Making the Leap: the Poetry of César Vallejo and Ralph Salisbury
In her introduction to The Path on the Rainbow (1918), “the first authoritative volume of aboriginal American verse,” Mary Austin claims that one “will be struck at once with the extraordinary likeness between much of this native product and the recent work of the Imagists, vers librists, and other literary fashionables” (xvi). As a Cherokee-Shawnee-English-Irish-American poet publishing since the 1950s, one might be tempted to read Ralph Salisbury’s work in light of Ezra Pound. However, I argue that Salisbury’s free verse is not primarily influenced by Imagism’s objectivism, which, according to Robert Bly, is among the early twentieth century poetry “without spiritual life” and “without even a trace of revolutionary feeling—in either language or politics” ("A Wrong Turning" 22, 24); rather, I assert, a different modernist school informs Salisbury’s poetry: the surrealists, especially those from Latin America, like Peruvian mestizo César Vallejo. Reading Vallejo only as a surrealist limits his work; Vallejo is, more significantly, a forerunner to literary indigenism, who sought to develop “a poetics of the mestizaje” and whose work is grounded in poverty, war, as well as human suffering (Mulligan xlvi). Salisbury himself acknowledges that, in his mid-twenties, he “follow[ed] the example of […] surrealists” and, like Vallejo, explored “the land between sleep and waking” (So Far 230). Through his use of what Bly has described as “leaping poetry” in the work of Vallejo and others, Salisbury links outward images to inward emotion, allowing unexpected associations to form between his childhood on a Depression-era Iowa farm, his experiences in WWII, his anti-war activism, and his Cherokee culture. In so doing, like Vallejo before him, Salisbury goes beyond the “parlor games” of the surrealists to answer the call to produce “socially responsible art” (Mulligan xxxii).
Copyright (c) 2020 Crystal K Alberts
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