Translator's notes

Love

By OSCAR CRUZ

Far from Cuba’s spruced-up Cadillacs, smiling mulattas and fat cigars, Oscar Cruz’s poetry offers an insight into daily life in a city where hunger and violence reign. Widely considered the island’s most caliente (hot, dangerous and promiscuous) city, Oscar’s Santiago is set to a constant simmer that may at any minute turn into a boil. The four poems featured here are taken from Oscar’s most recent collection, La Maestranza (The Academy), where his narrator muses on the education available to a young man growing up in Santiago de Cuba. The keen learner can seek enlightenment between the legs of an aging prostitute, the butt cheeks of a smug neighbour, the slashes of a machete or the licks of a belt.

Oscar belongs to Generación O, the group of Cuban poets who grew up in the 1990s, a time of staggering deprivation on the island. Many Cubans believe that the extreme poverty of those years has led to a ‘crisis of moral values’, whereby necessity and the drive to survive at any cost have stunted any sense of shared values. The hole left by this crisis can be felt throughout Oscar’s poems, where violence is affection, money is love and the poet a mere asshole.

Oscar’s playful and often dirty verse is self-consciously set to the backdrop of Cuba’s towering literary canon. Whilst echoing Cuban literary greats such as José Lezama Lima and Virgilio Piñera, Oscar’s prosaic lexicon assures us that his work is meant for the everyman. Within La Maestranza Oscar likens the role of the poem to that of the intestine; absorbing the best of life and expelling what’s le for the world to see. ‘A man who devotes his life to writing poems,’ he says, ‘is a man who ends up smelling of shit.’

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