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Latest Review: "The Poems of Octavio Paz"

The latest addition to our “Reviews Section”: is a piece by Grant Barber on The Poems of Octavio Paz, edited and mostly translated by Eliot Weinberger, and available from New Directions.

Grant’s review is really solid, so I’m just going to jump right to it and give you a sample:

One critical “orthodoxy” insists that the works solely themselves should be considered in critical reflection; this approach can provide some real satisfactions in reading Paz’s poetry. The reader’s knowledge about the artist’s public life deepens the engagement, especially given the scope of this volume’s collection.

Paz was born in Mexico City at the start of WWI to a Spanish mother and Mexican father. His very heritage, of new and old worlds, seems to set the pattern for his life, of bridging, incorporating. He embraced emergent communism while not officially signing on. He was in Spain for the Civil War on behalf of the resistance to Franco. Later he travelled to the US, where he also taught at Harvard, and in England, teaching at Cambridge. A diplomat for Mexico in Japan first, Paz later was Mexico’s ambassador to India. In 1968 he resigned that position in protest after a brutal police response to protests in Mexico, part of the larger cultural shifts of that era. Yet he sided with government later, on the other side of the divide from Carlos Fuentes over the Sandanista movement. Similarly he had earlier alienated other intellectual writers in his rejection of Castro, and then the later Zapatista movement in Chiapas.

In literary matters, he was warmly embraced by Neruda; had a falling out over Stalinism (Paz by then had rejected the communist realities), with reconciliation near the end of Neruda’s life. He was intrigued by the Surrealist movement in Europe and met Breton in France, and later was conversant with the existentialist thinking of Sartre and Camus. He incorporated haiku brevity along with Buddhist/Taoist thought from Asia and mythological imagery from India. He was a prolific essayist, both short form and book-length. Primarily though he regarded himself as a poet. For all of this Paz won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990.

Throughout Paz’s various writings he was keenly interested in sorting out what it means to be Mexican, from the Mayan past which surrounded him, to the existential isolation of the self. Paz understands a particular Mexican dynamic captured most clearly in prose in The Labyrinth of Solitude. His poetry engages this theme repeatedly

Click here to read the full review.



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