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Two Dominican poets.

 Selections from

 El HOMBRECITO

Two Dominican Poets:

Frank Báez and Homero Pumarol

Selected, Translated, and Introduced by Hoyt Rogers.

baezpumerol-domienicanaenmiamiFRANK BÁEZ AND Homero Pumarol might both be described as homegrown versions of Junot Diaz: native Dominican authors rather than a son of the diaspora like Diaz, but with the same hip originality and with-it verve. Like Diaz, both of them pepper their literary language with Spanglish, reflecting the cross-fertilization between the Dominican Republic and the United States. In the last thirty years, the immigration to the US has been so intensive that Dominicans are now the largest Latino population in New York, having long ago outstripped the Puerto Ricans. In 2009, Báez and Pumarol founded a “spoken word band” called “El Hombrecito” (“The Little Man”), and in the same year cut a CD called Llegó el hombrecito (The Hombrecito Has Arrived). For many years the two friends have regularly given public readings, often accompanied by music; Báez is an amateur DJ.

fbaezBorn in 1978, Frank Báez has made a name for himself in his own country as the Dominican Republic’s most important short-story writer of the younger generation. His collection of stories, Págales tú a los psicoanalistas (As to the Psychoanalysts, You Can Pay Them!), published in Santo Domingo in 2007, won the First Prize for Short Stories at the Dominican Book Fair of 2006. The quality of Frank Báez’s work has already won him an international following as well. His first book, Jarrón y otros poemas (The Jug and Other Poems) was published in Madrid in 2004, and selections from his verse recently appeared in the Latin American anthology Cuerpo plural: Antología de la poesía hispanoamericana contemporánea (Mexico, 2010).

Frank Báez is a passionate connoisseur of the unexpected, the comic, the downright zany. Whether in Chicago, Damen, or his own country, he knows how to zero in on the detail that will make the reader smile, smirk, or laugh out loud.

As editor of the online poetry review, Ping Pong, he has published scores of poets from Latin America, North America, and Europe. Highly conversant with the literatures of all three continents, he is a distinguished translator of English and American verse.

Typically, his latest poetry collection, Postales, was published in Costa Rica and Argentina even before it appeared at the groundbreaking A Poco Press in Santo Domingo in 2011. As a manuscript, it had won the National Poetry Prize Salomé Ureña en 2009, a signal honor for such a young poet, and one which raised a lot of eyebrows among literary conservatives. The brash, no-holds-barred approach of Frank Báez is a refreshing change from the warmed-over surrealism (and other Europeanizing –isms) of much of Latin American verse. While he casually refers to Plato and Tsvetaeva, Quevedo and Keats, and strolls around Prague or Pilsen, he never loses sight of his Pan-American roots. He is a reader of Frost as well as Neruda, and his collection contains moving elegies to both Anne Sexton and Roberto Bolaño. His most recent work is En Granada no duerme nadie (In Grenada Nobody’s Sleeping).

pomarol_bkjcktAlong with his friend Frank Báez, Homero Pumarol is usually cited as the foremost younger poet in the Dominican Republic. Born in 1971, he took a law degree from the Pedro Henríquez Ureña National University. Like Báez, Pumarol is both firmly rooted in his own culture and a fully-fledged citizen of the world. After law school, he studied creative writing in New Mexico and Spanish literature in Madrid. His first book, Cuartel Babilonia (Babylon Barracks) appeared in Santo Domingo in 2000; but two years later, his next collection of verse, Second Round (characteristically, the original title is in English) was published in Berlin. His third work, Fin de Carnival (Carnival’s End), came out in Mexico in 2010, while his fourth book of poems, Todo el mundo tiene un primo en el Canal de la Mona (Everybody’s Got a Cousin in the Mona Canal) appeared the same year in Spain. Like Frank Báez, Homero Pumarol has published his work in major anthologies of contemporary poetry, such as the Latin American Twenty-First Century anthology (Mexico City, 1997) and the Essential Anthology of Dominican Poetry (Madrid, 2011).  His Poesía Reunida 2000-2011 (Collected Poems 2000-2011) appeared at the A Poco Press in 2012.

Pumarol explores a more disturbing mindscape than his friend: perverse melancholy, tough-talking sex, and crude violence erupt from his pages, with flashes of savage satire.

Pumarol shares the comic gift and the attention to weird detail of Frank Báez, and he can make us laugh at a children’s beauty pageant or a “flying flea circus.” But even the latter is an acerbic commentary on his separation from his wife. Ultimately, Pumerol explores a more disturbing mindscape than his friend: perverse melancholy, tough-talking sex, and crude violence erupt from his pages, with flashes of savage satire. He displays a cynical view of politics and official culture, aiming his barbs at the President, the Ministers, the First Lady, the military establishment, and literary festivals that always give the prizes to the worst contenders. Allusions to the pop icons of the day are frequent, though the American vein in Pumarol is often jazzy, funky, or Beat, and he off-handedly refers to Miles Davis as well as to Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti. But he has also read older authors such as Pound, to whom he dedicates a quietly shattering poem, or Williams, whom he evokes surrounded by Dominicans in Paterson, New Jersey. Like Baez, Pumarol takes his cue from Roberto Bolaño in making writers the central figures of his writing.   Besides the ones already mentioned, we come across Lorca and Pessoa, or even Virgil in the form of a dog.

IN A MORE serious vein, both these younger Dominican poets constantly echo Hölderlin’s urgent question: “What good are poets in time of dearth?” In the case of Pumarol, this issue took a deeply tragic turn in 2010, when he suffered severe injuries in a car wreck. Since then he has been slowly recovering from his accident—and naturally, he has turned its consequences into the main subject of his verse. In the beginning stages, his brain damage reduced him to a second childhood, and he was forced to live with his parents again, who looked after him loyally. With gentle mockery, his more recent poetry refers to their role as his protectors and resident “literary critics.” But even his cataclysmic mishap has not deterred him from his vocation as a poet. In January of 2012, he was able to give a public reading again in Santo Domingo, and he clearly enjoyed the rousing applause of a huge group of admirers. As Frank Báez gave his friend an enthusiastic and affectionate introduction, it was clear that this dynamic duo, “El Hombrecito,” had indeed made a comeback.

POEMS

Frank Báez | Homero Pumarol


Hoyt Rogers, a contributing editor of The Fortnightly Review, is the author of a collection of poetry, Witnesses, and a volume of criticism, The Poetics of Inconstancy. His poems, stories, and essays have appeared in many periodicals. He translates from the French, German, Italian, and Spanish. His translations include the Selected Poems of Borges and three books by Yves Bonnefoy, The Curved Planks, Second Simplicity, and The DigammaOpenwork, an André du Bouchet reader, will be published by Yale in 2014. He lives in the Dominican Republic and Italy.

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Henry
Henry
6 years ago

So many times in our schools we used read Alix, Pedro Mir, Fabio Fiallo, Manuel Manuel del Cabral, and Salomé Ureña, poets who were great, but we never got the chance to meet in person and hear them talk to us; they’re in the past now. So that’s why as a young Dominican, it’s great for me to see and get to know such young poets like Baez and Pomerol, guys whom were born in my own generation an are having success making and writing history.

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