Monday, May 7, 2007
Poetic Heroes, Series 1: Octavio Paz
I've been reading Paz's poetry for several years after I bought his Collected (pub. Caracent) with the fee from judging a local poetry competition. I also acquired his early work in a New Directions edition from the US. It's now become a life-companion. I don't read Spanish (that didn't stop me producing a version of one of his poems), but I know enough to get the pronunciation and rhythm of the original, and the translations are top-notch, the main man being Eliot Weinberger, but there's Elizabeth Bishop, Charles Tomlinson, Muriel Rukeyser, W.C. Williams, Paul Blackburn - an impressive roll-call. I won't attempt to summarize the work of one the the 20th century's great writers. Suffice to say that the range of his intellectual concerns is vast, and, of course, he managed to turn those concerns into poetry. One example is his work on Indian culture (he was Mexican ambassador to India for several years). Before the Beatles met the Maharishi, Paz had conducted rather more in-depth studies (for example, he organized, the first exhibition of Tantric Art held in the West), and the Chilean artist-poet Cecilia Vicuña has spoken of Paz as a guru for herself and other Latin American poets during this period. I've read his essays on the erotic, 'The Double Flame', and planned reading for the summer is his classic book on Mexican culture, 'The Labyrinth of Solitude'. Paz's poetry spans a huge range of forms, from the wilder shores of surrealism to discursive sonnets to visual poetry. I recently tackled his long poem 'Pasado En Claro/A Draft of Shadows':
Are there messengers? Yes,
space is a body tattooed with signs, the air
an invisible web of calls and answers.
Animals and things make languages,
through us the universe talks with itself.
We are a fragment -
accomplished in our unaccomplishment -
of its discourse. A coherent and empty solipsism...
(tr. Eliot Weinberger)