From Poet’s Bookshelf II. Contemporary Poets on Books That Shaped Their Art. Edited by Peter Davis and Tom Koontz (Barnwood Press, USA, 2008, 380 pages, ISBN 9780935306-53-8, SEE: http://web.mac.com/tomkoontz/Site_2/Poets_Bookshelf_II.html). This book includes 101 poets list books that have been especially important in their artistic development, and offer commentary. To place a book order, please send an email message, to: email@example.com
These articles are published under permission of the editors. We thanks to Prof. Thomas Koontz his gentle support to our magazine.
Homer, The Odyssey
Francisco Gómez de Quevedo, La Hora de Todos
Federico García Lorca, Poeta en Nueva York
Andre Breton, Manifiesto del Surrealismo
Dylan Thomas, Collected Poems
Jorge Luis Borges, Obras Completes
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land and Four Quartets
Ezra Pound, Pisan Cantos
Allen Tate, Poems 1922-1947
Virgil, Homer and the Little Hunter of Words
Since one of my father’s sisters taught me to read, at the age of five, I became a true “library worm.” My eyes obstinately scraped any printed material that appeared before them. Naturally in those times, 1 really understood little or nothing of what was written, except texts dedicated to children my age. However, I very soon discovered that beyond fairy-tales, newspapers, books with enigmatical words, labels on marmalade jars and advertisements, a book named dictionary was also printed, where all the words were together and their meanings explained. Perhaps in the list 1 would have to include the Petit Larousse Illustré, which did so much in clearing my very first perplexities at the beginning of the sixties: if by then I had been able to save enough from my allowance so as to hire Edward Hopper, he would have painted the inside family scene with my mother ironing, my sister playing and me, reading the dictionary in the kitchen, every afternoon, after school up until dinner time. The fact is that I had discovered that the mysterious meaning of words I could not understand while reading them in newspapers, books and advertisements, included other words also unknown to me, so my intellectual game was performing the hunting of those news words, which in turn forced me to pursue others and others…Furthermore, fascinated, I had discovered that one word was several things at the same time or reigned in various worlds simultaneously A long time would elapse before knowing Monsieur Ferdinand de Saussure but my efforts towards establishing some kind of semiotics for children indicated to me that a word, any word, was: a) the series of signs which allow us to “draw” it on a chosen surface: b) the meaning of those strokes, a meaning that is “out” of its “design” but also and in some manner “within” that drawing. Finally, there is also something more upsetting: c) the word always corresponds to a series of sounds that represent their drawing as well as the meaning. That reasoning—which looked like the top of human understanding to me—made me feel very proud though I soon discovered that to a 7- or 8-year-old child who starts pondering on these very important questions, it may be dangerous to communicate same to his contemporaries: nobody would understand the fundamentals of my discovery and the fact that I pronounced every new word I found in my already rumpled dictionary—in a loud voice, several times—might make me look like a little lunatic. The fact is that I loved not only the meaning but also the sound words have. I did not know that the same had happened to others before me. In the meantime, at elementary school, I devastated the shelves dedicated to children in the small library. I used to borrow between 4 and 6 books per week, which led the librarian to suspect me until the moment when, at her requirement and to her surprise, I summarized Tom Sawyer’s adventures and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the Greek myths explained to children and even an abridged version of the Iliad before returning them. My credibility increased at least in the eyes of that puzzled lady, while the possibilities of the reduced school library she managed decreased for me month after month.
The huge step was then crossing the threshold of the public library, the adults’ domain. There was one at the corner of my street but it inspired in me an excessive respect, counterbalanced by the greediness awakened in me by the mysterious shelves. 1 gathered courage and agreed with my mother that I would accompany her in her shopping exclusively with the purpose of her leaving me at the public-library’ entrance, where she would pick me up three hours later.
