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Friday, February 5, 2010

Jumping over the pond

I've decided to begin (tentatively) defining myself as a specialist in Latin American poetry as well as "peninsular" poetry. I can't really back up that claim yet, because I'm lacking publications in this field. Nevertheless, I've taught this poetry at the undergraduate and graduate level. I've even directed a dissertation on it. I've probably read enough over the years so that my knowledge adds up to something substantial, if unsystematic, and my next book will have a substantial chapter on Latin American poetry in its relation to Spanish poetry. My sixth book will be on Lat Am poetry (maybe).

What is mildly interesting here, for me, is that I've always had this interest but never thought it added up to much. The separation between peninsular and Latin American is so strong academically, that the obligation to define oneself as one or the other and stay on one side of the divide has had a distorting effect on my own professional identity--despite the recent trendiness of "transatlantic" approaches.

The first thing to do is to survey my own knowledge, in breadth and depth. I know a bit about the canon: Neruda, Vallejo, Huidobro, Lezama Lima, Paz, Borges, Guillén. I know something about Mexican poetry, and Cuban, Chilean, and Peruvian, and Venezuelan. There are individual poets in all these traditions I know pretty well, and others I know superficially. I have some gaps in reading, but even a specialist might have some gaps: nobody knows everything equally well.

Next, I should probably figure out who the main specialists are in the US academy and elsewhere and read some criticism. I know some names, but there are probably others I don't know.

After that, establish a toe-hold: a conference presentation, an article, a chapter in a book. Figure out where my distinctive contribution will be and become very, very good right there, in a small but significant corner of the field.

The goal is to be a specialist in modern Hispanic poetry irrespective of whether this poetry is Mexican, Cuban, or Spanish.

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