Recipe for a César Vallejo Poem
In 2007 I took a poetry writing course at the Omega Institute for Holistic Health in Rhinebeck, New York. My key takeaway from that weekend workshop was my introduction to Peruvian poet, César Vallejo.
The instructors were awestruck by him and used his poem, Black Stone Lying on a White Stone, as an entry point to writing poetry true and spare.
Here’s the translated poem:
Black Stone Lying on a White Stone
I will die in Paris, on a rainy day, on some day I can already remember. I will die in Paris—and I don't step aside— perhaps on a Thursday, as today is Thursday, in autumn.
It will be a Thursday, because today, Thursday, setting down these lines, I have put my upper arm bones on wrong, and never so much as today have I found myself with all the road ahead of me, alone.
César Vallejo is dead. Everyone beat him although he never does anything to them; they beat him hard with a stick and hard also
with a rope. These are the witnesses: the Thursdays, and the bones of my arms, the solitude, and the rain, and the roads. . .
Here is the original poem in Vallejo’s native Spanish language:
“Piedra Negra Sobre Una Piedra Blanca” by César Vallejo
Me moriré en París con aguacero, un día del cual tengo ya el recuerdo. Me moriré en París -y no me corro- tal vez un jueves, como es hoy, de otoño.
Jueves será, porque hoy, jueves, que proso estos versos, los húmeros me he puesto a la mala y, jamás como hoy, me he vuelto, con todo mi camino, a verme solo.
César Vallejo ha muerto, le pegaban todos sin que él les haga nada; le daban duro con un palo y duro
también con una soga; son testigos los días jueves y los huesos húmeros, la soledad, la lluvia, los caminos…
Vallejo led a difficult life. I deeply admire artists who can transmute pain and shadow into beauty. Vallejo published only two books of poetry during his lifetime, yet he is considered one of the great poetic innovators of the 20th century in any language. Like my poetry instructors, I too, am in awe of Vallejo’s literary alchemy.
I recommend The Complete Poetry: A Bilingual Edition Paperback – December 14, 2009
by César Vallejo (Author), Clayton Eshleman (Editor, Translator), José R. Barcia (Translator), Efrain Kristal (Introduction), Mario Vargas Llosa (Foreword), Stephen Hart (Contributor)
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Now, here’s the Recipe for a César Vallejo Poem, shared with me by the poetry workshop facilitators:
Pick a day of the week and a goofy reason why it’s that day
Internal suffering – something true
Write in a grotesque and exaggerated terms about your misfortunes
Who are your witnesses: e.g., 3-5 things that you would like to witness your death.
I will die in the PLACE, WEATHER. A DAY OF THE WEEK because that was the day AND A GOOFY REASON WHY IT’S THAT DAY As I write this DESCRIBE YOUR MISFORTUNES IN GROTESQUE AND EXAGGERATED TERMS. YOUR NAME is dead. LIST THREE TO FIVE THINGS THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO WITNESS YOUR DEATH.
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I’ve only “made” this poem recipe once. It was the day of that workshop so many years ago. And I love the outcome:
Chocolate Eggs Floating in Hot Clam Chowder by Gina Greenlee
(In the style of César Vallejo’s Black Stone Lying on a White Stone)
I will die in the dry cleaners on a humid day, a Sunday because that was the day
my mother bought bras off the discount table at Lane Bryant.
Sunday because my mother’s bras and
my father’s books were more important than me.
As I write this, I know I will die alone,
grasping for remembrance and at regret.
Gina Greenlee is eating dirt.
The turtle, red pump,
neck bones and gravy from the collard greens
are my witnesses…
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More writing recipes in Cookin’ the Books.