The public librarian was a stern man—I really think what scared me was his Marty Feldman’s countenance as Igor in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein—but he took pity on me and with some reticence first, and a larger enthusiasm later, he accepted the challenge to gradually guide me. I devoured all of Jules Verne—whom I knew from the school library—Emilio Salgari, James Fenimore Cooper, plus Mark Twain, and then Alexandre Dumas. The librarian did his work well with an eleven-year-old member. I remember that one afternoon he approached me with a bigger volume, which he summarized as “also of adventures but more complicated.” It was Homer’s Odyssey, an edition in verse, where the unremembered translator had tried to maintain together the three definitions a), b), and c) that words consisted of (both to Homer and myself) with an uneven result. However, his work fascinated me because when pronouncing the Greek verses strenuously dragged into Spanish. I discovered that those words sounded in a completely different way from those in prose books. Until then, poetry meant nothing to me: in fact, 1 had vigorously left three types of books aside: exact sciences, the “Louisa May Alcott kind”, and poetry.
Homers Ulysses was gifted with such a carnality for me, just like Huckleberry Finn or Rob Roy in that time; he was an extraordinary man but absolutely credible and his tricks and strategies were admirable to me. Different from the heroes of adventures who triumphed by their strength or by the intervention of gods, that king of far away Ithaca managed to cheat gods and men using calculation and shrewdness. He was incredibly more believable than Achilles, Hector, Patroclus and nothing to say compared to Perseus. Theseus, and the brawny light-headed Hercules. 1 remember a writer’s glimpse: I envied that blind reciter who was capable of handling item a) of my child semiotics, as well as c) so dexterously. A superb sense of words, united to a fascinating manner of using their sounds. If until then I had not realized that poetry books had that power, it had been exclu-sively because of a prejudice against them, as I did not understand what they said or how they said it. Since then, thanks to Homer, 1 scarred going after those books where form and sense met. As poetry is the an for re-reading par excellence, in further approaches to the Odyssey, a text to which I periodically return, I understood that my first liking Ulysses was well-based. In fact, the king of tiny Ithaca is the introduction to a modern man in the paraphernalia of gods, semi-gods, monsters and fabulous situations going about the Greek classical literature. Ulysses defeats his enemies—men and deities—thanks to the use of his shrewdness, his intelligence and his lack of scruples, his opportunism and his lack of remorse. Only in that way can he avoid his destiny or, better still, his multiple destinies, the options of being drat are appearing to him during the twenty years’ wandering about the sea of the classical world. When he cheats Polyphemus, he escapes from his destiny of becoming its dinner together with his other mates; when he leaves Dido, he flees from the possibility of liv-ing in a limbo beyond time and space; when finally arriving at Ithaca, what he does is abandoning another fate, that of an eternal sea wanderer. This man choosing his destination is a representation of the post-Renaissance man, created by Homer 800 years before Christ. A creature liberated from the fear of gods and men is an ideal image, indeed defined, that the Greek rhapsodists genius was able to scheme seven centuries after the facts he is supposed to narrate in his poem.
At almost 14, I discovered Spanish classical poetry thanks to the excellent public school education we enjoyed in my country, the Argentine Republic. We studied the subjects pertaining to high school curricula but these were of a clear humanistic orientation, where literature and language held a prominent position. Furthermore, we intensively learned Latin, French, and English. Teachers gave us first-class intellectual lectures. One teacher, Dr. Angel Mazzei, was my literature professor and taught me to love Spanish letters, from Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra to Federico Garcia Lorca, from Luis de Gongora y Argote to Francisco Gomez de Quevedo y Santibafiez Villegas. The latter was for me a fascinating discovery; especially his famous philosophical and moral work. La Hora de Todos.
In Quevedo 1 was immediately attracted by his concise, elliptical and ingenious style, typical of baroque conceptism which, by his work alone, would have been well founded. He not only enriched Spanish with his abundant creation of neologisms, but also in his poetry he is able to constitute a statement with only one verse, so dense are his verses. He cultivated a wide variety of metric possibilities in his poetry, from the satyrical ietrillas”‘—maybe the most well known of all his works—to the sonnet, the psalm and the romance.
