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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Burning Poetry BY BRYCE MILLIGAN NERUDA: AN INTIMATE BIOGRAPHY by Volodia Teitelboim, translated by Beverly J. DeLong-Tonelli. Austin: University of Texas Press, 506 pp., $29.95, cloth only. VOLODIA TEf l’ELBOIM’S Neruda: An Intimate Biography is not exactly a “handy” reference volume detailing the life and accomplishments of the second Chilean poet to receive a Nobel Prize for literature. Dates, for example, appear in the text almost by accident, and the biographer’s progress through the life of his subject, while it does move inevitably forward chapter by chapter, is apt to meander a good bit paragraph by paragraph. Teitelboim’s assumption of his reader’s familiarity with the minor 20th century literary figures of the Spanish-speakin# world on both sides of the Atlantic will drive some to other reference works. Finally there is Teitelboim’s treatment of Neruda’s numerous loves especially those immortalized in his poems who are introduced with a familiarity we in the not-so-romantic North might reserve for film stars. There is, of course, a reason for all this seeming ambiguity. The book was written for a readership as familiar with poets their lives and loves as we are with quarterbacks, politicians, mass murderers and other pseudo-celebrities. But the book is well worth the effort it requires, even if it is read solely as a compendium of Neruda anecdotes. \(This critic’s only real criticism of the book is its total lack of photographs I want to see all these it was, delicious translation will fill the many intriguing gaps in a most intriguing life for English readers. Written generally in the present tense, Neruda: An Intimate Biography has a pAic immediacy too often lacking in the recent flood of academic biographies. Beginning with his motherless childhood in the never-ending rains of southern Chile, we watch Neruda fall in love With love and in love with poetry. Picture the young prodigy: Rather short and sallow, he parades along the streets of Santiago swirling a black cape, sporting an old-fashioned wide-brimmed black hat, reciting his own verses. He already has several languages under his belt, is very wellread in world literature, and he’s no novice to Bryce Milligan is a poet and literary critic who lives in San Antonio. 18 APRIL 24,.1992 poetry. At 16, he has published in several regional journals and even edited an issue of an underground political/literary magazine. The girls and young women who inspire his poems are already the source of considerable local speculation, their eyes, lips, hands and breasts having inspired similes which begin to be quoted almost overnight. Nor is he a political novice. It .was during this same year he was instrumental in founding a “popular” university and in organizing a Marxist-orientednational student convention. And Neruda is not even Neruda yet. In 1920 his name was still Neftali Ricardo Eliecer Reyes, called “Shinbone” by his friends, “Vulture” by his girlfriend’s parents. According to Teitelboim, his friend and biographer, the stereotypical image of the garret poet paled beside Neruda’s tenement existence in a room “where he had just an iron cot, an Indian blanket, a nightstand with a candle that was lit for poetry and blown out for conversation.” Also true to the stereotype was Neruda’s stormy relationship with his father, who hated poets to such an extent that he cut off his son’s allowance and even burned his poetry notebooks. Thus came about the choice of his pen name Pablo adopted from the medieval Italian lover of Francesca, Neruda from the Czech writer, Jan Neruda. As Pablo Neruda, he said, his father would not have to endure the disgrace of having a poet for a son. We watch the student radical become the spokesman for the generation which, when it came into power, rewarded him by turning the poet into a diplomat. We see Neruda fall in love with a young Dutch giant during his lonely posting to Java, then whisk her off to Spain where Federico’Garcia Lorca greets them at the train station with an armful of flowers. Then comes the voluptuous “Ant,” Delia del Carril, 20 years Neruda’s senior, who shocks everyone, including Neruda, by simply moving in under the nose of his wife. Meanwhile, the Chilean works fervently for the Republican cause throughout the. Spanish Civil War. Back in the Americas, Neruda’s identification with the long-oppressed indigenous peoples was intensified by his “discovery” of the ruined city of Machu Picchu. The Heights of Machu Picchu marked a turning point in his work a passage across “an ancient frontier that separated him from pre-Columbian history, where … at least a part of his own history comes from,” to discover, as Neruda put it, “a world like a buried tower.” From this point on, Neruda’s political poems grew tremendously in scope and power. As the years went by and the volumes continued to pour forth, Neruda became the poet of Marxist Latin America. From the beloved seaside home he called Isla Negra which was neither an island nor particularly dark Neruda observed the world and described both its horrors and its joys in poetry which remained to the end “totally occupied by love.” But Teitelboim is not totally forthcoming in this. Stalin, for example, was only cited once in the entire book, and then only obliquely. Yet Neruda was for a time an avowed Stalinist, the author of several poems in praise of the Russian dictator. In turn, Neruda was admired by Stalin, who awarded him the Lenin Peace Prize, and was lionized by Soviet writers. Teitelboim himself was a dedicated cornmunist, and accompanied Neruda to the 1953 Soviet Writers Congress in the Kremlin. To be fair, however, we do not know how much Neruda actually knew about Stalin’s massive violations of human rights in the Soviet Union, nor whether, when they began to comb to light, Neruda ever repudiated the dictator, Openly or in private. Overwhelmed as he was by American CIA interference in the affairs of Chile \(one of Neruda’s last books was Incitement to Nixoncide and Praise for the he most likely would have interpreted almost any anti-Stalin stories as U.S. propaganda, no matter who or what the actual source was. Thus Teitelboim may be forgiven this lapse of political interpretation; after all, it is the poet’s interior life that he is attempting to chronicle, and he accomplishes this as only the closest friend could. He accompanied Neruda, for example, when the poet made his first pilgrimage to the house where he was born and when he saw, for the first time, a photograph of the mother who died shortly after his birth. And Teitelboim was a witness to the last days of his subject as well. The NObel Prize recipient was personally at peace and ready to die he had prepared many volumes of new work for posthumous publication and he was assured of the enduring love of his countrymen. But his last days were disrupted by the coup which brought down his long-time friend and political ally, Salvador Allende. They died only a few days apart. Dignitaries from all over the world made their way to Isla Negra to pay their respects, only to find Chile in chaos. Even Isla Negra, some thing of a national shrine even then, was ran Continued on pg. 22 ..’i….Wrowerr pit .,,,,T0.1r1.414 ,….%301.1,04tVg1.40114 ,-,..c.v , NO4