Anna Wood (4th-year Winner)
Learning a Love for Spanish Language through Latin American Poetry
Poetry and the Spanish language, two current loves of mine on which my collection is based, were not topics I spent any time thinking about until two years ago. When I took a class called “Poetry of the Americas” as a second-year at the university, however, I was fortunate to be exposed to something unique: poetry that I could find joy in reading and re-reading, that took me out of my preconceived standardized-tested notion of what poetry is and how you read it. No longer was poetry a code that I had to crack the key to; instead I was exposed to radically experimental work from poets across the continent that refused to allow me to find the kind of “answers” I was looking for. I discovered that Latin American poetry has a particularly rich tradition of experimentation and sociopolitical engagement (look, for example, at the number of Latin American poets who also served as elected officials, such as Pablo Neruda) and from there developed a hunger for reading it. I started taking more Spanish classes, eventually adding a Spanish minor to my degree, so that I could eventually read Latin American poetry not only in translation but in its original format.
Yet even before I had any firm grasp on the language I began to collect Latin American poetry books in Spanish, and in bilingual editions, as a means of practicing and learning on my own with the kinds of texts I was most interested in. My interest is primarily in modern and contemporary poetry, as this is where the most poetic innovation is found. Thus my collection is composed entirely of Latin American poetry from the 20th and 21st century, mainly in Spanish with the inclusion of a few bilingual editions and works in translation.
Although my knowledge of Spanish has vastly improved since two years ago, I continue to use the books I collect as a way to learn to understand difficult subtleties of the language, like metaphor and word-play. In addition, what I’ve gained in knowledge about Latin American culture from reading its poetry has further fed my desire to read it and learn about it, especially to learn about how literary culture functions in different parts of Latin America. About a year after I developed a deep interest in Latin American poetry, I took on my own poetry writing project in Mexico City and added greatly to my collection while I was there. Since my project involved immersing myself in the literary community, I was able to meet many of the poets whose books I collected and at times see them read their work. The books I collected there were often extraordinary not only for their personal and aesthetic value but because many of them were small imprints rather than widely available texts. The two books I have from Juan Malasuerte Editores (Tilsa Otta’s Antimateria and Francisco Garamona’s Perdido en el nevado), for example, are printed by hand on beautiful paper made with cotton, including hand-drawn illustrations. I was also able to collect eight past issues of a poetry magazine called Oráculo that had gone out of print and featured some of Mexico’s best living poets from one of its editors.
Poets who I met in Mexico City made helpful suggestions of important works of Latin American poetry that I should read, which helped me to expand my collection to more Peruvian poets who led the way in experimentalism, such as Jorge Eielson and Carlos Oquendo de Amat.
Given that poetry, especially more experimental poetry, is often just as visual as it is sonic, the aspects of these books as visual objects also constitutes an important aspect of this collection. I’m interested in the ways poets and publishers choose to format their books in terms of size, material, and type to best suit the poetry they’re illustrations and photographs to accompany their writing. My collection reflects this interest.
Intervenir/Intervene by Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez is a book that appeals to me because of the way it is formatted like a continuous dialogue then mirrored again in translation on the other side of the page. When you open the book, you feel as though you’re looking into a multitude of reflections bouncing off one another, which adds a new layer to its textual themes of violence, gender, and the body. In Luis Felipe Fabre’s Poemas de misterio y de horror , graphics from monster movies are used to add satire to the poems’ dark social critique. In Rocío Cerón et al.’s Imperio/Empire, the additional elements of music and video are added to poetry and design with the inclusion of a CD, provoking questions about genre and creating a multi-sensory experience.
Looking ahead to expanding my collection, then, I want to find more works of Latin American poetry that push the boundary between poetry and art, especially from outside Mexico and Peru. Argentina, the home of Jorge Luis Borges and a great tradition of literature, is one particular country whose poetry I would like to explore further. At the present moment, my collection reflects my hunger to explore the diverse experimentation of Latin American poetry as it has developed over the past two years; what I add to it now also serves as an investment in my own ongoing poetic inspiration, as it is many of these same poets who have spurred me to write for myself.