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This review is taken from PN Review 64, Volume 15 Number 2, November - December 1988.

A GREAT UNBEATABLE César Vallejo, A Selection of his Poetry, with translations, annotations and notes by James Higgins (Francis Cairns (publications) Ltd) £4.95 pb.

In 1923 César Vallejo, a poet unknown outside his native Peru, published a volume with the enigmatic title Trilce, which made little impression at home and none abroad. Yet Vallejo now appears as perhaps the chief assailant on the narrow poeticism, derived from the French Symbolists, which dominated European and Hispano-American poetry up to the end of the First World War. In Spanish-language poetry he destroyed the crippling legacy of Rubén Darío.

In France, Apollinaire had led the anti-Symbolist revolt: in Spain, small magazines such as Ultrag - which gave its name to the avant-garde style - in Germany the Expressionists, and in Russia Khlebnikov and Mayakovsky were forging a new poetic form, more colloquial and with broader reference to contemporary life. But Vallejo's knowledge of all this was limited to the reading of a single anthology of contemporary French poets in translation.

From the outset Vallejo's Spanish was provincial, and it was his provincialism that had given strength to his first book, Los heraldos negros (The Black Heralds, 1919). This first book records the poet's fall from the paradise of a close family group in a remote community. But from the beginning the poet knew that: 'There are blows in life so hard...I don't know! / As if from the hand of God.' Already Darío's Modernista rhythms are broken, the imagery is harsh. By the time of Trilce, four years later, Vallejo is in Lima doing uncongenial work and he has spent many months ...


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