Roque Dalton - ¡ayayayay!A few nights ago, when an anxiety attack (something to do with money, and Bush's war on democracy, and so on) was keeping me awake, I reached for my Virtual Prozac. I keep it in many varieties and flavors on the poetry shelf above my desk. It usually works. But on this occasion, I made the stupid error -- I should have known better, but was too groggy to keep some devil from guiding my hand -- of pulling out Poesía escogida of Roque Dalton.
For those of you who never knew -- which has been most of the world, even when he was alive -- and for those who have forgotten -- which is almost everybody else -- Roque Dalton (b. 1935) was a Salvadoran law student driven by the crude lawlessness of his country to commit poetry. He committed quite a lot of it, and survived two firing squads, gangs of murderous thugs, torture, animal attacks and outraged husbands while scrambling from one revolutionary posture to the next, in Central America and then Eastern Europe and back to Central America. Ultimately he was executed on May 17, 1975 by his supposed comrades in El Salvador's Frente Farabundo Martí de Liberación Nacional, acting out the roles that Bertolt Brecht decades earlier had assigned to Chinese revolutionaries in "The Measures Taken" (Die Massnahme).
He's sometimes funny, in a sick kind of way. Mainly the poetry is painful. And it brings back memories of the horrible torment of those years in Central America. Not the sort of thing to calm your anxieties.
But worst of all: He was a terrible poet. Irritating, complaining, unmusical. Maybe that was why they shot him (the story has always been murky -- some of those involved rose to be powerful figures in the FMLN, and didn't want to talk about it). Still, he fascinates me. I think that Roque Dalton's poetry was not in his poetry, but in his life. One could use that life as the thread to draw through the bright-colored, tear-stained tejidos of a whole era of Central America.
For a photo and links to his poetry and biography (if you read Spanish), go to La página de Roque Dalton.