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LITERATURE Letters from Latin America

Reviews of poetry by Ecuadorian Jorgenrique Adoum and fiction by Argentinean Mario Flecha

PREPOEMS in Postspanish and Other Poems (Action Books, £15.90) is Ecuadorian poet Jorgenrique Adoum’s book-length debut in English.

Considered by many a leading figure of the Latin American neo-avant garde and hailed by Pablo Neruda as “the best Latin American poet of his generation,” Adoum’s collection is an imaginative tour de force that combines linguistic experimentation and political rebellion.

The poet is still relatively unknown in the Spanish-speaking world, in great part because he comes from Ecuador, “a country often dismissed by Latin American literati as an intellectual wasteland,” as the translator Katherine M Hedeen explains in her illuminating introduction.

“If Ecuador has had the reputation of being a kind of intellectual desert in Latin America, in the US it is at best an eco-tourist paradise and at worst simply non-existent.” she says.

Adoum not only demolishes this assertion but also problematises in his innovative poetry what it means to write from one of the smallest and lesser-known countries in Latin America. He wrote his verses in what he called “postspanish,” a revolutionary poetics that sought to challenge the ingrained unity and coherence of language, its colonial ties and oppressive demands.

It also allowed the poet to pursue his fervent social commitment to transformative change not only in Ecuador but in Latin America and throughout the Global South. As he writes in the section History of his three-part poem Ecuador:

“No one chose the iguana: Saurian/military periods: first Monday/on earth where the Pleistocene is still/the future the Bolshevik talks about./When the Beagle docks, the autochthonous quadruman/still doesn’t know he’s defeated God/and gets scared, crosses himself with salt, repentant […] Volcano islands and beast, Darwin data/A slow/hungry fauna follows him in the hungry/landscape: only the vulture rules.”

Adoum’s decolonising gestures and subversive lyricism in relation to the history and politics of Latin America draw in great part from a larger narrative of Latin American poets, including Ernesto Cardenal (Nicaragua), Roque Dalton (El Salvador), Juan Gelman (Argentina) and Gabriela Mistral (Chile).

There is also irony and satire in his work, like in one of his best loved poems Post No Bills:

“they might think you’re ill, NO FORMING GROUPS,/because you, individual, isolated, hangdog, with your belly/stuck to your palate that tastes to you like medal, you’re inoffensive; [...] read the new instructions/for today like a state of siege: no books/by Marx or other books allowed, no wearing your hair/the way you want allowed, no travel to China allowed, no/kissing in the parks allowed, no photos of/Che, no naming Che, no reading Che or other authors allowed.”

I was particularly excited to see poems from three of his groundbreaking books Curriculum mortis (Dead curriculum), prepoemas en espanol (prepoems in postspanish) and El amor desenterrado (Love disinterred), all of them very well rendered into English by translators Katherine M Hedeen and Victor Rodriguez Nunez.

Adoum proves he’s not only one of Latin American’s most radically experimental poets by embracing word play, neologisms and the juxtaposition of  several different social and cultural registers at once but one that constantly seeks to challenge the social and literary norms. A long overdue collection in English that I’m sure will inspire a new generation of socially engaged poets.

Mario Flecha, pictured, born in Buenos Aires of Paraguayan origin, is a writer who has lived in London for over 40 years. His latest book Anastasia’s Toes (El Ojo de la Cultura, £10) is a series of scintillating short stories which play with the unexpected and often involve fortuitous experiences by migrants in London and elsewhere, as well as situations in which humour and chance play a part.

Among my favourites are Professor Monday Zofana, a hilarious interaction between Professor Zofana, an African “clairvoyant and healer” and his “patient” Juan Lieb, a Latin-American immigrant in London who is “limited to the sale of toothpaste” and who believes his wife Rocio Anes has castrated him twice. At the centre of the story there is a brick with magic powers that will seal the protagonist’s fate.

In Muneca Brava, whose title refers to a tango about a famous prostitute, Flecha captures the random encounters between two Argentinians in London, Luis and Daniel, with a series of singular characters, from a Scot who went to Buenos Aires on an international merchant navy ship and ended up being a smuggler obsessed with “killer ants” to a pair of tango dancers, a Serbian called Jose and the mysterious Russian Maria, the latter of whom will have the last say in a story full of mischief and playfulness.

The book includes 12 short stories and a series of haikus, the latter implying another writing persona by the author very much in the spirit of Fernando Pessoa and his alter-egos Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, and Alvaro de Campo.

Anastasia’s Toes is as entertaining as it is provocative and these stories will stay long in the mind.

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