Usually when I tell people that I write poetry, they tell me “Me too!” No matter where I am the answer is always similar to: “OK, I wrote poetry when I was young”, or “I write poetry from time to time.”
When they ask me what else I write I usually say “that’s it, just poetry, from time to time I translate a book that is both essential and monumental and is not yet available in English.”
But the other day, while I was in a line at the postal service, somebody asked me “Why write more books, there are so many books already!” I replied, “True, it is true” I replied, “but some books are very special, like kids’ books or books about special flowers, or special pets.” “They can change lives!” I said.
And indeed this Canto General by Pablo Neruda changed my own life. It was not until I read this book that I understood the meaning of my own ‘dislocation’. Of course, I experience the pain of exile, the confusion of being away from my home, my family, friends, my language, my sweet loved home and country. It was not until I read those amazing stanzas of love for the homeland that Pablo Neruda wrote all the while he was persecuted, hunted down to be killed by his own government that I understood the meaning of patriotic love. There are no similar lines of beauty and praise for nature, for the land and its people than in these lines of the Canto General: Song of the Americas of Pablo Neruda now released by Tupelo Press.
This is a book that has been misunderstood. It is not a political pamphlet. It is one of the most beautiful poems ever written and it has gone largely unnoticed as such. It is indeed Neruda’s ‘magnum opus’. It is the song for the Americas in its highest form. The cover of this translation is stunning in its own beauty. A selection that complements the idea of the Conquistador and the Indian in one single image. I’m so lucky to be able to work with the Tupelo team!. I have had several writers and editors that quit on me because of the enormous challenge and scope of the work! Thanks Jeffrey Levine, Jim Schley, Kirsten Miles, Cassandra Cleghorn and Marie Gauthier.
And all of you that helped with the initial project! Thank you. I started this translation in 2010 and so much has been changing in these six years. I lost the sense of time with this project. I have even lived in another state since last year. I try to write full time now but nothing that I can say here can explain why this book, what is it in this book, how has this book become a part of you and transformed you from within. There are no words that could provide a short cut to an explanation of why this book is so relevant today that you need to read it. This book can bring you to the state of mind that Neruda had when he wrote Canto General. You will understand when you read the introduction in the book and when you read this long incomparable poem.
Thank you for being with me through all of this and for joining all of us on this adventure.