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This review is taken from PN Review 43, Volume 11 Number 5, May - June 1985.

SPUTNIKS AND SONNETS Keith Ellis, Cuba's Nicolás Guillén: Poetry and Ideology (University of Toronto Press) £23.25

Nicolás Guillén, one of the most distinguished twentieth-century poets in Spanish, was born in Cuba of mulatto parents in 1902. His early volumes Motivos de Son (1930) and Sóngoro Cosongo (1931) were remarkable for poems based on the popular musical form, the 'son', special rhythmic effects being achieved by a sort of patois of truncated words, to match the popular speech and song rhythms of the day. His early work reflected an increasing awareness of the plight of the worker on the plantation or in the plush bars of Havana. For about two decades from the mid-1930s, Guillén toured many of the countries of Latin America, giving lectures and poetry readings. In 1959, a few weeks after Castro's army forced Batista to flee, Guillén returned to Cuba: the photograph on the back cover of the book showing the poet being welcomed by Castro illustrates how glad the new régime must have been to have had the support of such a respected compatriot.

Few translations and little criticism of Guillén's work have yet appeared in Britain, and his poetry is not readily available in bookshops. There is a need for a comprehensive study which, in addition to describing his qualities as a poet, might show the place he holds among poets from Spain and Latin America. Echoes of and affinities with Machado, Lorca and Neruda can be found, on technical and thematic levels, in many of his works.

Keith Ellis's book - all 232 pages of ...

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