500,000 Azaleas: The Selected Poems of Efraín Huerta, by Efrain Huerta. Translated by Jim Normington. Edited by Jack Hirschman.
I first encountered Efraín Huerta in the mid-seventies, in the Dutton anthology New Poetry of Mexico, where he was represented by two poems in clear but slightly flat translations by Philip Levine—and I’m embarrassed to say that my Spanish at the time was so poor that I failed to appreciate Huerta’s virtues: a fearlessly critical social vision combined with lyric intensity and fierce wit. Jim Normington admirably captures all these qualities and smuggles them into English. The result are poems that few of Huerta’s American contemporaries could match, enthralled as they were by Eliotic neurasthenia; there were three great exceptions, it seems to me—Muriel Rukeyser, Karl Shapiro, and Reed Whittemore—but none of these commanded audiences nearly large as members of the Eliot Club.
Here’s an example of Huerta’s charismatic chutzpah:
THE COLONY HOTEL
for Roberto Fernández Retamar
The crooked tycoons with freckled, shoe-leather faces
planned and constructed it for their alcoholic weekends
It cost one little scale from the serpent called Wall Street
The potbellied ones the dyspeptics the ulcerous
the psychopaths the arthritics will have arrived
and their beautiful animal-like secretaries
The thugs hired by George Raft will come
and the most select and vibrant whores from Las Vegas
The thugs will dance naked to raise the dirty tooth of prices
The whores will dance naked
like worms in the waterpipes
Excited rivers of whiskey should be flowing
and kilo after kilo of light green marijuana burning
The roulette whieel should be spinning like a crazy snake
and the dollars soothing the savagery of hangovers
“Come to the Colony Hotel,
paradise for orgies!”
They’re planning to open it January first.
Francisco X. Alarcón blurbs thusly: “Efraín Huerta is, foremost, the poet/prophet of Mexico City—the heaven and hell that is this postmodern Mestizo megalopolis of the continent.”