I discovered with him that poetry might include humor and irony among its resources, as in the famous sonnet, “A una nariz”:
Erase un hombre a una nariz pegado,
érase una nariz superlativa…
Erase un reloj de sol mal encarado…
érase un elefante boca arriba.
Erase un espolón de una galera,
érase una pirámide de Egipto.
Las doce tribus de narices era.
Translated the poem reads “To a Nose”:
It was a man attached to a nose,
it was a superlative nose…
It was a sun clock with an ugly face…
it was a supine elephant.
It was the buttress of a galley,
it was an Egyptian pyramid,
the 12 tribes of noses it was.
And also the criticism on customs, as in the already cited La Hora de Todos, a moral fantasy where the author broaches the subject of the world upside down. This was not an original theme, it had already been broached, among others, by Erasmus of Rotterdam in his famous Praise of Madness, but in Francisco de Quevedo, prose acquires a consistence that assimilates this moralizing text to poetical prose. In Quevedos text, goddess Fortune recovers sanity and grants every human being what he lawfully deserves. Naturally, this change causes such a terrible disturbance that the absolute god decides to return everything to its previous state, that is, to the utmost disorder, always preferable to destiny’s justice.
\iv readings of the Spanish classics lasted several years but Francisco de Quevedos style and sarcasm invariably topped my pref erences until I came across Federico Garcia Lorca’s then not too well known text: Poeta en Nueva York. The Lorca I had known was the most popular, that of the Romancero Gitano, more traditional. Though the Romancero Gitano already envelops the Lorca fiber, the surprising metaphor, the imaginative glittering of Granada’s great poet, what would astonish me would be his most singular work, the already mentioned Poeta en Nueva York. In this book—published only in 1940, some years after the poet’s murder by the Francisco Franco regime—Lorca paints a moving fresco of the trauma that his refined sensibility suffers before the mechanicalness invading urban life, the spoliation of the weaker, the alienation in large cities. However, it was dear to Federico Garcia Lorca that a metropolis has its own poetry, with other keys and representations to be discovered, at a time (1922) when poetry headed toward the formation of what afterwards would be genetically called “urban poetry. Poeta en Nueva York is divided into some 10 parts: Poemas de la soledad en Columbia University Poems of Solitude at Columbia University), Los negros (Negroes), Calles y sueños (Streets and Dreams), marked by the description of the city and its different types of environment and inhabitants; then also Poemas del lago Eden Mills (Eden Mills Lake’s Poems), En la cabaña del Farmer (In the Farmer’s Cabin), Introducción a la muerte (Introduction to Death), Vuelta a la ciudad (Back in Town), Dos odas y Huida de Nueva York (Two Odes and Escape from Sew York), Lorca’s coming and going, to the country and from the country back into town. A section entitled El poeta llega a La Habana (The Poet Arrives at Havana), clos es the ensemble. What attracted me most to this Lorca work, pub lished posthumously and—at the beginning of the seventies—not yet famous as it is now? As it happened to me with other authors, I was primarily attracted by his special manner of using words. We know that in Poeta en Nueva York, Lorca much more actively makes use of the surrealistic elements already present in his former works. That was absolutely new to me and so it was how, through Lorca, 1 became acquainted with the French surrealists.
What I received from these authors and consider constant in my work: from Homer and his Odyssey, the vision of a dynamic world in per manent conflict, where conflict is the nucleus itself, and also the con viction that men are neither good nor bad but a complex system painted in all possible shades of gray. From Francisco de Quevedo and Federico Garcia Lorca, the desire that words and their combinations be both accurate and beautiful, verses, dense and polysemy, the widest possible.
