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This review is taken from PN Review 170, Volume 32 Number 6, July - August 2006.

SAD, SOFT NUMBERS CESAR VALLEJO, Trilce, edited and translated by Michael Smith and Valentino Gianuzzi (Shearsman) £12.95
CESAR VALLEJO, Complete Later Poems 1923-1938, edited and translated by Michael Smith and Valentino Gianuzzi (Shearsman) £ 16.95

In the background of Trilce there are a series of painful wrenches in Vallejo's early life: from his Andean birthplace, his country, a lover who died in tragic circumstances, his mother's death, a loss of career, imprisonment after being implicated in a local conflagration in which a neighbour's property was burned down, and, upon his release, his flight to Paris. These poems have a fragmented, explosive, disturbed quality, and are in revolt against a received poetics, a society, a world order - and, well, against everything. As a great poet who sprang fully armed from provincial obscurity, Vallejo recalls Rimbaud, but whereas the latter fled Europe, Vallejo moved towards it. What is striking about his poetry is its mixture of folk-qualities, a cutting-edge sophistication and, from the beginning, its mixture of fervour and doubt.

Written in a context that included Spanish modernismo and the great Chilean avant-gardist Vicente Huidobro, Trilce is revolutionary in the sense that Les Illuminations and Une saison en enfer are revolutionary. As with Rimbaud there's a paroxysmic quality to Vallejo's writing - he produced most of his later Spanish civil war poetry in a single three-month burst - as well as something highly worked, stitched together (in prison perhaps), poems so perfectly sewn they are like quilts, just as the title is a carefully stitched meeting place of several word fragments and their branches of meaning: a title that Vallejo himself boasted was meaningless. But if it suggests threeness, sweetness and softness - ...


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