Diorama by Rocío Cerón
Translation by Anna Rosenwong
Phoneme Books, April 2014
150 pages / Phoneme Books
Judging from the selection of Latin American poets at the moribund mass-market bookstores, the poetry enthusiast from the United States reads the love poems of Neruda, a tad of his autochthonous deep imagism, the erotic and surreal poems of Paz—whose imagery has become standard, if not old-hat, among Mexican poets—and a smattering of others coexisting in expensive anthologies. It is harder to come by something like the stunning Baroque cascades in the imagery of a Lezama Lima. As always, one must rely on university or small presses for voices currently changing the appurtenances of a poetic tradition. Phoneme Media, of Los Angeles, have given us that opportunity with the publication of Diorama by Rocio Cerón, skillfully translated by Anna Rosenwong. Cerón is considered a major poet in Mexico, and her Diorama, divided in four demanding and experimental sections, surely marks a significant step in her development.
One must situate her within the generation of poets born in the 70´s from Mexico. It must have been traumatic being a young poet in a country where there was one cacique handing out cigars at the poetry circus: Octavio Paz. He practically invented what the contemporary Mexican poem should read like; he stamped grants, created prizes, edited the major anthologies and journals, and he pontificated from an affluent purlieu of the nation´s capital. Poets who opted to sweat it out in the boondocks weren´t read. Poets of a different tenor—even that purveyor of the vox populi, Jaime Sabines—never sat comfortably on an adjacent throne. Thus, one speaks of a Post-Paz generation, of poets who came of age aesthetically shortly after his death in 1998, and who sought to wipe the slate clean. For these poets born in the early 70´s through the early 80´s, one should mention poets from the North who published books that, for the first time, brought the landscape of junkyards, border crossings, the language of Bukowski and Chandler, to readers from the capital. There was also a wonderful conflagration of poets who experimented in new ways, or began looking to voices that were not permitted a greater diffusion during the reign of Paz. One should regard Cerón as one of these new poets who writes in order to ¨be there in splendor.¨ In fact, one can argue that the contemporary female poets of Mexico, such as the Tijuana resident Amaranta Caballero, are currently writing the most innovative poetry. For the past fifteen years, Cerón has been steadily publishing challenging and eclectic books that demand more and more of the poetry being written in Mexico. To a far greater degree than her peers, she explores new ways of incorporating music and visual art into the poem, and she forces the reader to re-examine his or her limited definition of the poem . For the North American poet who lives in an MFA culture plagued by the one page, Billy-Collinsesque -fire-cracker, this is something to emulate.
Yet for all its experimental or ¨immanent¨ and ¨stubbornly elusive¨ language as Rosenwong writes in her informative translator´s note, Cerón´s Diorama skillfully situates itself among longer poems from Latin America which use collage, kaleidoscopic experimentation and an all-observant eye to fly over the history and landscape of a country, people or epoch. Cerón´s new collection commences with the micro, ants foraging for candy in a room, and then opens up to the macro in wider thrusts, addressing a ¨Pan-Latin American¨ exploration of ¨Silenced sun on the Rio Grande or the Amazon,¨ South America and the harrowing legacy of the Guarani and ¨Columbus on his knees in Hispaniola: the blindness of deer and the cunning need to procure prey: Malinche, the first American Babel.¨
The Latin American poetic canon boasts of such a poem as Hay un pais en el mundo by Pedro Mir, wherein a Whitmanesque voice floats over his country ravaged by the sugar industry and the Monroe Doctrine, and in staccato bursts speaks of its vertical rivers and astounding archipelagos, and the fact that with so much land, the peasants still have none. Mir´s strongest moment occurs during a burst of jintanjafora— a sonically appealing glossolalia in print— in order to cry out against the thieves who plunder his Dominican Republic. Such literary devices seem tame in comparison to Cerón´s Diorama, wherein the reader encounters a Sonata Mandala to the Penumbra Bird and its pages that close the book with images and textures of language that veer wildly from the scientific to post-colonial critique. Diorama is a razorsharp assemblage that is quite unlike anything else in contemporary Mexican poetry.
Cerón continues to demand more and more from language and tradition, and continues to break new ground. Previous collections, such as Tiento (2010), incorporated music and image, and during readings of her work, she deftly incorporated music and video (something I was lucky enough to behold at the Mexican consulate in Los Angeles where Anna Rosenwong read her translation of Diorama). Cerón´s work will continue to dazzle and puzzle readers. In comparison to the caustic, conversational tone of such compatriot poets as Julian Herbert, or the exquisite, intellectual and stylized classicism of Jorge Ortega, her poetry offers the experimentalism that keeps language and tradition in suspense.