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The Poetry Boom of the Eighties and Nineties

Literary scholarship on this period of the end of a purported revolution has been growing steadily in the United States, but until now, its main focus has been on literature, especially fiction, written for the transnational market. This is understandable given the large amount of Cuban fiction that was published abroad during the nineties. This editorial and creative phenomenon is what Esther Whitfield calls the literature of “the new Cuban boom,” whose emergence, as her book explores, is due to the Cuban dollarization of the economy (Whitfield 2008, 13).8 But poetry, especially the books published for the island’s internal market, has not received that much attention, in spite of its large production. As a matter of fact, Idalia Morejon Arnaiz indicates that there were at least thirty anthologies and a large number of anthologies and poetry books that garnered awards both in Cuba and abroad from the nineties until the first decade of the twenty-first century. Notwithstanding the long and rich poetic Cuban tradition, it is still puzzling that poetry played such an important role during those two decades. No other generation has been as heavily anthologized as this one. While Alberto Abreu Arcia refuses to venture an explanation for this phenomenon, Jose Quiroga suggests that poetry was able to articulate ideas in more covert and surreptitious ways. He also points out the lack of paper and difficulties with printing (Abreu Arcia 2007, 190; Quiroga 2005, 128). We can also venture a further hypothesis. Cultural officials had managed to keep at bay the works of the Frankfurt School, but in the eighties postmodernist theory came to the island in somewhat random ways. Young writers began to discuss works by postructuralists Maurice Blanchot, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, and also political theorists, especially Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Felix Guattari. They also read conceptual or philosophically inclined foreign authors such as Thomas Bernhardt, Milan Kundera, and Peter Sloterdijk, among others. Like all these authors, young Cubans condemned grand narratives, especially because the latter continued to determine the country’s realpolitk. For example, in 1998 in the Sixth Congress of the UNEAC, Minister of Culture Abel Prieto still felt the need to defend Cuban national culture against hegemonic cultural globalization, instead encouraging the nation to continue creating a different sort of modernity. There was also the trauma caused by the political turmoil of the times. In this regard, poetry was the ideal genre that could combine a highly conceptual vocabulary with an intense emotional experience.

Certainly, the combination of abstraction and affect did not define the poetry of these decades as a whole, because a large group of writers, such as Liudmila Quincoses, Frank Abel Dopico, Nelson Simon, and Sonia Diaz Corrales, had a more lyrical—rather than conceptual—approach to poetry. Yet, regardless of their level of conceptuality, they were also exposed to the new trends set by poststructuralism. For example, as Osmar Sanchez Aguilera points out, in addition to their sociopolitical concerns, the works of this generation were defined by their intertextuality and formal innovations (Sanchez Aguilera 1993, 60). Poststructuralism was in the air, and it influenced all genres in general, as well as criticism. One of the most iconic examples is probably Margarita Mateo’s Ella escribia postcritica (She Wrote Postcriticism), a part-novel, part-theoretical essay where she discusses and performs a postmodernist style.

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