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BOOKS & THE CULTURE 500,000 Azaleas: The Selected Poems of Efrain Huerta Edited by Jack Hirschman Translated by Jim Normington Curbstone Press 234 pages, $22.50. oetry, like life, is seldom what it seems. The work and life of Mexican journalist, film critic, and poet Efrain Huerta with irony and contradictions: He trained for the law, but became a poet; he enjoyed shocking strangers with his irreverence for conventional values, but was exceedingly learned and possessed fine literary judgment; his approach to life was erratic and his drinking excessive, but he was a craftsman who did his research. He was also an indefatigable and brilliant conversationalist, devoted to freeing words from the restraints of convention and, with age, his poetic voice strengthened. \(His speaking voice entirely disappeared. Nine years prior to his death doctors performed a laryngectomy to gical intervention silenced his voice, it never silenced the poet. Today, almost two decades after his death, his poetryat times bombastic, but, more often than not, stirring and originalcontinues to call out to us from the pages of 500,000 Azaleas: The Selected Poems of Efrain Huerta. This volume, consisting of some 45 poems produced over approximately 40 years, marks, I believe, the first time an entire collection of his poetry has been made available in English. And it was about time. He is considered an important twentieth century Latin American poet, despite his modesty: First of all I’m enormously pleased to be a good second-rate poet of the third world. \(“Ay Poeta,” His work is widely anthologized, and individual poems have appeared in translation since 1970. Although much of his work is political, he will probably be remembered in the long run for his love poetry. In addition, he wrote more than 150 poeminimos, short, incisive, and sometimes very funny epigrams, somewhat reminiscent of Ambrose Bierce’s writing in The Devil’s Dictionary. In one of them, “Confusion,” he notes: As for my old teachers of Marxism I don’t understand them: Some are in prison others are in power. The most effective of these exhibit a self-deprecating humor bristling with sarcasm and double meaning. But in general, Huerta is hard to pin down because the quality and style of his poetry varies greatly. At its best it is characterized by delicate lyricism, erotic language, surreal or impressionistic imagery, symbolism, doomsday prophesies and, at times, unconventional or shocking use of words. Even more widely divergent than his style and speech are the poets and writers who influenced him. These included the surrealists Leon Bloy and Paul Eluard along with Nicolas Guillen, Federico Garcia Lorca, Walt Whitman, Pablo Neruda, Rafael Alberti, Ernest Hemingway, and Octavio Paz. Today, Huerta is known, depending on who you read, as the poet of “erotic and spiritual love,” the voice of “the unsung masses,” the “Mexico City poet,” and the “poeminimo’s original practitioner.” Any one of these titles suits him, and the selection included here exposes the reader to the full range of his highly diversified output. Yet for brevity’s sake, it is sufficient to divide his work into two very general categories: the love poetry and the political poems. The political poems are characterized by their directness. They confront squalor and human suffering straight on. They lash out at the injustice that robs man of his dignity and express their concern with man’s redemption and the destiny of nations in vehement language. Huerta’s vehemence is understandable. He lived at a time of great historical resonance, one that lent itself to impassioned political poetry, no longer in vogue today. The decisive events of the era would mold him. He joined the Communist Party, only to be expelled five years later, and traveled widely, spending time in the United States, Western Europe, Poland and the Soviet Union. His political poems were primarily concerned with Mexican issues and international politics. However, one series, “The Greyhound Poems,” were written during his stay in the United States. These were unique to Latin American literature in their preoccupation with racial discrimination in Efrain Huerta: Articulating Silence BY DIANA ANHUI 24 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3/15/02