Today, I am pleased to share with you a bit of good news: Roof Books of New York will be publishing my translation of Against Professional Secrets: Book of Thoughts by César Vallejo in the Spring of 2011.
The publication comes in the wake of a lengthy study and translation of the Peruvian poet’s most experimental works that I’ve been pursuing since 2002, encompassing the present volume, Trilce and Scales. It is a great feeling to know that Anglophone readers soon will have access to this collection of prose poetry that, in my opinion, brings Vallejo’s literary strategy into focus in ways that simply do not exist in his other, more well-known and already translated works. It is my hope that Against Professional Secrets will help us understand, at the very least, how Vallejo positioned himself or wanted to position himself in the context of intercontinental poetry during the interwar years.
Over the last few years, it has occurred to me that when we talk about César Vallejo’s achievements as a writer, the conversation almost always seems to wrap itself around The Black Heralds, Trilce or Poemas humanos, even though Vallejo also published 2 extensive volumes of social criticism (Russia Before the Second Five-year Plan and At the Foot of the Kremlin) as well as two 2 books of thoughts (Art and Revolution and Against Professional Secrets), not to mention to the plethora of magazine and newspapers articles, three volumes of translation, more than 10 plays, the list goes on and on.
It seems to me that the conversation tends to relegate toward The Black Heralds, Trilce or Poemas humanos because in these works we can see a poet that we can identify with a certain degree of ease and that we generally are fond of because the image of that poet is more or less clear: The Black Heralds gives us the indigenist; Trilce gives us the adventurer, and Poemas humanos gives us the socialist.
Against Professional Secrets disrupts this neatly crafted image of César Vallejo that over the last half-century has gained remarkable currency in the Anglophone world. This book demonstrates the risks of reduction that we run when we try to fit him into those categories. This quite appropriately subtitled “book of thoughts” shows us a more complex individual, eradicating the iconic bard and the interwar poet posing as a revolutionary. The result is a political being; a being that is always individual and social; a being that sees the benefit of seeking solidarity with the rest of humanity and that does just this in his art.
The Vallejo who is Against Professional Secrets believes that the European Avant-Garde of the 1920s is pretentious and artificial and ultimately one big pose, and that the Latin American Avant-garde is spineless for imitating those disciplines while simultaneously purporting to reject them. Against Professional Secrets is a book of prose poetry dedicated to exposing the exploitative nature of literary doctrines and the spiritual malignancy of plagiarism, imitation, artistic mimicry and aesthetic importation. One’s knee-jerk reaction is to call his work avant-garde because that is what we know of poetry that looks like what Vallejo has written. But it only appears this way from our provincial vantage point here in the United States, in the new millennium, when we can hardly say that anything written after the Realists is poetry worth reading if it is not avant-garde.
Vallejo’s poetry is not avant-garde, but coincides historically with many famous and prolific avant-garde poets—so many that it would be virtually impossible not to read him alongside the Mayakovskys, Tzaras, Bretons and Cocteaus of the world. Should they be read together? Yes, I think so, but it would be a mistake to take this one step further and think that, on account on their historical coincidence, Vallejo too belongs to the Avant-garde.