Gonzalo Rojas

Chile

(Lebu, 1917), late March, was awarded the first Octavio Paz prize for poetry and essay. Paz, who headed the jury, was too ill to attend the presentation ceremony for the prize that bears his name. His death, only weeks later, steeped the literary world in mourning. As famous as Paz was, so unknown was Rojas, at least to us. His appearance in Poetry International should end that, so who is he?

Rojas is a hard-to-classify, somewhat enigmatic poet, whose work nonetheless convinces instantly. He admonishes, jokes, complains and protests, in a poetry that defies all existing hierarchies. It is even anarchistic, in every possible way. There is a constant tension between colloquial speech and poetic license, between the ordinary and the absurd.

Rojas likes to drop names, from the past as well as the present. Past and present freely intermingle. Nor does he leave out the future. The dramatic unities of time, place and action are abandoned with an obvious vengeance and even the syntax is free. All in all, one might argue that he is not unlike Ezra Pound. Significantly, one of Rojasís funniest poems bears the title ĎDonít copy Poundí. Rojas does not copy Pound, but he shares the Americanís awesome vitality. And he, too, needs many words. There is, indeed, a talkative quality to this poetry. We are continually being talked to, engaged in polemics, in dialogue. We, the readers, are kept on our mettle. The poem rarely shows us where it is going until we

have reached the end. While reading, we seem to be determining the outcome ourselves.

ĎDesocupado lectorí (To the idle reader) has such an ending, which determines the perspective in retroaction. In this case the perspective is abysmal, yet the effect is bracing rather than depressing. It is all part of Rojasís careful design.