The Poet's Prose and Other Essays

Race, National Identity, and Diaspora in the Americas

by Roberto Márquez (Author)
©2019 Monographs XVI, 158 Pages


The Poet’s Prose and Other Essays: Race, National Identity, and Diaspora in the Americas offers a wide-ranging compilation of essays, literary commentaries, and reviews that aim to engage New World thought and writing and contribute to a more critically integrative and comprehensively embracing perception of cultural life and production in the New World. This volume underlines the importance of the Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latin American dimension of hemispheric history and experience, and how failure to consider or properly integrate this dimension marks one of the central problems facing Caribbean, Latin American, and Latin@ Studies today.
Bringing together important literary works from Cuba, Puerto Rico, and even Peru, among other locales, the collection is composed of three key sections: the first focuses on three of the region’s iconic figures—José Carlos Mariátegui, Oscar Lewis, Nicolás Guillén—and the impact of their contributions on discourses of culture, race, and national identity; the second centers entirely on Caribbean themes, across both French and Spanish language zones, exploring the creative and intellectual landscape of the region as a whole; and the final section addresses the unique features and textures of the experience of Latin@ communities in the United States, beginning with a review of New York as modern embodiment of an authentically "Hemispheric City."

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for The Poet’s Prose and Other Essays
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Foreword
  • Culture, Race, and National Identity
  • 1. José Carlos Mariátegui: Towards an Intellectual Portrait
  • 2. Ah, de La Vida: Oscar Lewis’s Anthropology of the Wretched
  • 3. The Poet’s Prose
  • Caribbeing: Island Latitudes and Spaces
  • 4. The Specter of Races
  • 5. Caribbeing
  • 6. The Fresh Oases of Fraternity
  • 7. Pedro Mir’s Countersong of Ourselves
  • 8. The Stuff of Fiction
  • 9. Puerto Rican Literature: A Bibliography
  • 10. Isabelo Zenón Cruz’s Narciso Forty Years On
  • Of Diasporas and Latinidades
  • 11. Hemispheric City
  • 12. The Tempestuous Intimacy of Márgara Russotto
  • 13. Our Afro-Latin Thing
  • 14. An Island Heritage
  • Index

| ix →


A number of the essays, commentaries and reviews in this collection have appeared or been previously presented in various periodicals, journals or scholarly venues, as follows:

The English language original of “Ah, de La Vida: Oscar Lewis’ Anthropology of the Wretched” first appeared, without subtitle, in La Torre: Revista de la Universidad de Puerto Rico (Tercera Época) Año XIV, Nos. 53−54 (2009). A Spanish language version, as translated by Samuel Furé Davis, was subsequently published in En la alteridad del mainstream americano: estudios acerca de lo latino en los Estados Unidos (Havana: Fondo Editorial Casa de Las Américas, 2011), edited by Antonio Aja and Ana Niria Albo Díaz.

Originally written in Spanish and published in Escritura: teoría y crítica literaria (Año IV, No. 8 [Caracas, julio/diciembre 1979]), “The Poet’s Prose” first appeared in English, in slightly different form and as translated by William and Eleanor Ilgen, under the title “Racism, Culture and Revolution: Ideology and Politics in the Prose of Nicolás Guillén” in Latin American Research Review (Vol. XVII, No. 1 [1982]). It appears here in its author’s own English version for the first time.

“Isabelo Zenón Cruz’s Narciso Forty Years On” was first presented as my contribution to a panel devoted to that theme at the XXXIII International ← ix | x → Congress of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) held in San Juan, Puerto Rico, May 28, 2015.

“Caribbeing” and “The Specter of Races” appeared in Vol. 90 (2016) and Vol. 92, Nos. 3–4 (2018), respectively, of New West Indian Guide (NWIG). “Puerto Rican Literature: A Bibliography” was originally published in the 1984, Vol. 58, Nos. 3−4, issue of that same journal. “The Fresh Oases of Fraternity” first appeared in Review (Fall, 1972), the journal of the Center for Inter-American Relations (NY). “Hemispheric City,” under the title “Hispanic New York: A Sourcebook,” also initially appeared in that same Review’s May 2012 (Vol. 45, No. 1) issue. My appraisal of Pedro Mir’s verse, “Countersong of Ourselves,” appeared originally in the November 1994, No. 130 edition of the Village Voice Literary Supplement; “The Stuff of Fiction,” in slightly different form, in the December 25, 1976 edition of The Nation; and “Our Afro-Latin Thing” in the Fall, 2011 (Vol. XXIII, No. 11) issue of Centro: Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies. “An Island Heritage,” my commentary on Judith Ortiz Cofer’s debut novel The Line of the Sun, was originally published in the September 24, 1989 issue of the New York Times Book Review.

The Spanish original of “The Tempestuous Intimacy of Márgara Russotto,” also published here for the first time in my own English translation, appeared as the introduction to Del esplendor, an anthology collection of the poet’s verse published in San Juan, Puerto Rico, by Editorial Tiempo Nuevo in 2009.

My appreciative thanks to each of these publications, venues, and institutions, their editors, organizers and directors for the warm welcome they all gave to this work.

| xi →


As the Puerto Rican Diaspora poet Aurora Levins Morales lyrically, so aptly, pithily and precisely put it, “I am a child of the Americas … born into this continent at a crossroads.” The ever-shifting complexity of that crossroads makes, of course, all the difference. The Americas writ large, in any case, have long since been the pivot and vital center of my intellectual life and universe. That life and universe’s animating core, it is with an understanding of the forces and creative energies that help shape and give distinctive character, distinguishing texture and a particular personality to our hemisphere’s cultural-historical life that I have, likewise long since, been invariably absorbed.