Monsieur Andre Breton & Company
Curiously, what attracted me to the surrealists at first was not the discovery of their poems. I did not particularly like the poems by Paul Eluard, Andre Breton, Louis Aragon or Philippe Soupault but the poetic proposal of this group that—I then read—meant to fill the gap opened by Tristan Tzara’s dadaism in 1914—the denial of the values in force during all the 19th century—by proposing new ones. I had a doctrinal interest in them and it was because of it that, beyond reading their poems, I went into the concepts of the first Manifiesto del Surrealismo (1924). Definitions like those given by Breton in the above work, for example the one on psychic automatism: “Pure psychic automatism through which we intend to express verbally, in writing or in any other way the real functioning of thought. It is dictated by thought without the regulating intervention of reason, free from any aesthetic or moral concern.’” The basis of surrealism and its constructive procedures is automatic writing, which Breton evaluates as the possibility of materializing a literary or artistic production in which the control mechanisms of reason or conscience do not intervene. This statement, that is seen today as at least naive at the beginning tried to give an aesthetic instrument capable of reach ing the unconscious and directly expressing it on paper or canvas. Another characteristic of the brand new movement is its ferocious breaking with the artistic and literary past of humanity—a direct in heritance from dadaism, its parent—as well as the collision sought by art and literary institutions which, like every dogma, would end as an official and very respected part thereof.
However, at the beginning, the revulsive power of surrealism indicated a path very different from that designed by the previous avant-gardes, with the exception of futurism and dadaism that preceded it. Surrealism did not intend to innovate or perpetuate Western aesthetics by injecting a new strength. It simply proposed finishing and replacing same with a new scale of values. Surrealism did not want to be a continuation of the aesthetic trends known until Breton’s declaration, in our hemisphere. It felt it was convoked to become the only valid way of expressing human spirit, no more and no less.
While being accepted by the Western aesthetic canon, surrealism was dwindling within the great theoretical body of art and literature until becoming a part thereof in a practically indissoluble manner. Today we cannot imagine the past century’s art and letters without the Breton groups contribution.
In my teenage years, their propositions and intents to change the world—at least from aesthetics—were like magnets to my sensitivity, above all because it seemed to be a movement that did not intend to remain within mere literature but insisted upon spreading over life itself. From the distance. I now feel that I was as naive as the very surrealists were, but their position, in my teens, was a true creed to me. Finally, when I abandoned this creed, the literary influence persisted in me (as 1 think happened to most contemporary writers) of the poems I had read, precisely all that 1 had left aside at first. What I received from the surrealists and consider constant in my work: from tie surrealists, the freedom of speech and the belief that poetry may intervene out of the language even though in a very indirect way to transform the world through its readers. Simultaneously, I had to learn how not to fall in love with metaphors—as indeed happened to many of the French surrealists.
My Meeting Dylan Thomas
I was 19 years old in 1975 and had tried to write my very first poems, a rather considerable series of texts that however did not appeal to me in the least. They were very imperfect imitations of the styles I had known, with a very strong trace of Spanish classical poet ry and excessive metaphors that blurred the expression of the essence. It was then that for the first time Dylan Thomas’ Collected Poems was published in my country, in a translation by Elizabeth Azcona Cranwell. I knew Thomas’ works through a few isolated poems included in a few anthologies of English Poetry. But his col lected poems were a revelation to me; and so, doubtlessly, Thomas influence on my poetry, especially my first edited books, became notorious. I was irresistibly attracted to his darknesses and the immediate magic of his verse, so compact and accurate, so precise. Until knowing Thomas’ poetry I had sought—without knowing—some thing that united conceptual complexity to expressive strength, diversity and accuracy, the elements I supposed antithetical and impossible to combine. Reading Thomas was how 1 came to under stand, as a beginner, not only what my search consisted of but also that what 1 was looking for was possible. Carnality in his poetry is closely tied to a powerful inside pulse expressed with an extraordi nary richness, ready to reveal the cosmic signification of human exis tence as well as the inherent miseries, darkness and fragility, the deep mystery of conscience’s immanent mortality, in verses such as:
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age, that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And 1 am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.
