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Review: The Infinite's Ash, by Víctor Rodríguez Núñez

Víctor Rodríguez Núñez's The Infinite's Ash is a substantial selection from the Cuban poet's books published between 1978-1998, although nothing from his first collection, nor the most recent, is included. Rodríguez Núñez spent his early years in the countryside of central Cuba, and his memories of childhood have produced some fine poems, as in these lines from Trains:

In a train I left the hill
where my house is not today
- no dirty-coloured dog barking at me
no carpenter grandfather
no grandmother with her difficult needle -
only mama awake
a smell like plantains
ashes and onions
my distracted brother
and a few boards aged from winter weariness
artificial roses
a radio with my name
and a dragonfly fighting with a spider

Throughout the 1980s he was active in Cuba and Latin-America as an editor, writer and critic, as well as a prize-winning poet. Since 1995 he has lived in the USA, not as a political exile but an academic, and at present teaches Hispanic Literatures at Kenyon College. Rodríguez Núñez has said that his aim is to write a poetry that is [...] participatory yet not political [...] communicative yet not explicit [...] dialogic yet not conversational, Cuban yet not essentially nationalistic [...]. Perhaps because he grew up in a country with another social and value system, his tone of voice and world-view differ from those of many of his contemporaries. I think few of us would define our aim in exactly this way. But there is no confusion of tone or doubt about his meaning and sense of humour - in these lines from Manifesto:

I would like to say
angels drinking chanting fornicating
in the smoky dirty tavern
of my heart
the bill is paid
But I ought to say
anticommunism
is a global strategy of the bourgeoisie
to keep robbing me of
wine desire song
And then I come up with a solution
angels drinking chanting fornicating
anticommunism
is a global strategy of the bourgeoisie
The revolution needs your wings