Thanks to the generosity of the Lannan Foundation, what was to be a $20-a-head fund-raiser for the Palace Press is now a free evening of poetry and conversation with renowned Cuban poet Pablo Armando Fernandez. Come to the museum at 6 pm, Friday, Dec. 3, to enjoy this legendary writer. Attendees will receive a keepsake version of one of Fernandez’s poems, specially printed by the Palace Press.
Other sponsors include the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, Museum of New Mexico Foundation, and the Information Trust.
Known in his country simply as “El Poeta,” Fernandez has an enormous reputation and a distinguished career as a poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, editor and diplomat. His works have been translated into French, Italian, Polish and English. His 2001 work, Parables: Selected Poems,featured an introduction by Margaret Atwood. He received the Premio Nacional de Literatura in 1996 for lifetime accomplishment, and formerly served as the Cultural Counselor to the Cuban Embassy in London.
Born in a Cuban sugar factory in 1930, he came to New York to study as a teenager, catching the eye of famed author Carson McCullers (The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, among other gems). That encounter didn’t seem fortuious, at least at first, as recounted in an online journal about Fernandez’s 2000 visit with San Francisco Poet Laureate Lawrence Ferlinghetti:
At age fourteen Pablo arrived in New York City from Cuba to attend school, where he studied English literature and by age seventeen wrote his first lines. By chance, he was taken to the home of famous writer Carson McCullers, who recognized at once that these lines were poetry. “You are a poet,” she told him after first serving him a potato salad whose illusive taste he has never forgotten. Pablo fled in tears. He felt misunderstood. His words, he insisted, were prose. How could this important writer with a play on Broadway call his work “poetry”? He felt that calling his work “poetry” was to disrespect it. Pablo went for comfort to his Cuban friend, Manila Hartman, then also living in New York City. “I’ve always told you, you were a poet, Pablo,” she said. Finally, she convinced him and he accepted his literary fate.
Fernandez soon became part of America’s literati, returning to Cuba in 1959 after the revolution.
Among his published works are the poetry books Salterio y lamentaciones (1953), Nuevos poemas (Nueva York, 1955), Toda la poesía (1961), Himnos (1962), El libro de los héroes (1962), Un sitio permanente (Madrid, 1970), Campo de amor y de batalla (1984), El sueño y la razón (1988) and Pequeño cuaderno de Manila Hartman (2000); and the novels Los niños se despiden (1968), El vientre del pez (1989) and Otro golpe de dados (1993).
“What makes me truly Cuban,” he has said, “is its history, the men and women who handed in their fortune in order to make Cuba a sovereign country. You will find this in poetry from Heredia to Guillén. To be part of that generation consolidates my being.”