When Palma questions the ascendancy of the new economic order, showing his scepticism with a subtle humour that draws from Nicanor Parra’s anti-poetry, he does so while interrogating the place of humanity in this future created by technocrats, and showing the fragility of the human condition. In ‘Salaries’, for instance, the poetic image functions by bringing those who have come to represent positions of power down to the everyday through a series of comparisons that amplify the absurd nature of the contemporary:
Is the salary of an ant the same as that of a drug trafficker? And that of a parish priest/ a nun/ a bishop/ a cardinal on fire? Who pays? Who gives orders? Is the salary of a hitman the same as that of a doctor a postman / a baker the same as an old mournful gravedigger?
Palma’s poetry is wide-ranging in tone and is not all irony and brimstone: his poems question and show tenderness at the same time. Just as ‘Child and Leopard’ expresses the wish to shield his daughter from the suffering that comes with life, so, too, Palma’s work at large is an attempt to speak for the other. As Palma puts it in ‘The Drowned’:
And if there was wind and it razed it; if there was fire and it burns everything? Asks the poet. On behalf of the howling dogs and the bones, at the light’s request, and on behalf of all the dead of this world who can’t get out or play the drums the way they like or the castanets because outside wild rain is falling and everything is drowned.
Boyle’s anthology is superbly translated, and provides a sort of left-hand path through three very different poetic schools which marked the Latin American poetry of the twentieth century.