Poem Podcast from the Poetry Translation Centre

Víctor Terán inhabits a different cultural tradition to the other Mexican poets translated by the PTC. He writes in a dialect of Zapotec spoken by a mere 100,000 people living on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Oaxaca province. In spite of its limited extent, this region has produced a succession of notable writers. According to Carlos Montemayor, whose Los escritores indígenas actuales (Indigenous Writers Today) (1992) marks a key moment in the promotion of Mexico's native languages, Isthmus Zapotec can claim to be the most vibrant modern example of the country's indigenous literature.

The aspect of indigenous culture that has most commonly appealed to the literary mainstream in Latin America is its cosmogony, or vision of the universe. Readers looking for these forms of collective myth in Víctor Terán, however, will be surprised. In ‘The North Wind Whips' the speaker muses,

Someone unthinkingly
smoked cigarettes in heaven,
left it overcast, listless.

The image is witty, urbane, a projection of the poet's inner frustration onto the world outside rather than a communally sanctioned vision.

Carlos Montemayor has described Terán as the most ‘personal' poet writing in Isthmus Zapotec. That is a significant claim for somebody writing in a tradition for which the concept of the individual author is a relatively recent invention. Terán's poems frequently trace the to-and-fro of the speaker's feelings. As his translator David Shook points out, he ‘toys with sentimentality without ever crossing into its territory'. In ‘Six Variations on Love':

Love
is wild honey that seeps from a tree,
sap of tender maize-cob generous at dawn,
sap that runs
through the intimate garden of a woman.

The abstraction of ‘love' is grounded  in precise physical observation ( maize-cob ‘at dawn' rather than at any other time) which guides the sequence towards a particularly sexual desire. This association of sexual desire and physical environment can take startling forms. In ‘Whirlwind', ‘My heart stretched across the bed, waiting for you' while ‘the pigs make known / that they attack the boy squatting to do his business.' Not only is this an unsentimental view of erotic relations, it is also a blunt portrait of rural culture.

From Three Mexican Poets by Tom Boll

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Direct download: PP_Victor_You_Will_Not_Manage_to_Hurt_Me_2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:00am UTC