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This review is taken from PN Review 22, Volume 8 Number 2, November - December 1981.

USURPATIONS Rosario Castellanos, Looking at the Mona Lisa, tr. Maureen Ahern (Rivelin/Ecuatorial) £1.20
Antonio Cisneros, Helicopters in the Kingdom of Peru, tr. Maureen Ahern, Will Rowe, David Tipton (Rivelin/Ecuatorial) £1.20
(Rivelin Press, 24 Aireville Road, Frizinghall, Bradford BD9 4HH)

'The other. With the other/humanity, dialogue, poetry begins', wrote the Mexican poet Rosario Castellanos, in the title poem of her collection Poesia no eres tu, Obra Poetica, 1948-1971. But, as the title implies, the other is anything but easy to identify. Humanity, especially in a mass, is inclined to behave inhumanly. Castellanos quotes with approval T. S. Eliot's 'Human kind/ cannot bear very much reality'. In these conditions it is by an act of introspection the poet keeps open the channels of communication, succeeds in being society's conscience. Many of her best poems are thus monologues, elegies or meditations. As she observes, 'Supreme pride is supreme/renunciation'.

The reversal of traditional Christian teaching is calculated. It is the high priests of society, both religious and secular, who have suppressed the individual conscience and outlawed poetry. Just before the 1968 Olympic Games, a massacre of students occurred in Mexico City. It is interesting to compare Castellanos's response with that of a fellow poet from Chiapas, Jaime Sabines. Sabines has an admirable gut reaction to the lack of repercussion: these politicians can 'change shit into some aromatic essence'. In her book, Memorandum on Tlatelolco, Castellanos strikes deeper. Public indifference symptomises that lack of pride or shame, which alone distinguishes men from beasts. Where the church connives, it is her office to put the truth on record.

In a culture where power lies in the hands of men, the repository of dialogue is women. Castellanos does not on that ...


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