classic poetry

Why the new Neruda poems should not be turned into FB status messages

Instead of being dismembered and discoloured by repetition, the 20 rediscovered poems should go back to being what they are: poetry.

Listen, he was called “The Greatest Poet of the Twentieth Century” because he was a real, salt of the earth, no-bullshit poet. They don’t make them the way they used to anymore. Bring out the tissues and let’s take a moment of silence for the slow death of poetry.

This art has been reduced to half-wit fusions of old poetry and social media infused drama. Great poems aren’t studied anymore – their rhythms and their silences. Their potency is hacked, then spliced into charming two-line FB statuses and email sign-offs. So why a fierce defence for Neruda at a seemingly random time?

It’s poetry, not social media updates

To acknowledge the process of being a poet – living poetry, breathing conviction, meditating on the slick cuts of lovers past. Celebrating the bubbling fury for injustices around us. The act of believing in something and marching textually towards a cause.

But now? All we have to do is share a post and our outcry and rage for our national issues are temporarily placated. You can’t be a poet without it, but FB and Twitter would tell you otherwise.

Pablo Neruda, born in Chile, started writing poetry at 10, and by 1927 he was diplomat who traipsed around the world and documented the human heart. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1937, he wrote about the atrocious injustices in poetry which included his famous Espana en el corazon (Spain in Our Hearts) which described the execution of his friend Federico Garcia Lorca.

Like a good writer of the times, he was a Communist and had to flee his own country in 1945 when the Party was under siege. Neruda also stirred up a controversy (which good writer doesn’t?) with, for instance, his poem to Fidel Castro, whose opening lines are:

“Fidel, Fidel, the people are grateful
For words in action and deeds that sing, That is why I bring from far
A cup of my country’s wine:”

For decades he wrote about love, loss and politics, and instilled a sense of purpose in people. His death too was very writerly – he died a couple of years after he received the Nobel Prize in 1971. Although officially it is said to be due to cancer, there is suspicion that he was poisoned, especially since his death was timed with the rise of Chilean dictator Augosto Pinochet, who has a fair share of human rights abuse on his records.

This Pinochet fellow denied a public funeral for Neruda. But unfortunately for Pinochet, Neruda had thousands of fans. The grieving public crowded the streets and gave vent to their grief.

Let it be known that a great writer will hold the courage of a nation. A great writer can pass history through the hands of generations. A poet like Neruda can, even if for a brief moment, erode the fear of authority. I am not implying poets today should plan their deaths to be as dramatic as his, but we do need to take a pause and start to celebrate poetry more holistically.

A chance for us to return to poetry

Which brings me to my most important point: this shiny chance we all have to redeem ourselves.  A chance to take poetry seriously and let those overused lines of Neruda’s take a much-needed siesta. Even if you aren’t familiar with his work there’s  a hefty chance you would have read these lines around the Internet.

“I love you as certain dark things are to be loved”


“Tonight i can write the saddest lines”

These lines are often used out of context by stalkers, and mostly in order to hold our poetic heads up in a world where there is a dearth of good original one-liners.

Now we have a chance to really celebrate him, understand the worth of a poet, feel the power of struggle and hope. For, in a couple of months, Copper Canyon Press is going to publish a book with 20 rediscovered poems by Naruda.

Archivists stumbled upon these poems last year in June in his estate in Santiago, Chile. They had been previously published in Spanish but have never been seen in English. The press actually sought the support of poetry fans to crowd-source (yay Internet) the $100,000 dollars they needed to produce the book. There are poems in this book dating from 1956, and many of them are (despite my political cheering) about what he was best known for: love.

Therefore, kind poetry-loving souls, wear your groovy boots. It’s time to prepare; it’s time to recreate a culture of poetry. It’s time to find conviction in the mundane, to open our mouths about things we stay quiet about. It’s time to read, time to integrate words with the soul and ultimately be unabashedly inspired and free.

But it’s not an excuse to reduce Neruda to two-liners, likes, comments, and shares.

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