A Latin Americanist with a distinctly Caribbean focus, stress and personal accent, I have generally inclined, as well, to being especially attentive to and underscoring the protean dynamic between national, broadly regional, and inter-regional imperatives and experience, giving a certain pride of place to the contemporary emergence, reality and significance of a pan-Caribbean sphere and an ever more transnational consciousness. A literary critic and multilingual translator with a comparatist’s amply encompassing scope and interests, no less than a historian’s healthy respect for the pertinent legacies which, for better or worse, our currently evolving social life inherits from the past, I have similarly striven to testify to and share the substantive results and ← xi | xii → resonance, the imaginative range and originality, emerging of that crossroads and more conventional borders-defying consciousness.

A Spanish Harlem-born and raised Puerto Rican scholar and first-generation heir to the novel individual and communal dramas of Diaspora, the intricacies and impact of the double—at once “here” and “there”—awareness, transterritorial condition and fresh articulations necessary and familiar to it are an important constant of my own cultural vernacular. How its new ways of seeing evolve and are embodied in the thought and literary expression of an ever-renewing New World have always been and continue to be an equally focal hub of my vital interest and general attention. The obligatory interrogations, revivifying mutations and emergent reformulations of no longer apposite or germane notions of “national identity” and the thorny issues of race are, needless to say, inextricable and essential elements of that attention’s concentration.

Resisting the generally conformist force of too often mutually isolating, regionally fragmented and so arguably much more authentically insular critical traditions, my natural impulse, general aim and ambition has regularly been effectively to contribute to and encourage a criticism of more sufficiently inclusive scope and premises. A criticism which, even in an occasional context, or when focusing on but a single text (and always respecting the unique particularity of the individual and specifically local), is willing to engage with New World Thought and Writing as a singular and larger totality, one that, as I earlier noted in A World Among These Islands: Essays on Literature, Race, and National Identity in Antillean America, is “[n]either easily contained, entirely grasped, nor sufficiently encompassed within the boundaries of any single language or likewise predictably familiar and too circumscribed classificatory prototype or categorical mode … along strictly delimited, reciprocally cut-off fractional lines.”1

The Poet’s Prose and Other Essays: Race, National Identity, and Diaspora in the Americas is another effort in that hopeful direction. A compilation of essays, cameos, commentaries and reviews, it aspires to an identically wide-ranging comparative scope and compass. Its underlying premise and presumptive vision is integrative and unifying. Intended as a broadly cohesive and mutually echoing corpus, the essays included, whatever the circumstantial context or modality of any particular piece, all testify, speak to and reflect that broader, more critically overarching aspiration and ambition.

The collection is thus brought together and organized under three discrete, but interlaced and closely coupled topical headings, each just another ← xii | xiii → aspect of or particular starting direction from the comingled pivot of our particular Americas’ crossroads.

The first of the book’s sections engages with and focuses on specific examples of the very different contexts and particulars of the at once characteristic and yet uniquely singular dramas of “Culture, Race, and National Identity” faced in their different epochs and respective locales by three of our region’s notably distinguished and diversely iconic figures. Each essay offers a broadly encompassing critical assessment-cum-intellectual portrait of its subject’s endeavor and achievement, the measure of their contribution’s originality, relative reach, limitations, impact and significance.

Devoted to Peru’s José Carlos Mariátegui, the initial essay locates on the South American continent and focuses on the unfolding stages and distinctively indigenista variant and innovations of both his Marxism and the apposite singularity of his peruanidad. “Ah, de La Vida: Oscar Lewis’s Anthropology of the Wretched” then goes on to examine the development and critical fortunes of this influential North American scholar’s career and of his perhaps most controversially celebrated work over the course of more than forty years. The following and title essay, “The Poet’s Prose,” finally makes a very deliberate turn away from the verse which earned Cuba’s National Poet well-deserved and universal recognition as a contemporary Latin American classic and, with Peru’s César Vallejo and Chile’s Pablo Neruda, as one of the three most signally original poets of his generation, and towards a sustained examination of his work as a journalist, critical thinker, and writer of prose. They together offer a sampling and hopefully synoptically revealing, as well as reciprocally reflective, glimpse of their subject, its larger American context, particular place and era: Peru in the years from the late 1890s to 1930, Cuba well before and after the revolution of 1959, and Puerto Rico and the U.S. during the 1960s and after.


XVI, 158
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (March)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XVI, 158 pp.

Biographical notes

Roberto Márquez (Author)

Roberto Márquez is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor Emeritus of Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Mount Holyoke College. He is a graduate of Brandeis University, and holds an M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University. An accomplished translator of Latin American poets and writers, Márquez is a recipient of the Nicolás Guillén Centennial Commemorative Medal in recognition of his "outstanding contributions" as translator and scholar of that poet’s work. He is Editor of the bilingual collection Latin American Revolutionary Poetry, and is also the editor-translator of Puerto Rican Poetry: An Anthology from Aboriginal to Contemporary Times. The first collection of its kind, with the broadest historical scope yet available in English, it was awarded the New England Council of Latin American Studies (NECLAS) 2008 Prize for Translation. He is Founder-Editor of Caliban: A Journal of New World Thought and Writing (1975-1981), and his most recent volume, A World Among these Islands: Essays on Literature, Race, and National Identity in Antillean America, was published in the fall of 2010 to a positive critical reception. He has traveled, lived, studied, and worked in various parts of Spain, South America and the Caribbean, including Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana, Cuba, Brazil, Panama, Colombia, and Nicaragua.


Title: The Poet's Prose and Other Essays
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
176 pages