To Enter The Game of Heberto Padilla

El periodista salvadoreño Roque Dalton junto al poeta cubano Heberto Padilla (a la izquierda) en La Habana en 1966. (Wikimedia)
The Salvadoran journalist Roque Dalton with the Cuban poet Heberto Padilla (left) in Havana in 1966. (Wikimedia)

Some biographies record it as September 24, others as the 25th. I haven’t been able to confirm it, what is known is that it is now 15 years since the death of the poet. To a person as irreverent as Heberto Padilla, surely he would have been amused by the confusion that reigned among the lovers of anniversaries when it came to deciding between today and tomorrow to publish something about the anniversary.

I have no right to say I was his friend, but I’m honored to have known him personally during the years when he was exiled within the island in his apartment on Humboldt Street.

One day in 1970, he poked his head around the door of my classroom at the University of Havana’s Journalism School, asking for me by name. He came to return a notebook that I, in my infinite youthful daring, had given him with the intention that he would read what I then thought were poems.

Germán (I omit his surname out of common decency), who was already an informer for State Security and sat behind me, asked me where I knew him from and all I could think to say was, “He is a neighbor of my brother-in-law.”

Today I don’t know what I should repent of more, my boldness in having given him those tasteless verses to read, or of having denied him in such a cowardly way. In compensation, I have spent all these years spreading his poetry among the young who have no access to his work, and shamelessly quoting him whenever the occasion allows it.

Let others undertake the exegesis of his verses, the analysis of his behavior, the chronicling of “his case,” which was a watershed in the romance between the intellectuals and the Revolution. Here I just want to mention him with a free interpretation of the first two lines of his book  Fuera del Juego (Out of the Game): “The poet remembers, he has a lot to do here!”*

*Translator’s note: Padilla’s poem, Out of the Game,  reads: The poet! Kick him out! / He has no business here. / He doesn’t play the game. / He never gets excited / Or speaks out clearly. / He never even sees the miracles.

Obituaries:  The Guardian The LA Times

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