The approach of St. Valentine’s signifies the annual season where Latino nerds across los Estados Unidos discover Pablo Neruda. Like Christian using Cyrano De Bergerac, Neruda becomes a proxy for many Latino nerds in expressing their love for another.
In the years without a novia, St. Valentine’s Day was not a big holiday for me, since I focused being a nerd and doing nerdy things. Despite being a nerd, it was soon my turn to face the Latino the rite of passage in discovering Neruda, the Chilean poet-turned-prominent diplomat. He was primarily famous for writing love poetry — he wrote about love, but not simply the love between people. He wrote of the love of culture, of nations, and the love of simple things. Neruda shows this contrast in the poems “The Heights of Machu Picchu” that celebrates the Incan culture and my personal favorite, “Oda a Mi Traje,” which as I grow older, makes me appreciate under-appreciated things in my life.
My memory fails me now the exact reasons and the place where Neruda entered my life. I do remember the book. It was “20 Poemas de Amor y Una Canción Desperada/20 love poems and A Song of Despair.” It was an epiphany. The Spanish was flawlessly beautiful and devastatingly expressive. Poema 15 from that collection has the verse, “Me gustas cuando callas y estás como distante,” which is just brilliant. I wondered who inspired such adoration and affection. Would I ever feel that way about someone? Could I ever write that well?
With Neruda as a starting point, I read other great Latin American poets, such as Mario Benedetti, Jaime Sabines, and Efraín Huerta. All have expanded and deepened my appreciation of my native language, español. Of course, life is not always great, so I thank my English literature classes for exposing me to Sylvia Plath and Charles Bukowski. I have not kept up with modern poets, apart from my fellow NewsTaco columnist Oh Hells Nah and Jay-Z.
For all the uncomfortable nerds standing before the poetry shelves, below is a quick primer on Pablo Neruda’s works. Most of his poetry books have the poems both in English and Spanish versions on opposite pages.
- “20 Poemas de Amor y Una Canción Desperada/20 love poems and A Song of Despair” was Neruda’s first prominent work and an easy introduction to his style.
- “Los versos del Capitán/The Captain’s Verses” is my personal favorite. The downside to this book was Neruda’s Newt Gingrich-like behavior when writing it; dating a woman, he later married, while still married to another woman.
- “Cien Sonetos de Amor/100 Love Sonnets” is his most well known book, and there are 100 love poems, which become overwhelming after sixty-fifth one. In addition, it has a very pink cover which matches any St. Valentine’s day décor.
- “Odas a Cosa Comunes/Odes to Common Things” is Neruda’s effort to state that an common thing still deserves love.
- “Il Postino/The Postman” is a 1994 Italian movie about a postman, who delivers Neruda’s mail while he was living off the coast of Italy, and like many Latino nerds, using it to attempt the object of his affection. And the movie has a very good soundtrack where famous celebrities, including Madonna, recite Neruda’s poetry.
Colorín Colorado, read poetry, love, and be happy.