Last Saturday, at a backyard party, I ate chocolate cake and talked with friends about Frank O'Hara ( particularly his Meditations in an Emergency and its carousel blur of color and sound). Poetry at parties, poetry online, poetry stamped on t-shirts, mugs, across the pages of my desk calendar. It's everywhere. I'm grateful. Lately I feel as if I've at last returned to this republic, a good land where poems are as treasured as children or a midday nap in a quiet room.
I owe some of this thinking to Martin Espada, who I met at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival a few weeks ago. He was one of eight poets presenting some of their favorite poems, the ones they return to when in need of music and inspiration. Espada's pick was Pablo Neruda's "Cantos XXII, Alturas de Macchu Picchu." He read it in Spanish and English and with the volcanic voice of a warrior god. I'm not sure which one, but I'm guessing Chango. What I can tell you, with certainty, is that his reading made me fast-step it to the festival's bookstore and buy one of his collections.
Before I read the title poem, I had never thought of poetry as a place. Now I think it is. It's where we live and work, tell secrets, give praise. It's a kind of home we arrive at again and again, and each visit can bring comfort or trouble or both. Espada's visit is especially potent. It reads as a loving fable even as it recounts the struggles of Chilean poets under Pinochet's brutal regime. But you don't have to know the historical context to feel this poem's sorrow and hope.
The Republic of Poetry