Pocket Poets (a post to take my mind off the election)
Y cuanto muchacho habrá que anda con el tomito de Everyman en su bolsillo, para leer a John en la calle, al aire libre, bajo los parasoles verdes de las plazas. Keats es para el bolsillo, donde se llevan las cosas que cuentan, las manos, el dinero, el pañuelo; los estantes se los deja a Coleridge y a T. S. Elliot, poetas- lámpara. Un bolsillo es la casa esencial y portátil del hombre; hay que elegir lo imprescindible, y solamente un poeta cabe allí.
And how many a young man must be walking around with the little Everyman volume in his pocket, to read John in the street, in the open air, under the green parasols of the plazas. Keats is for the pocket, where we carry the things that matter, hands, money, handkerchiefs; the bookshelves he leaves for Coleridge and T.S. Eliot, lamp-poets. A pocket is the essential and portable home of man; we must select the indispensable, and only one poet fits in there.
Cortázar chose Keats. He not only tells us this, but he shows it by writing a 600 page “life” of Keats. Imagen de Keats (He wrote it in the early 1950s, but Alfaguara didn’t publish it until 1990-something. As far as I know, there is no English translation.) is supposed to be not just a biography or a work of literary criticism; it is supposed to be a dialogue between two poets, one in early 19th Century England and the other in 20th Century Latin America. (In Keats, Poe, and the Shaping of Cortázar’s Mythopoesis, Ana Hernandez del Castillo explores the nature of this dialogue by analyzing influence in terms of archetypes.) Cortázar planned to translate everything written by and about Keats. So yes, he chose John and says that Shelley chose John. And I imagine that many readers choose Julio; that’s why he’s included in the City Lights Pocket Poet Series.
So which poet would you choose?—this was the question I asked my section as an icebreaker during our first meeting this semester. The passage above allowed me to speak of the transition from the Romantics/Whitman to the Modernists/T.S. Eliot. Cortázar’s categories of open-air-poetry (Keats) and lamp-poetry (Eliot) align with Hulme’s categories of Romanticism and Modernism (revival of Classicism). The icebreaker also allowed the students to introduce themselves. Whitman, Shakespeare, Dickinson, Ginsberg were some of the chosen poets. Among living poets, only Billy Collins was chosen and by a good number of students.
So now I ask you, which poet would you choose for your pocket? And I’ll give you the same instructions I gave my section. You can interpret “poet” and “choose” and “pocket” any way you want. Critiques of the open-air/lamp distinction are also welcomed.
Javier O. Huerta's debut collection Some Clarifications y otros poemas (Arte Publico 2007) received the 31st Chicano/Latino Literary Prize from UC Irvine. He is also the author of American Copia (2012). A graduate of the Bilingual MFA Program at UT El Paso, Huerta is currently a PhD student in the...