His poetry made a very strong impression on me. and so did some of his statements on the work a poet does; for example (translated from a Spanish version): “poetry must be as orgiastic and organic as copulation, both dividing and unifying, personal but not private, spreading the individual in the mass and mass in the individual.” Dylan Thomas is formally and without any possible discussion, a master of puns, an expert in alliterations and in the most complicated metric combinations, as well as in the invention of neologisms (he uses, among other resources, nouns becoming verbs). Debts to the surrealists and even to symbolists have been erroneously imputed to Thomas, when his work decidedly points to the English metaphysics of the 16th and 17th centuries and to William Blake and Gerard Manly Hopkins. In Thomas, 1 discovered—among many other find ings—a synthesis between freedom of metaphor and its tight func tionality to the essence of the poem. Poems by Thomas such as “Should Lanterns Shine.” “Hold Hard, These Ancient Minutes in the Cuckoo’s Month,” “In the White Giant’s Thigh,” “Fern Hill,” “Poem in October,” “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night,” “Elegy,” “In Country Sleep” or “Poem on His Birthday,” “O Make Me a Mask” or “If My Head Hurt a Hairs Foot” were some of the most important to me in that stage of my life as an author.
What I received from Dylan Thomas and consider constant in my work: Thomas has certainly been the strongest influence I received and that which has been more difficult to detach myself from, even in part, to go on seeking a more personal voice, my own voice (a task I am still performing, by the way). The most valuable present that Mr. Thomas and his Collected Poems gave me was doubtlessly the comprehension of the functional metaphor’s scope, the notion that in poetry one must try to express two things in one, three in two: and also, one of the best pieces of advice that a poet of his stature could leave us newcomers: “Fundamentally, love words.”
Jorge Luis Borges: On the Way from the Particular to the Universal
The fact of our living in the same city as a writer we admire does not mean a huge advantage in relation to the possibility of meeting him beyond what his pages offer. In fact, I could only see him a cou ple of times, both very briefly The first one, in 1975, when he unex pectedly showed up at an art gallery I went to. He was extremely polite and even shy in his social behaviour. 1 do not remember who introduced us but he told me something about his latest book La rosa profunda (The Deep Rose), just published. He was very reticent in talking about himself or his work unless directly asked. By that time. 1 had not read him thoroughly nor was 1 particularly interested in his poetical or narrative work. Six years later 1 had devoured his com plete works and had the chance of meeting him again at the Sociedad Argentina de Escritores. As 1 had published my first book—in which Dylan Thomas had left a deep trace—I wanted to give Borges a copy with an inscription. I remember he took my book very politely and at listening to my inscription—Borges had been blind since 1955—he told me he did not deserve those words of sincere admiration, nobody did. When I told him I also admired Dylan Thomas and that the Welsh poet had had a powerful influence on my first book, he said that if I liked Dylan Thomas so much, I would also like Walt Whitman, “an author of other epiphanies”, as he then defined it. I answered that I had read Whitman—with that certainty only allowed by the age of 20 and a first book published—and was not too enthusiastic about him. Borges retorted that something similar had hap pened to Ezra Pound, who only came to appreciate Whitman’s great work at an older age and that, if Pound had had that perception, it was probable that the same would be happening to me, that I might be needing some more time to enter Whitman’s poetics. I never saw Borges again but I kept on reading and re-reading his poems and nar rations, which later became a notorious influence in my works. By then I already believed that a new author should try to premeditatively seek the influence of other writers, to counterbalance the influence received from one author with the reading of another. While reading Borges, especially his poems and stories, I felt the enormous power of his pen, which continues the best Western literary tradition. Doubtlessly he is the major writer in my country but also one of the founders of 20ih century literature. In my readings during the ’80s, I clearly sensed how Borges develops his themes—even the typically Argentine—to a universal stature, in a complex coming and going from the particular to the general, from what is characteristic of an individual to what affects everyone, continuously referring to that bridge, revealing it: that is why in his characters, any man, of any time, can be recognized. Beyond the mere situation in time and space, the Borgean characters may be interchanged with others of their pos terity or previous times and this capacity of his writing really fasci nated me. As regards this, I remember some paragraphs in the short story “La forma de la espada” (“The Shape of the Sword”) when the author, speaking through his character John Vincent Moon, says: “What a man does is as if all men had done it. Therefore it is not unfair that a disobedience in a garden contaminates mankind; there fore it is not unfair that the crucifixion of an only mere? Jew is enough to save him. Perhaps Schopenhauer may be right: I am the other, any man is every man, Shakespeare is miserable John Vincent Moon in a way.”
