Dominican Literature

A good friend of mine who is dominicana and I have been talking a lot about translating a book or few from the DR together. She’s not a literature person, but she has the intimate knowledge (or access to it) of the literary landscape that I don’t have. I think this all started on a field trip to the stacks at Widener last year to scour the Latin American poetry section for Puerto Rican poetry. We found not that much (the usual suspects, Julia de Burgos, Luís Pales Matos and Clemente Soto Velez) but that was about it. But the Dominican section was relatively better represented, so while I read through the PR she was reading through the DR.

Side-note, and something I’m sure I’ll write more about: it’s incredibly frustrating to me that there is so much missing in English of Puerto Rican literature (Corretjer, Chevremont, Llorens Torres and that’s just the first three that come to mind). And it’s even more frustrating to me that Puerto Rico isn’t really a legitimate area of study. Research grants for international literature study won’t take you there, because it’s a U.S. territory, and the American lit doesn’t historically cover it because the literature is in Spanish. But I have a fantasy of someday compiling an anthology of independantista poetry….

But back to the DR, where you can get funding to do research and translate. We ended up putting things on the back burner while I applied to MFA programs, and she applied to nursing programs, but over this break we’ve picked back up and are actually doing real actual reading and research. Very, very exciting. She just sent me a list of poets to look into, and so I decided I would collect my findings here. Why not?

Pedro Mir – this name was familiar to me already, but I’ve now learned it’s because I probably encountered him in Azul Editions‘s 1993 Countersong to Walt Whitman & Other Poems (now sadly out of print) translated by Donald Walsh and Jonathan Cohen. Lucky for us, Cohen has posted part of his translation online. While Anglo Americans remain fascinated with Latin America’s fascination with Walt Whitman (which would make a great hemispheric studies course), Mir’s work is extensive and very important (he was named the poet laureate of the DR in 1984 and won their National Prize for Literature in 1993). I’d love to read El Huracán Neruda and just about everyone who’s done any Caribbean studies has read or heard of “Hay un país en el mundo.”

It’s not often that I come across someone that doesn’t have a wikipedia page (standard wikipedia disclaimer). Usually it means they are very contemporary. But not José Joaquin Pérez (not José Joaquin Pérez Mascayano, the President of Chile and subject of perhaps the most hilarious one-line wikipedia bio ever, which I have to quote in full: “He served as the president of Chilean National Ballet between 1861 and 1871, simultaneously serving as president of Chile.”). José Joaquin Pérez (1845-1900) was a nationalist poet of great merit, though the poetry for my tastes is a bit formal. His Obra Poetica was published in 1970 by Universidad Nacional Pedro Henríquez Ureña, and his individual works were made available in the late 1980s by Fundación Corripio. I didn’t find anything indicating that any of his work was available in English translation.

And for works that are more contemporary, I’m totally enthralled by the following:

José Mármol (not the famous Argentine novelist) is an incredibly interesting and prolific contemporary Dominican poet called “the most outstanding male representative of the [Generación de los 80]” in Culture and customs of the Dominican Republic by Isabel Zakrzewski Brown. I’m not sure if there are more outstanding female representatives of this movement, because she doesn’t say — in fact he is the only member of this movement discussed here. Still, it’s an impressive statement. What little I’ve found of his work (it’s hard when you have the same name as a famous novelist from another country) is exciting, and I’m hoping to find more about it when I get his selected poems which I just requested through my library.

Rita Indiana Hernández is a very young Dominican author whose first novel La estrategia de Chochueca (published when the author was 25) was called the most important contribution to Dominican narrative in 20 years. Wow. There is an interesting interview in English with her here in which she talks also about her poetry and her 2005 novel Papi neither of which I can find out more about, but would love to. She’s also apparently in a Dominican indie-pop band Rita Indiana y Los Misterios which sounds to me like merengue/rap/reggatone with a bit of pop-synth for good measure. Her work has been called, in the references I can find, “dirty realism” and a “performer of Caribbean decadence.”

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