Big Loves: Tara Betts on Pablo Neruda

This week’s guest blogger is Tara Betts, the author of  Arc and Hue  (Aquarius Press/Willow Books). She talks about her big love, Pablo Neruda, who is also one of our big loves here at Memorious: check out our interview with Neruda by Eric Bockstael.

My Big Love occupies more shelf space than any of the other varied poets that overflow my bookshelves.  He is the poet that I share and mention to every class I’ve ever taught, whether they’ve been undergraduates, inmates, elementary students, teens, adults, homeless or Ivy League. Almost every class I’ve ever taught has read The Book of Questions. They’ve heard selections from 100 Love Sonnets and Odes to Common Things.

One memorable class that I taught at Pedro Albízu Campos High School was not interested in doing anything with poetry. The boys were especially checked out until someone mentioned girls.  Then I asked if they knew that metaphors could woo women. Eyebrows raised, heads turned.  We ended up watching “Il Postino”-an Italian film that details a fictional account of a postman who falls in love with Beatrice, the most beautiful woman in the village.  When Pablo Neruda moves to this small village during one of his periods of exile from his beloved Chile.  Neruda gets his mail, but he teaches the young man how to use metaphors to win Beatrice’s attentions.  We were able to write for the rest of the classes that I had.

Neruda compels my students to become better writers by seeing clear representations that open into closer observation and dreaming. We have never met, but he’s been my mentor peeking over my shoulder and occasionally sneaking into my poems.  I hope that I can visit his house, walk from room to room, admire the gleam of glass figurines, and look through its windows at the ocean. Before I’m no longer able to travel, I want to see Isla Negra, his home near Santiago, Chile.

Without him, I’d miss how his words led me to Cesar Vallejo, Xavier Villaurrutia, and Gabriela Mistral. Without him, a sixth grader in one of my workshops in the Bronx might not have posed the question, “Why do bubbles die so soon after they’re born?”  Without him, I would have been without “Great Happiness” from the epic Canto General:

…I want my poetry to cling to the earth,

to the air, to the victory of abused mankind.

In the hardness that I built,

like a box, slowly and with metals,

I would like the youth who opens it, face-to-face, to find life,

and plunging his soul in may he reach the gusts

that spelled my happiness, in the stormy heights.

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