Cesar Vallejo – The Complete Poetry
Published by: The University of California Press
On mother’s day, on the 30th March this year, a present arrived for me, from Ursula, my wife and mother of my child, that put my measly pretence of a gift in the shade. The Complete Poetry of César Vallejo, a Peruvian poet from the early 20th century, was the last thing I would have expected, for I was not only woefully ignorant of him, but could not recall having ever heard of him before. Being no expert in poetry, and in fact, being in the case of poetry quite a light reader, I would in most cases have just brushed this lack of knowledge off, settled down and, with a glass or two of whiskey, become acquainted. However, I soon discovered that this was no ordinary omission.
“There are blows in life, so powerful… I don’t know!
Blows as from the hatred of God; as if, facing them
the undertow of everything suffered
welled up in the soul… I don’t know!”
From The Black Heralds, this opening stanza begins a collection of poetry that I cannot begin to describe, and yet that I have an overwhelming desire to share. I love words. I love the malleable mála of these arbitrary arrangements that can envelope you, mold you, wrap you in their labyrinthine passage or cut you open, tear your heart with slivers. The words I love reside at intersections, as frontiers in a changing landscape, insecure and fragile…
How it is that a poem comes, I don’t know. I’ve written a few. Some I’ve parted with as gifts. Others I’ve stretched and bent and kneaded into shape so to fit my prose, or just simply discarded. How it is that Telluric and Magnetic came to be written, to …
“… integrate with wind the lowings, the waters with their deaf antiquity”
“Rain based on noon,
under the tile roof where indefatigable
and the turtle dove cuts her trill in three!”
“Just to have seen their corrosive dust!
Just to have heard their oxides of the heights!
Mouth wedges, mouth anvils, mouth apparatus (It is tremendous!)”
He was of his time. And his time was one of force and violence, of emergence, of making and remaking. Revolutions, ruptures, the rent faces of humanity split on altars.
“Málaga without father or mother,
nor pebble, nor oven, nor white dog!
Málaga defenseless, where my death was born taking steps
and my birth died of passion!
Málaga walking behind your feet, in exodus,
under evil, under cowardice, under the concave, inexpressible history,
with the yolk in your hand: organic earth!
And the white in your hair tips: the whole chaos!”
I could continue quoting pieces from his poems, but I won’t. They don’t deserve to be nibbled but devoured. Instead I’ll leave you with this reading from Sam Shepard. Have a listen. This will grab your attention.