Listen: Poetry reading to benefit Milkweed Editions (unknown reader)

A reading from an anthology of poems, “Mouth to Mouth: Poems by Twelve Contemporary Mexican Women,” published in 1993 by Milkweed Editions (Minneapolis, MN).

Excerpt is from a narrative written by poet Isabel Fraire. Additionally, one of her poems is also read: "A Moment Captured by a Japanese Painter of the Eighteenth Century Seen in a Moment of the Twentieth Century in a London Gallery," translated by Thomas Hoeksema.

Original Spanish version of the poem appears in Poemas en el regazo de la muerte, a book of poetry written by Fraire.

(Note: reader unknown)


text | pdf |

SPEAKER: I had two sons. The eldest died last year. His name was David Montano Frere. And he died of cancer, of sheer neglect in a psychiatric ward. This happened in Puebla, Mexico. And I was with him for the last two years. He was a fine painter and would have been one of the best. I intend to write a book about him because it needs to be written, but find myself unable to do it yet. He was 33 years old. My other son, Rolando Mantono Frere, a keen musician and computer whiz, is determined to become a psychiatrist, or a psychologist, or something of the sort. He lives in Mexico City.

As for my translations, how I learned English, the answer is that my Canadian grandmother lost her husband and came down to live with us in Mexico City when I was three. She was wonderful. And she taught me to read before I went to school. She never learned Spanish at all, though she tried. So I had to learn English and go around with her to shops, interpreting.

My mother was American and my father Mexican, but I always felt myself to be and am a Mexican. I lived in Mexico and went to the States only as an adult. I did have a bicultural education though and read Shakespeare all the way through, about the same time I read El Quixote all the way through. I liked Shakespeare better.

Ever since I first started publishing poetry, I've been asked to articulate my aesthetics, what is poetry for? What am I trying to do by writing it? Is it of any earthly use? My personal biography was of no interest to my Mexican readers, who couldn't care less whether I was 88 or 16, hetero or homosexual, a clandestine mother or otherwise. What they wanted to know was my philosophy of poetry.

A bit later, when I started giving readings, there was always some member of the audience who asked, rather aggressively, what I thought of political poetry and whether poets should not put their poetry in the service of some higher cause, such as the welfare of the people, instead of simply stroking their egos in obscure language that nobody could understand.

I think poetry, like art, teaches us to see, opens our eyes to what exists around us. The poet, like the artist, points at something that is there outside himself so that others can perhaps see it and share the vision or rejoice in seeing their own visions confirmed, set out in words or colors for all to see. My only reason for writing is to grasp that moment of awareness and somehow to leave it there, outside me, in readiness for any who wish to share it.

A moment captured by a Japanese painter of the 18th century seen in a moment of the 20th century in a London gallery. A plump black bird, not very attractive, head feathers bristling from cold or wind, forcefully clings to a nearly vertical branch. His posture tells us that the branch is being stirred by the wind. The bird stares with small black eyes, like seeds or buttons, at something outside the scene we cannot see.


Digitization made possible by the National Historical Publications & Records Commission.

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