Saturday, August 13, 2011

Things I had to look up: José Juan Tablada

Over a year ago, the New Yorker published a Roberto Bolaño story, "Prefiguration of Lalo Cura," which I really had a hard time reading. I kept the copy of the magazine on my bedside table for the day when I would finally have time to try reading it again, and I have finally got to it.

The story is narrated by a man whose mother was an actress in minor porn movies of, I guess, the 1980s, and is really about the oeuvre of the German filmmaker who wrote and directed the films, which are described in hallucinatory detail. Along the way, as was his habit, Bolaño makes a passing reference to an obscure poet:
For example, Oscar Guillermo Montes [one of the actors in the pornos] in a scene from a movie I've forgotten the rest of: he's naked from the waist down, his penis hangs flaccid and dripping. Behind the actor, a landscape unfolds: mountains, ravines, rivers, forests, towering clouds, a city, perhaps a volcano, a desert. Oscar Guillermo Montes perches on a high ridge, an icy breeze playing with a lock of his hair. That's all. It's like a poem by Tablada, isn't it? But you've never heard of Tablada.
Emphasis mine. Quite right, I had never heard of Tablada -- who was he?

A poet of the early 20th century, José Juan Tablada (1871-1945) is known as the poet who introduced haiku to the Spanish language. According to this article, he lived a fascinating life. Among other pursuits, he traveled to Japan several times and was honored by the emperor, lived in Paris for a time and consorted with the surrealists, ran a bookshop with his wife in New York City, and represented the Mexican government in Columbia and Venezuela.

That article (by Ty Hadman on his website Aha Poetry), which starts out a little amateurishly, is actually very well-informed and is worth reading in full. As for the Bolaño story, it's interesting, but you have to be in a mood to slow down and get into it.

In Tablada's honor, then:
Wandering, visiting, writing,
    Tablada wielded his pen and brush
        like a warrior with one master:

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