Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wow...Nicolas Guillen

Yesterday I shared a contemporary with you, but today we're going back a bit. I became aware of Nicolas Guillen from The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse. Guillen is an Afro Cuban poet(1902-1987), he is best remembered as the poet laureate of Cuba. Though I know very little about his background, I do know that he was a member of the Communist Party and his poetry was often infused with issues of social and political concern. While the issue of politics is a heavy handed subject, Guillen's poetry is never overwrought by it. He is very clever when it comes to critique, and image construction.
Most of what I have read by Guillen is translated and for that perhaps I am at a disadvantage. Translations provide definition and general meaning, but what they cannot do is carry the sounds and connotations of a language's history. It's what separates it from another. Still what I have read by Guillen is nothing short of extremely well thought out, and brillant. Two of my favorites, incuded below, come from his collection of poetry the The Great Zoo translated by Robert Marquez.

The Usurers

Ornithomorphous monsters
in wide black cages,
the usurers.

There is the White Crested (Great Royal Usurer)
and the Buzzard Usurer, of the open plains,
and the Common Torpedo, that devours its offspring,
and the ash-colored Daggertail,
that devours its parents,
and the Vampire Merganser,
that sucks blood and flies over the ocean.

In the forced leisure
of their enormous black cages,
the usurers count and recount their feathers
and lend them to one another for a fee.


This is hunger. An animal
all fangs and eyes.
It cannot be distracted or deceived.
It is not satisified with one meal.
It is no content
with a lunch or a dinner.
Always threatens blood.
Roars like a lion, squeezes like a boa,
thinks like a person.

The specimen before you
was captured in India (outskirts of Bombay)
but it exists in a more or less savage state
in many other places.

Please stand back.

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