Beyond his literary’ conception, I was fascinated by his extraordi nary accuracy and expressive preciseness in relation to the formal aspects of writing. In this latter sense, I was very attracted by that impossibility of removing a single word—a meaning of a word—from a poem or story without ruining it. Only a short time had elapsed when his work became a strong influence in mine, the very first one sought, different from the previous ones, which had reached me at random to the rhythm of readings not always methodically organized. A decade after Borges’ death in 1984, I came across Harold Bloom’s words, in The Western Canon, that exactly define the importance of Borges for me (translated from a Spanish version):
“Borges clearly emerges as the only 20th century author who stands as more emblematic of aesthetic values yet essential for the survival of universal canonical literature He holds this position not only regarding Spanish American letters but also all Western literature and maybe even world literature. It is not an exaggeration to state that Borges, conscientiously and successfully, incarnated the very notion of traditional literature. With his works, he succeeded in representing Dante and Shakespeare, Cervantes and Joyce, in this our time that, in the latter part of the century; keeps on seeking behind their banner. Borges became synonymous with literary romance: he is today the Gentleman of the Sad Countenance. Like Don Quixote, he cannot be defeated, at least not in his own kingdom.”
What I received from Borges and consider remained in my work: his conception of literature as an uninterrupted tradition, characterized by conceptual axes among which he holds a fundamental place, that of the equivalence of the individual with the general and the demand for an enhanced expressive preciseness. He was very important to me in my first books and possibly his influence was the most difficult to detach me from later, as it happened to many Argentine poets and narrators of my generation.
American Poetry: A New World
Walt Whitman: in the 80s we still did not have enough recent American poetry anthologies for us poets of my generation to perceive a clear panorama of the possibilities that new authors had opened for the art. Likewise no complete books by U. S. contemporary authors were available. The most recent material was reduced to Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso. Lawrence Ferlinghetti. and a couple of additional names of the Beat Generation. But we did have access of course to the American classics, which we attentively read. It was thus that—following Borges’ advice—I read Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass again, and maybe because 1 was mature enough to reach the Whitman cosmos, or maybe, as it had happened to Pound, the time had arrived for valuing him better. I entered his universe and understood why Borges spoke of “an epiphany.” In fact in my re-readings of Whitman 1 discovered many of the aspects of his immense work that I had not been aware of in my youth. His extraordinary style, lyrical and epic at the same time, his capacity for poetical nar ration, the phenomenon—practically foreign to the poetry I had care fully read until then—of his optimism, his simultaneously carnal and spiritual vigor, his communion with all creatures and things, highly impressed me as well as his singing to the material, to matter as the very substance of everything forming the universe. These were the most relevant items of my vision of Whitman’s world then and I am inclined to say that, although from those times on my readings of Whitman have been regularly continued, these aspects are the ones more appealing to me.
Thomas Sterns Eliot: since my very first readings of ‘The Waste Land,” I have been charmed by the author’s very singular humor, irony reaching sarcasm, as well as another distinctive element, his avant-garde position in relation to the time in which it was written, bearing in mind how his intellectualism faced the presence of lyrical works such as those of Wynston Hugh Auden or Dylan Thomas, for example. Also the deep religious sense of his verses was appealing to me but 1 think that it was the combination of these three elements, how even* one of them potentiates the rest in “The Waste Land,” that made me feel a deep desire of emulating Eliot, what of course 1 have not succeeded in doing at all. However, bearing in mind that ‘The Waste Land” is one of the summits of 20th century universal poetry-has always served me as a measure of comparison for determining whether a poem—mine or somebody else’s—has any value at all. Two parts of “The Waste Land” especially captured my attention— and for good. I believe: “II. A Game of Chess”, and “IV. Death by Water”. Afterwards I was strongly impacted by the “Four Quartets”, where the element of religious meditation is greatly emphasized. Even though I am not a religious poet, the depth reached by Eliot captivated me and I understood this as his intention to unite religious thought to the unadorned vision of contemporary times for a 20th century man, just as the scholastics in their time tried to unite the ancient schools of the Greco-Roman philosophy to Christian conviction. I think of course that the scholastics as well as T. S. Eliot failed in their intent, but Eliot showed such a greatness that he inevitably leaves a trace.
