In this day and age when so many people, myself included, are cut off from the worlds from which their families came, we should celebrate all those who have kept and are keeping their connection to their roots alive. That said, I am always a little uneasy about these annual month-long heritage commemorations, or more precisely, the lists of notables they tend to spawn. It’s just that these lists tend to marginalize those they mean to honor. By putting Pablo Neruda, Federico Garcia Lorca, or Octavio Paz on a list of Greatest Hispanic Poets, it is as if they are de facto disqualified from being on the list of Greatest Poets, and that, I think, is an issue worth pondering.
No one can doubt that all poets’ work is deeply informed by their culture, giving it its unmistakable and unique flavor, but if you read even a small sampling of the poets below, you will notice a vast range of poetic styles, strategies, and obsessions. One reason for this, of course, is that the term Hispanic is one very big umbrella--it covers poets from Spain as well as Tierra del Fuego, East L.A. as well as Cuba--as if they come from one monolithic culture when really the term encompasses many cultures--each one unique because of its particular landscape, history, and the other cultures that it has rubbed up against.
So, with all that in mind, I give you a partial list of Harris County Public Library’s collection of materials by and about Hispanic poets, and encourage you to celebrate their heritage, and your own, whatever it may be, every day--proudly and loudly, but read these poets because they are just great poets.
The Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry