Eiffel. According to the book's flyleaf it is 'published' in Madrid, Barcelona, Havana, Lisbon, Paris, Mexico City, Bienos Aires, São Paulo, Lima, Guatemala, San José and Caracas. Not in Santiago, which is odd, but, in any event, I doubt the book will be on many shelves in regular bookstores.
For anyone prepared to hunt through the second-hand trade (easier these days with the internet and abebooks.com) I'd recommend the wonderful special triple-issue of the Madrid magazine Poesía devoted to Huidobro (issues 30, 31 & 32, winter 1988-89, 10.75 x 8.25 cms, 408pp, pb; published by the Spanish Ministry of Culture): this contains original texts, photographs, reproductions of artists' editions, obscure avant-garde chapbooks & manuscripts, bibliography, commentary etc. It is probably the best Hommage / Homenaje issue of a magazine I've ever seen and, although a magazine, it actually looks and feels like a book. In addition, the issue has two inserts: a postcard reproducing a 3-D photo of "Huidobro speaking with himself" and a reproduction of the 1918 chapbook Tour d'Eiffel, illustrated by Robert Delaunay, both of which add to the desirability of the issue. The other recommendation (though not as urgent as the special issue of Poesía) is El Oxígeno Invisible. Antología Arbitrária (ed. Diego Maquieira, Fundación Vicente Huidobro, Santiago, 1991. ISBN 956-2332-015-03. 104pp, h/c 34 x 28cms), which is an anthology of poems, photos, paintings, reproductions of book covers etc, and which overlaps only marginally with the Poesía issue. (The odd title comes from a quotation by Octavio Paz, who referred to Huidobro as the "invisible oxygen of Latin-American poetry".) There is a biography by Volodia Teitelboim, Huidobro. La marcha infinita (Ediciones BAT, Santiago, Caracas & Barcelona, 1993. 303pp, pb). This appears to be out of print, and is only recommendable for the coverage of the Chilean background and the Chilean years, as one might expect. Otherwise, the book is poorly organised, frequently irritating and, more than likely, inaccurate. The author was a close associate of Pablo Neruda and like him was a Senator, running on the Communist Party ticket. His intimate knowledge of Neruda is a great help in understanding the difficult relations between Huidobro and Neruda. There is little work on Huidobro that is easily available; significant out-of-print volumes include René de Costa's Vicente Huidobro:The Careers of a Poet (which was also published in Spanish, although I don't have the details) and La poesía de Vicente Huidobro y la vanguardia by Enrique Caracciolo-Trejo. There are also some useful PhD theses that can be tracked down, if you hunt hard enough, and one that I've found useful very recently is The Origins of Vicente Huidobro's "Creacionismo" (1911-1916) and its Evolution (1917-1947) by Luisa Marina Perdigó (Mellen University Press, Lewiston, Queenston & Lampeter, 1994. 333pp, ISBN 0-7734-2299-4). This is a well-written and well-argued thesis, which refrains from academic obscurantism.
[Addendum:] I'm planning to put together a book of Huidobro's work translated into English, for publication in the UK in 2011. At this time I do not have the necessary permissions but will be aiming to open negotiations with the copyright holders as soon as I know the final scale of the project. This is called "putting your money where your mouth is": I believe very strongly that Huidobro was one of the great poets of the 20th century and, since no-one else seems to want to publish him in the UK, Shearsman Books will do so, if at all possible. Watch this space.
José Kozer: Stet (tr. Mark Weiss, Junction Press, New York, 2007. 222pp, pb, $20)
A long-overdue volume. Kozer is one of the finest living Hispanic poets, although his work seems to be for connoisseurs at this stage. Cuban and Jewish by origin, he lives in the USA (and has done since 1960 or so), and is the founding father of the hugely important neobarrocco movement, or tendency, a style that has had a great impact throuighout Latin America, including Brazil. Mark Weiss's translations are as good a guide as one could hope to find to this most energetic and luxurious of voices. Terrific stuff. Now we need more.
António Machado (1875–1939): Poesías completas (Ed. Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1975. 529pp, pb, €6.36); Soledades. Galerias. Otros Poemas. (Ed.Cátedra, Madrid, 1983. 280pp, pb, €6.20), Campos de Castilla (Cátedra, €6.20); Lands of Castile & other poems (tr. Paul Burns & Salvador Ortiz-Carboneres, Aris & Philips, Warminster, pb,121pp, £13.50); Early Poems (tr. Michael Smith, New Writers' Press, Dublin, 1976); Border of a Dream: Selected Poems (tr. Willis Barnstone, Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA, 2004, pb, 515pp, ISBN 1-55659-198-5. 9x6ins, $17.00).
Machado is the great transitional figure in Spanish poetry, the connection between the creator of modern hispanophone poetry, the Nicaraguan Rubén Darío, and the Ibero-Spanish new wave represented by the Generation of '27. There is a big Obras completas, which also includes the works of his brother Miguel, but the casual reader (& the non-hispanophone student) would be best served by the two Cátedra editions, which are easily handled and have a good scholarly apparatus. The Espasa Calpe edition is less attractive but would suffice as a cheap reading edition. Michael Smith's fine translations are out of print, but his earlier versions of the Del Camino poems are still available from Ireland's Gallery Press. Until recently I've seen few other translations that do honour to the originals. English students of Spanish could do a lot worse than the Aris & Philips edition of Lands of Castile, which has a useful introduction and thorough notes. The translations are serviceable and lexically accurate, but poetically inert. So, if you want a poetic experience in English this is not the book to go for. Willis Barnstone's new translation of the selected Machado appeared in March 2004 from Copper Canyon Press in the USA; this does in fact fill the gap, and is keenly priced. Lastly, Bristol Classical Press has a version of the complete text of Campos de Castilla in the UK at £9.99, fully annotated for the English student; I've not seen the book, but it is claimed to be in accord with the latest scholarship. If you have no Spanish, go for the new Barnstone edition, which is a fine production, by and large well-translated (although there ARE some problems with it), and good value for money. If you have the Spanish and don't need a crib, either of the Spanish volumes shown above will offer good service at a reasonable price.