One might think poetry had ceased to make the rounds. While before it was situated at the center of modern artistic creation, it now seems restricted to quasi-secret practices, as if it were a job only for the initiated. Society accepts it begrudgingly. Governments hand out prizes bearing the names of canonical poets and fund a few fellowships, and every so often a Latin American president recites a poem at some official ceremony. The public politely applauds these initiatives, but with no intention of remedying poetry’s general plight. The superficial enthusiasm of a select few is not contagious. Poets, nonetheless, do not abandon their efforts to keep writing and publishing; they do so despite the disregard with which our ever more technologized and narcissistic society welcomes them. Poetry does not advance. It goes neither forward nor backward. It does not need to be modern or up-to-date. This practice—secret and public at once—is, paradoxically, both within and outside the times in which we live. This does not mean the present state of literature is not discouraging to poets. It is. But it is also true that their position is one of privilege. Few artistic disciplines occupy a space so close to mystery, to great heights and great depths, to public life and intimate detail, to the spoken word and the chosen word. Mystery lies in wait for poets, right around the corner. Accustomed to the abyss, the poet is the ultimate witness. We often hear that the poem exists, but perhaps the poet does not. Nonetheless, the poet is not a passive witness, an impotent spectator of the world; the poet is, rather, a tireless laborer. When everything is falling down, as René Char said so well, “the poet responds with a salvo of future.”
The future of poetry lies at the heart of this new issue of LALT. It had been some time since a poet graced the cover of our journal. This time, it is dedicated to perhaps the greatest living poet of the Spanish language in Latin America: Carlos Germán Belli of Peru. This cover feature is, all at once, a reunion, a recovery, and a just reevaluation of Belli’s literary work. It was completed by some of the world’s major experts on his oeuvre. Inmaculada Lergo presents a concise synthesis of Belli’s work, book by book. This essay is complemented by an interview with the poet, titled “Concern for Form.” Chilean poets Pedro Lastra and Enrique Lihn are also present with articles evaluating different eras and aspects of Belli’s production. The feature is accompanied by a selection of poems by Belli himself. All anthologies are incomplete, but not unfairly so. Here, we hope to present a complex, necessary author. Mario Vargas Llosa understood him as such when he stated, “In the poetry of the Spanish language of our times there is no poet who has constructed his oeuvre with greater rigor and coherence than Carlos Germán Belli, or with lesser ease.” This is a lesson for young poets, and a guiding light for us all.
But the poetry does not end there. This issue’s second dossier is dedicated to Guatemalan K’iche’ Maya poet Humberto Ak’abal, who passed away in 2019. This dossier includes writing by poets Francisco José Cruz and Martín Tonalmeyotl. The former tells us, “Ak’abal’s poetry, through the oral expressions of his people and healthy doses of repetition, sinks its roots into song as well as story, binding them together as if with a magic spell.” He was a bilingual poet of remarkable resourcefulness. For his part, Martín Tonalmeyotl, based on his own reading, places Ak’abal as “the finest poet of the indigenous peoples of America. We might go so far as to say that, up to the present, he has been the finest poet of all our peoples.” This claim, of course, does not leave out poets yet to come. Tonalmeyotl’s statement is a celebration, and a heartfelt one at that. Ak’abal’s poetry is alive, as is its original language. The poet reminds us of such with these words: “The shadow of a house, / of a tree, / of a wall / or of a rock…, / is called, in our language, mu’j.” We are his readers, but we also read to learn of an entire world that comes to us through his poetry.
In the section “World Literature from WLT,” we pay homage to Yugoslav-Croatian writer Dubravka Ugrešić, who passed away this year in Amsterdam, where she had lived since 1996. Ugrešić was invited to the University of Oklahoma in 2016 to receive the Neustadt Prize, awarded by World Literature Today. In her keynote address at the Neustadt Festival, Ugrešić declared, “we should invest all our energies in supporting people who are prepared to invest in literature, not in literature as a way to sustain literacy but as a vital, essential creative activity.” These words resonate even more powerfully today as we witness a decline in the study of humanities at universities around the world, as social media and fragmentary messages saturate our minds with insignificance and quick humor. This homage features writing by our colleague from the University of Oklahoma, Russianist Emily D. Johnson, and by novelist and translator Alison Anderson, who describes how Ugrešić’s literature overcomes national borders. Hers is a literature that finds its readers among those “who are not afraid of the other, the foreigner.”
The authors we publish in this issue’s other sections are many and diverse. In fiction, we have Teresa Icaza, Yael Weiss, and Josefina Plá. In poetry, Alonso Rabí, Mónica Ojeda, Santiago Acosta, Teresa Korondi, and María Paulina Briones. In Brazilian literature—that great unrecognized country—we publish work by writers Manoel Carlos Karam and José J. Veiga. In Indigenous literature, we have something new. This issue features texts by writers Alba Eiragi Duarte, Natalia Toledo, and Rosa Chávez from the book Daughters of Latin America: An International Anthology of Writing by Latine Women, recently published by prestigious U.S. press HarperCollins. We are indebted to this book’s editor, Sandra Guzmán, who graciously allowed us to publish these excerpts from this essential collection dedicated to Latin America’s women writers of yesterday and today.
We are also happy to present some important previews from the English-language publishing world. First, the poetry of Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica (Secret Poetics, translated by Rebecca Kosick), which will come out this November from Winter Editions. Another preview comes from our friends at Deep Vellum: Heather Cleary’s translation of Recital of the Dark Verses, by Mexican writer Luis Feliz Fabre, a novel in translation that recently reached bookshelves. Reflection on translation, of course, is also accounted for. Renowned U.S. translator Robin Myers writes in this issue on her process of translating Like the Night Inside the Eyes by Argentine poet Daniel Lipara. We also feature two texts in our “Seeking Publisher” section. The first is George Henson and Michelle Mirabella’s translation of a novella by Colombian writer John Templanza Better, Limbo: A Story of Horror in the Caribbean. The second is Bruna Dantas Lobato’s translation of D’s Cryogenics or a Manifesto for Lost Pleasures by Brazilian writer Leonardo Valente. We hope publishers of books in translation will take heed of these samples we display in our digital shop window with every new issue.
With nothing more to add, we welcome you to this new issue of LALT, full of novelty and safeguarded by the poetic word, hoping to reach another dawn.