January 09, 2007

In January, the University of Massachusetts Press published "Puerto Rican Poetry: An Anthology from Aboriginal to Contemporary Times," edited and translated by Roberto Marquez, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Latin American and
Caribbean Studies at Mount Holyoke College. It offers the most wide-ranging and comprehensive collection of Puerto Rican poetry available in English and includes the work of 64 poets, many of the poems appearing for the first time in English. It also includes previously inaccessible selections from Puerto Rico's tradition of popular verse forms -- coplas, decimas, and bombas -- produced by anonymous writers.

Among those commenting on the work, cultural critic Juan Flores, author of "From Bomba to Hip Hop: Puerto Rican Culture and Latino Identity," observed: "I cannot emphasize enough what an important book this is, and how admirable and noble Roberto Marquez has been to dedicate himself with such perseverance and intelligence in this important task. He has built a forceful cultural bridge just where and when one is needed, and gratitude will surely be due him for generations to come."

The motivation behind Marquez's recent volume came in no small part from his students. Through teaching his class Puerto Rican Literature and Society: Borinquen to El Barrio, Marquez found that the available material was restricted to the contemporary era, with no sense of a historical context, and in many cases ignoring form and lyrical expression.

In this anthology, Marquez gives a much more comprehensive backward glance to English speakers. He divides the works into four historical periods, beginning with the early fifteenth century. He also made sure to stay true to the poems' formal inflection, artistic character, linguistic register and lyrical personality. If the original poem was a sonnet, Marquez wrote the translation in sonnet form. If the original rhymed, the translation also rhymes.

In addition to a general introduction and concise biographical profiles of each poet, Marquez provides a detailed "Chronology" of the history of the island that has shaped the poets and informed their work.


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