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World Tour: Cuba I

December 4, 2015

Last week I decided to separate my weekly sabbath post from my year-long commitment to reading multi-national literature. This is my first independent post about my world tour of literature. I have also recently committed to keeping a year-long fast from reading white males, a commitment which will necessarily involve defining ‘white male’ as the year goes along. This week is a case in point. I choose not to register Antonio Guerrero – a Cuban and, though light skinned, a Latino –  as a ‘priviledged white male.’


Several weeks ago I committed a week to reading Cuban writers, particularly Antonio Guerrero. Guerrero is a Cuban poet who spent 16 year in a U.S. prison as one of the Cuban Five. Guerrero and four colleagues were arrested in 1998 for espionage. Antonio is hailed in Cuba as an anti-terrorist hero, as well he should be. Though for a long time officially denied by the Cuban government, Antonio was in the United States collecting information on several Miami based terrorist groups, which the U.S. government was either sanctioning or turning a blind eye to. These terrorist groups included “Brother to the Rescue” which violated Cuban airspace with a Cessna plane filled with anti-government propaganda in 1996 and was shot down a week before my first visit to Cuba. Needless to say, this incident was a source of much conversation in Cuba, and an education for me.

Guerrero is no Jose Marti, but his images and evocations bring me immediately back to this island nation I love so much – evoking Marti on every page. Purchased in Havana, my copy of Desde mi altura / From My Altitude, is a bilingual edition of Antonio’s early prison poetry.

One has to know pride / to know giving, without receiving.


The happiness of living is not just luck / it is struggle without cease for what we love.


Life is only life if there is courage / to wear the truth, facing the world.

This is a kind of aphoristic wisdom I am familiar with in Cuba, which, embedded in longer poems, becomes deeply moving and life grounding. Compare the photo above, which comes from the back cover of my book of poetry, with the later photo after Antonio’s release in 2014 (almost a year ago). The aging between these two pictures took place in prison. The smile conceals a great deal of suffering.


I have been reading Cuban literature for decades. In the last few weeks I have also read other Cuban poets included in my new Ecco Anthology of International Poetry, especially Nicolas Guillen and  Maria Elena Cruz Varela, as well as selections from the anthology Cubana: Contemporary Fiction by Cuban Women. I will come back an finish this anthology as my world tour circles back to the Caribbean.


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