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Reviewed by:
  • Cantos de adolescencia/Songs of Youth (1932-1937)
  • Grisel Y. Acosta
Cantos de adolescencia/Songs of Youth (1932-1937). By Américo Paredes. Edited B. V. Olguín and Omar Vásquez Barbosa. Houston, TX: Arte Público Press, 2007. 189 pages, $16.95.

In his description of Américo Paredes's last trip to South Texas in 1998, Ramón Saldívar sketches impromptu gatherings of people at local cafeterias and large, excited crowds of students and faculty at universities, all surrounding Paredes, ready to ask him questions and thank him for his work (The Borderlands of Culture: Américo Paredes and the Transnational Imaginary [2006]). The unrelenting adoration for one of the poets who gave voice to Texas-Mexico borderland culture is the main reason why Cantos de adolescencia/Songs of Youth (1932-1937) is a welcome volume of poetry, but not the only reason. Translations of Paredes's earliest works, executed by Dr. Ben V. Olguín and Omar Vásquez Barbosa, provide scholars with a look at the poet's emerging talent and his struggle to reconcile his bicultural identities, as well as an exciting peek at the collection of his papers, which are housed at the University of Texas at Austin. The book also contains pictures of Paredes's typewriter art, attempts at writing in Japanese, and newspaper announcements of early poetry awards.

The poetic translation, the editors acknowledge, was not an easy task. Choice translations include "México, la illusion del continente / Mexico, the Illusion of the Continent" which states, "... the limbo of Oblivion. / Alien I say? Alienated station!" (12-13), and the nearly flawless section on nature (35-51). The collection, however, does have its flaws and inconsistencies, the most obvious being the attribution of a Ben Jonson poem, "To Celia," to John Donne (86-87, 183). Despite this error, bilingual readers will be excited to note that Paredes's own translation of the poem is exquisite. As a man barely out of his teens, his ability to capture the [End Page 317] rhythm in Spanish—a language he did not feel entirely comfortable in—is shockingly good.

Other notable parts of Cantos include a thorough Paredes chronology (xi-xiv) and the order of the poems themselves, which reveal his growth as a writer. The poems begin with "La lira patriotica/The Patriotic Lyre" (7) and then move into themes of adolescent love, which threaten to take over the entire text. Instead, Paredes challenges himself with darker themes and the décima form. Décimas can be traced back to mozarabe or Iberio-Muslim roots in Spain, with the current version seen at the end of the sixteenth century, according to Philip Pasmanick (Décima and Rumba: Iberian Formalism in the Heart of Afro-Cuban Song [1997]); the form later spread throughout Latin America. Olguín and Vásquez Barbosa note the décima's Mexican roots, an illustration of how Paredes's poetry, usually in the form of sonnets in his early years, emerged as culturally flexible.

Cantos chronicles cross-cultural poetics in Paredes's work, it documents the transnational background that influenced him, and it outlines his community's early and continuing support and praise. Such work is useful not only for scholars interested in Chicano/Mexican American literature, but also for any reader interested in early twentieth-century American literature, in the history of Spanish-influenced poetics and forms, or in the cultural accomplishments of Latino writers in the United States.

Grisel Y. Acosta
University of Texas at San Antonio


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pp. 317-318
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