Some Thoughts On Rodolfo Hinostroza


Rodolfo Hinostroza (Peru, 1941-2016) is one of Latin America’s most celebrated poets from the 20th century.  His poetry is noted for its vast net which links astronomy, history, counterculture, the occult, politics, and which is usually rendered in erudite, yet highly lyrical open sequences.  He is recognized as a bridge between such earlier poets as Vallejo and contemporary Peruvian poets.  Indeed, his most acclaimed collection of poetry, Contra natura (1971) made an impression as indelible as Vallejo’s Trilce (1922). During the 1990’s, the literary phenomena of the Neo-Baroque, or Lo neo-barroco exploded, especially with the publication of the anthology Medusario (1996), in which the poetry of Hinostroza was showcased, along other poets of a distinct register, such as José Kozer and Eduardo Espina.

Contra natura won the Maldoror prize in 1972, Barcelona, with none other than Octavio Paz as head judge.  A fitting appellation for an award, as well as an appropriate location and judge.  Contra natura is one of those collections that is both sui generis and a beacon to the searching poet, as is Lautréamont’s essential text.  Hinostroza had spent time in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe, and his poetry not only draws nourishment from Latin America, but from current events, world history, and the streets of Paris, Denmark, the beaches of Italy. Finally, like Paz, Hinostroza had a tellurian connection to his land, literature, history, as much as he was cosmopolitan, or international in the same sense as Paz.

The two poems included here in Dispatches From The Poetry Wars are exemplary, and they illustrate the tone, usage of collage and languages in the other poems of Contra natura.  Previous poems in the collection quote unruly emperors, “Alexander’s Feast” by John Dryden, Lysistrata, the passion and rage of Othello, as well as a call for free love and a toppling of the establishment, fusing antiquity with 20th century Paris.  It’s worth noting that Hinostroza was also celebrated for his culinary skills, his love of gastronomy, and his writings on Peruvian cuisine.  This vast Whitmanesque sweep of praising the elemental along with the cosmic and the oneiric is what infuses his poetry with distinction and the marvelous.

Some of the energy in Contra natura energy was gathered from the 1968 events in France, and much of the book siphons the zeitgeist and the counterculture of that time in the Americas and Europe (and by juxtaposition, ancient Rome, China, Medieval Europe, …).  Like Whitman, Hinostroza was influenced and guided by his time’s energy field, yet clearly like Whitman, he also was seeking and distilling a unique world vision that was the product of Peru, as much as it was of his wide reading and urge to push the boundaries of poetry—something already evident in his first collection Consejero del lobo (1964)—and that particular awakening that a poet, or vates, may experience.  I wouldn’t imagine it unlikely that at some time Hinostroza, too, felt the Oversoul plunge a tongue into his “bare-stript heart.”   Never in Contra natura does one suspect that Hinostroza is committing the sin of “synthetic hallucination,” as Rexroth wrote when speaking of bad poets reaching hopelessly for vision and sensual communion.

Something else I wish to emphasize.  The North American reader may quickly draw a parallel between Hinostroza and Anglophone poets like Olson and Pound, yet the open sequences by Hinostroza in Contra natura are very much in the Latin American, if not Peruvian, grain.  The “difficulty” of the Anglophone poets embarking for Cimmeria, and stopping by ancient China, and a myriad other topics, is distinct from the demanding poetry in Trilce, Oquendo de Amat, the open sequence ¡Oh Hada cibernética! by Carlos Germán Belli, in the odd ode to perfume’s geometry by Rafael Méndez Dorich, or such a recent masterpiece from Peru as Jorge Pimentel’s Tromba de agosto (1992).  This is not name-dropping, or merely an assemblage of poets from Hinostroza’s native land. I would prefer to call this as a short list of further reading for those interested in what has been produced in Peru, and which nourished the culture in general.  Indeed, Peru, like Nicaragua, heralds a poetic output astonishing for its variety and vitality.

L’imagination au pouvoir!  The poems in Contra natura unleash auguries, assemblies of voices across epochs and languages, a parliament of the shades and the living, yet the poet’s presences always remains, an Imagination, an Emanation from the Imaginer, the Mage, the Images dissolving from Imperial Rome to the battlefields of 1960’s Vietnam, the logic of the stars, the poetry of Dryden and Shakespeare, the counterculture, impossible Utopias, Eros, wild and young vagabonds in love with poetry, all of that forming a radiant bouquet that sparkles and dissipates in the unending and dark liquidity of the cosmos.  This Poet, too, sees a World in a Grain of Sand, and intuits the constellations within himself and the one he touches.  He asserts: “THE LOVE’S MISTERY QUE HACE GIRAR LAS CONSTELACIONES todo es agua.”  Words and flesh make the stars rise and fall, and that’s the mist of love.

–Anthony Seidman, Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico


Hinostroza - 2 poems, tr Seidman