Ezra Weston Loomis Pound: 1 was dazzled by Pounds fervent intent to have ancient poetry re-borne through his modern writing, as well as his aim to offer in his poetry a great synchronous image of art, literature, mythology, economy, history and, in conclusion, of the cultural ensemble in its widest sense. His work opened a gigantic fresco to me, a sort of a Sistine Chapel painted by imagism in free verse. As regards this, further readings of the Pisan Cantos were an important experience to me and they still are. Doubtlessly this is Pounds most important work where the characteristics mentioned above are better concentrated, those which impressed me most and influenced my poetry.
John Orley Allen Tate: absolutely classical, and maybe because of it he appears more modern to me every time I read him. Tate was another great discovery with his apparent coldness—he said about himself that he had had an only teacher: his contemporary. T. S. Eliot, another of the poets reputed to be “cold” or “intellectual,” in his disdainful and gloomy vision of the contemporary world and his wide, lacerating philosophical vein.
What I received from the American poets I have just mentioned and I consider constant in my work: basically, Whitman, Eliot, Pound and Tate offered me the vision of the elements I have just mentioned; and the search for what they found remained in my work, as well as a larger search- that of combining their influences, if that were possible, wich I think is the only one that we can pursue on the way towards a voice we can call our own.
If I’m asked to comment on books that were a strong influence on me in my twenties, this would be a broadside on amazement. I was brought up, so to speak, with poetry of carefully modulated admirations and elaborately suited poetic bodies. When I first came upon Juan Ramon’s “naked poetry,” I was amazed. He talked about it himself.
At first she came to me pure, dressed only in her innocence; and I loved her as we love a child.
Then she began putting on clothes she picked up somewhere; and I hated her, without knowing it.
.. .She started going back toward nakedness. And I smiled…
Then she took off the cloth and was entirely naked… Naked poetry, always mine, that I have loved my whole life!
I was amazed at this. It helped me to begin a poem by saying,
Oh on an early morning I think I shall live forever.
I am wrapped in my joyful flesh
As the grass is wrapped in its clouds of green.
So I could say that nakedness put me into a new world as far from Alexander Pope as from E. E. Cummings, as far from T. S. Eliot as from Allen Tate.
Jimenez’s friend Antonio Machado took me by the hand and said:
Last night as I was sleeping
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.
So when Jim Wright said,
While I stood here, in the open, lost in myself,
I must have looked a long time
Down the corn rows, beyond grass,
The small house,
White walls, animals lumbering toward the barn…
At a touch of my hand,
The air fills with delicate creatures
From the other world.
That was enough for me. I understood the idea. Wallace Stevens does a lot of the same sort of delicate stuff in Harmonium. That was enough for me. I got the picture.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Luis Benítez was born in Buenos Aires in 1956. His recent books of poetry are The Elephant’s Afternoon and Other Poems (2006), The Venenero and Other Poems (2005) and The Mare of the Night (2001). His poetry, narratives, literary essays and drama have been published in Argentina, Chile, Spain, USA, Mexico, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
Robert Bly was born in western Minnesota in 1926. Among his many books of poetry are My Sentence Was A Thousand Years of Joy (2006) and The Winged Energy of Delight: Selected Translations (2005). His selected poems, Eating the Honey of Words, appeared in 2000. He is editor of a series of influential literary magazines, beginning with The Fifties and most recently, The Thousands. His prose study, Iron John (1990), is an international bestseller. He lives in Minneapolis.