The 50th Anniversary of Eshleman’s Vallejo Translations

Friday, December 14, 2018

I recently sent George Drury Smith a Christmas card in which I mentioned how the celebration of Beyond Baroque’s 50 anniversary seemed to suspend the event in mid-flight. With the gala planned for November, the entire year slowed down so that the actual coming-of-age fluttered in a variation of Zeno’s Paradox. Now that the celebration is over, the significance of being a half-century old is finally sinking in, I told George, and all of us who were part of its growth are now able to focus on the next increment without the constant drone of nostalgic trumpets.

At the same time, we should take note of other anniversaries that have been neglected: Clayton Eshleman’s translation of Cesar Vallejo’s “Poemas Humanos” appeared 50 years, and it deserved a major celebration. Perhaps there was a conference somewhere in which a group of papers devoted themselves to the importance of Eshleman’s work as a translator of Vallejo, and if that is the case, I would be happy to take note of it in this blog. Somehow, though, I don’t hear anywhere near the buzz that should exist. His book had an impact on poetry in the 1970s that is hard to imagine any contemporary volume of poetry managing to achieve.

Eshleman continued to work on his translations of Vallejo’s poetry for several decades, and perhaps the subsequent volumes have superseded the original installation and obscured its clarion vitality. Any young poet who is just beginning to read outside of American poetry written in English needs to dig up the Grove Press volume, however, and spend some time pondering how this was the book that enabled many of the late 20th century poets she or he admires to break through the syntactical predictability of post-William Carlos Williams free verse.

Let’s hear a rowdy round of deeply appreciative applause for Mr. Clayton Eshleman.