BOOK: Selected Poems/Poesía Selecta: Luis Palés Matos

Tomtom of kinky hair and black things
and other, uppity tomtoms.
secret Cuban buzz-buzz
where the savage drumming
casts its hot shoeblacking.
–from “Prelude in  Boricua

“One of the most important poets out of Latin America.” — William Carlos Williams

Luis Palés Matos was a native and lifelong resident of Puerto Rico. Though he was not black, he became one of the Caribbean’s leading advocates of poesía negra (black poetry). His landmark 1937 collection Tuntún de Pasa y Grifería: Poesía Afro-Antillana (Tom-Tom of Kinky Hair and Black Things: Afro-Caribbean Poetry) joyously celebrated the African aspects and sources of Puerto Rico’s culture and influenced later generations of writers throughout the Western hemisphere.

Translator Julio Marzán has selected the best of Palés Matos’s poems from throughout his career, among them “Prelude in Boricua,” “Danza Negra,” “Buccaneer Winds,” and “Elegy on the Duke of Marmalade.” He also provides a helpful glossary of obscure terms and an introduction that locates Palés Matos in the broader cultural context of his contemporaries and poetic influences–including such North American poets as Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, and Vachel Lindsay

From two Amazon reviews

☆☆☆☆☆  Quembandumba de la Quimbamba,…
By O. Torres “Cruzacalles” (United States)
“You can see the bare feet dancing in the soil, smell the musk from Quembandumba’s arms and see her body in contortions before you….Get this book. Use it in drama and cultural activities.”

☆☆☆☆☆ Will aptly serve to introduce a whole new generation,…
By Midwest Book Review (Oregon, WI USA)
Selected Poems/Poesía Selecta is a bilingual (English/Spanish) anthology that showcases the poetry of the pre-eminent Latin American poet Luis Palés Matos. Ably translated by Julio Marzán, this Arte Público Press edition will aptly serve to introduce a whole new generation to one of Puerto Rico’s finest poets. “The Well”:

My soul is like a well of deaf, deep water
on whose solemn, unrippled peace
days wheel, drowning their daily murmur
in the calm that curdles in barren hollows.

Below, the water lays its agony brightness,
a feeble iridescence fermenting in darkness,
lymphs that clot into long black slime
and exude this bloodless blue phosphorescence.

My soul is like a well. The sleepy water landscape
trembling composes itself and disperses,
while below, fathoms, perhaps a thousand years back
dreams a crouched, misanthropic frog.

At times under the moon’s long influence,
the well displays the misty magic of a fable:
a frog’s deep croaking echoes in its water,
and it brims with a faint sense of eternity.

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