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This article is taken from PN Review 194, Volume 36 Number 6, July - August 2010.

An Introduction to the Indigenous Poetry of Mexico in 2010 David Shook

2010 marks the bicentennial anniversary of Mexican independence and while it’s undoubtedly true that the past two hundred years have ushered in an impressive array of important world poets, there still exists in Mexico a tradition that goes back much further than the poetry introduced with the European colonialisation of the land. For millennia Mexico’s indigenous poets have been performing – and indeed, even writing, according to historians like Miguel Leon-Portilla, who describes the pictographic system used by the Classical Nahuatl poets, who ‘sang the painted books’.

2009 was a great year for indigenous Mexican poetry, with Poetry magazine’s publishing their first ever translation from an indigenous American language in April – in full disclosure, in my translation – by Isthmus Zapotec poet Víctor Terán, and others in important journals on both sides of the Atlantic, including Agenda, Oxford Magazine, World Literature Today,, on the Poetry Translation Centre website, and elsewhere. World Literature Today’s most recent issue also includes several poems by noted Yucatec Maya poet Briceida Cuevas Cob, translated into Spanish by indigenous literature advocate Carlos Montemayor, and from there into English by Jonathan Harrington. Still, despite the existence of over 150 language populations (including 63 federally recognised languages), the only book-length collection from indigenous Mexico to appear in English comes from San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, written and compiled by an arts co-op of indigenous Tzotzil women.

Incantations is a surprising and necessary publication in contemporary world poetry, stunning in its execution. ...


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