Thursday, May 10, 2007

Roque Dalton-PRESENTE!


A scarce twenty years after his tragic, senseless death, the complex facts of Roque Dalton's life have been overlaid — or in many cases clarified and defined — by myth. Even among his closest friends it is nearly impossible to talk about Roque without falling into verbal chiaroscuro effects: superlative and anecdotal exaggerations. His prolific artistic production, cut off at the age of forty, remains a monumental artifact: testimony to his tortuous journey through the twentieth century, revealing his contradictory, dialectical, love-hate relationship with the country of his birth — El Salvador — both in and out of exile, and illustrating his profound conviction that the poet can and must, in his life as well as in his work, serve as the finely-honed scalpel of change, both in word and deed, when he lives in a profoundly unjust, stagnant society.

First, let's take the myth surrounding the undeniable fact of his birth in San Salvador in the year 1935. His father, one of the members of the outlaw Dalton brothers, after a career of robbing banks, disappeared from Kansas and settled in El Salvador with his ill-gotten fortune. He invested it in coffee plantations and grew even richer without ever being molested by the law. He left Roque his surname and a Jesuit education. Roque's mother was a registered nurse whose salary supported the family decorously, but Roque learned about class differences at an early age — in fact, during his first day of kindergarten at Santa Teresita del Niño Jesús, and I quote:

… where I took
my first steps in society
smelling faintly of horse shit:
"Peasant!" Roberto called me
that first day of class
in the Infantile section,
and he gave me a hard shove …

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