Reseña de poemario poemario "Small Hours of the Night", una selección de poemas de Roque Dalton traducidos al inglés
Por: Carlos Suárez Boulangger (*)
Book Review: Small Hours of the Night
Small Hours of the Night:
Selected Poems by Roque Dalton
Edited by Hadie St. Martin.
Translated by Jonathan Cohen, et al.
Published by Curbstone Press
Z Magazine: Volume 10 Number 3 March 1997
By Carlos Suárez-Boulangger
You told me there is something
they call the light
it’s impossible to describe
with your hands.
The Salvadoran writer Roque Dalton described in a poem entitled “Looking for Trouble” (not included in this selection) the night of his first communist meeting: “When we left, it had stopped raining/my mother scolded me for getting home late.” When I read the poem I was struck by the parallels in my own life. The morning of my first demonstration was cold and damp, the sky was overcast, and I told my parents I was going to class. In the mid-1970s I lived in a country run by a military junta. Then, going to a demonstration always implied the chance of never coming back – your life stopped by an always mysterious bullet, or getting arrested and beaten up in jail.
My classmates and I were all in our late teens, and the possibility of dying seemed very remote to privileged kids. But I had seen students getting shot and arrested, and we all knew someone in jail for political reasons. In spite of the possible consequences, we assumed the role of political activists as part of our lives, not as our dark faith or as sacrificial lambs offered at the altar of a better world. I know that the motivating force for our activism was an indestructible yearning for a joyful egalitarian existence. To 18-year-old activists the world seemed wonderful and full of adventure, and we wanted everyone to share this joy equally.
The hope and hunger for the different world promised by our activism is what I always found in the poetry of Roque Dalton. His poetry is the voice of the activist who assumes his or her role without nostalgia for the comfortable life left behind, but fully aware of the trouble ahead:
When I die, they’ll remember
only my obvious joy each morning,
my flag that hasn’t the
right to collapse,
the hard facts I passed
around at the fireside,
the fist I made unanimous.
Twenty-one years after Roque Dalton was assassinated by a faction of his divided guerrilla group, Curbstone Press has made available to English readers a beautiful collection of his poetry. Small Hours of the Night is not the most complete selection of Roque Dalton’s work. I wish some of my favorite poems were included; I wish some of the translations had retained the mischievous twinkle of the Spanish original.
But I know that any selection of Dalton’s work has to come up short. After all, he produced 18 volumes of poetry and prose, which include, in addition to the 10 books mention in this selection, several superb books of poetry (Clandestine Poems, Red Book for Lenin), the testimonial classic Miguel Marmol (also available from Curbstone), essays (“Cesar Vallejo,” “Revolution in the Revolution,” and “Right Wing Criticism”), plays (Walking and Singing, Animals and Heroes, Dalton and the CIA), and a novel (Poor Little Poet that I Was).
Now the poet who escaped two death sentences, who walked away from crumbling jail walls, who created in the midst of struggle and in exile, can be read in English:
So I’m bringing you this
little mouthful of water
the river and I set it down
on your brow
to make you smile and
During the 1980s I had the privileged of working with an international group in Nicaragua. Often, I wished my non-Spanish speaking friends could read Dalton’s poetry, as a way of fortifying a connection created in struggle. How I wished I had Small Hours of the Night available in English or German. Dalton’s poetry expressed so clearly so many of the ideas and emotions, the daily doubts, the countless joys, the disappointments, the irony of a life dedicated to a cause. Dalton had lived and worked in Cuba, Czechoslovakia, and Vietnam, and was therefore familiar with the conflicts of creating a new society. Dalton challenged the established order but also the one he was helping to create. His commitment was to a joyful, courageous, honest world, and not to a bureaucratic farce:
Socialism? It’s not bad at all:
even the poorest among us
have toasters, televisions,
The only bad thing is that it’s
in West Germany
Dalton’s uncompromising posture, both in his personal life and in his writings, his passionate criticism of the backward order, makes his poetry the perfect terrain where principled multi-cultural progressive dialogue can take place. This dialogue is as necessary now as it ever was. In spite of the most ominous conservative aspirations, the United States is a multi-cultural, multi-lingual country. We have to learn from each other, we have to listen. Read this book, have a dialogue with its ideas, and laugh out loud. That is, until there is a complete translation of Dalton’s work or you can read it in its original Spanish version and can get the full impact of his courageous, hallucinated, egalitarian, socialistic, lyrical version. Dalton did his part, now we have to do ours:
Say flower, bee, teardrop,
Don’t let your lips find my
I’m sleepy, I’ve loved, I’ve earned