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Finding Hope in Poetry: Exploring AHLOT and HLAS

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(The following post is by Kaydee McCann, humanities editor, HLAS,

and Catalina Gómez, reference librarian.)

“Spring in the Park,” photo courtesy of Catalina Gómez

When the news of the day seems overwhelming, nothing can soothe frayed nerves more than an interlude, however brief, with poetry or with nature. Poetry, with its cadences of human emotion and reflection, and nature, with its seasonal rhythms, provide welcome moments of relief. Here in DC, the National Arboretum is temporarily closed as azalea season approaches, access to the Tidal Basin was restricted as the cherry blossoms peaked, and gated parks and other outdoor venues are locked. But gardens across the city are in bloom, presenting an almost incongruously cheerful landscape of daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, and tulips showing off their spring colors. Whether your part of the world has barely emerged from winter or is rushing toward summer, take a short break and slip away for a moment by listening to the poets recorded in our Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape (AHLOT), and by searching the Handbook of Latin American Studies (HLAS) for works of poetry that celebrate the natural world.

Our collection of audio recordings of 20th– and 21st-century Luso-Hispanic poets and writers reading from their works contains to date close to 800 readings, many of which are now available for online streaming. Nature is a common subject in the works of some of our recorded poets. Listen to Chilean Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda  reading his book-long poem “Alturas de Machu Picchu” (“Heights of Machu Picchu”), Mexican Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz read poems like “Fábula” (“Fable,” min: 37:45), Colombian poet Álvaro Mutis read “Nocturno” (“Nocturne,” min: 11:29), or many of the poems read by Californian poet Maria Melendez  during her session. (Note that these recordings are in Spanish, except for Melendez’s). Elements like rain, the earth, animals, and trees feature in these poet’s verses as subject, image, or metaphor, inviting the reader/listener to participate in simple exercises in attention, or in journeys of transcendence and rooting. We hope you take some time to enjoy these poems and other material from this collection. In addition to the recordings from the AHLOT, we also invite you to listen to some of the episodes from our podcast “La Biblioteca,” where we discuss some of the aforementioned poets and their recorded work.

The “Handbook of Latin American Studies” (HLAS), our bibliography on Latin America consisting of works selected and annotated by scholars, can also point you to poetry resources! While you listen to the AHLOT recordings of Neruda, you may want to follow along with the first full-length translation into English of “Canto general” by Jack Schmitt. Or perhaps you’d like to read a translation of Neruda’s work accompanied by photographs of Machu Picchu, the stunning Incan site that inspired the poet to write “Alturas.” The Chilean novelist Isabel Allende provides an introduction to the book. Both books, along with many other works of poetry, are described in the “Handbook of Latin American Studies.” The descriptions—or annotations—will tell you about the poet, the themes and style of the poems, and the unique characteristics of the poetry.

“Machu Picchu, a 15th-century Inca Site” in the Peruvian Andes. Photo courtesy of Tracy North.

The following annotation was provided by Dr. Steven White (St. Lawrence University) who reviewed “Synergos: selected poems of  Roberto Manzano(translated by Steven Reese) for Volume 68 of HLAS.

Manzano, born in Ciego de Ávila, Cuba, in 1949, has selected poems written from 1970-99 for this volume. According to the author, “any sample is a cruel mutilation… Integrity of discourse is the lyric material’s inalienable condition.” There is an ecstatic energy linked to a Caribbean landscape in many of the poems from Synergos, which won Cuba’s prestigious Nicolás Guillén Prize: “and the great kingfishers cross the air while the convalescing sun/rises over the polished waters of the ocean.” Other poems invoke the spirit of Whitman: “I am, as well, the shaped and crazy travel/of space and time, and under this almond tree/where I sit alone now to sing my song….” In an interview included in this bilingual edition, Manzanos says, “I love the monumental, the great frescoes, the great murals… where over the space of meters and meters an artist outlines a whole world.” [SFW]

You can search HLAS  for specific poets, titles of books, and, in some cases, titles of individual poems. Or for a broader search, try experimenting with the alphanumeric codes that HLAS uses to organize publications by field of study, country, and time period. Use one of the following codes in a keyword search to explore the many works of poetry reviewed in HLAS:

Poetry anthologies in Spanish = hpk1000
Books of verse in Spanish = hpk1500
Brazilian poetry = hpn4000
Poetry in translation from Spanish or Portuguese = hpu2200 or hpu4200.

Which poem or poet lifts your spirits or calms your mood? Let us know, we’d like to hear from you. Stay well and please contact us via Ask-A-Librarian if you have questions about AHLOT or HLAS.

Tidal Basin at Spring Cherry Blossom Festival Time, Washington, D.C.,” Carol Highsmith photographer, 2003. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.


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