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Surrealism in Poetry

Cultural Perspectives

“Everyone is a little bit mad and a little bit a poet.”


We can define the word “vision” as being the ability to experience the secret life of a form seen in external reality. The poet consolidates the visual experience of an encounter with his own internal imaginative attitude, possibly because it corresponds with some psychological state or event active in the artist. The results stand symbolically for both the poet and the concrete image. We can say that every work of art is inevitably a self-portrait.

The surrealist movement extended to poetry, sculpture, literature, film, and the kind of spectacle that took place at social gatherings, exhibitions, and “happenings” of the period. Its intention was to undermine the fabric of comfortable bourgeois society through art that championed the “logic of illogic.” Surrealism gave credence to more irrational images from poetic consciousness. It shed light on an intensely private world of chimera and verdant apocalypse.

French avant-garde developments of the first two decades of the 20th century, Dadaism and Cubism, gave rise to the surrealist wave, spearheaded by André Breton and the poetry of Paul Eluard. Its influence upon Mexican and Latin American poets began in the 1920s. Promoted by Xavier Abril and Cesar Moro in Peru, Latin American surrealist poetry appeared in French and Spanish. Surrealism in Argentina grew out of Ultraism and first surfaced in the magazine Qué (1928–30) and later in A partir de Cero (1952–56). In Mexico, Carlos Pellicer, Xavier Villaurrutia, Jaime Torres Bodet, and José Gorostiza were important spokesmen for la vanguardia. These writers worked in established surrealist traditions of automatic writing and used non-chronological time, but they added the Mexican nuance of solitude and pessimism.


Tropics, why did you give me these hands burning with color?

Whatever I touch brims over with sunlight.

I’ll pass through the delicate afternoons of other lands with the sound of a glass sunflower.

Let me for one moment stop being all noise and color.

Let me for one moment change the climate of my heart,

soak up the half-tone of some solitary thing,

Oh, for one moment not to be field adjutant to the sun!

Tropics, why did you give me these hands burning with color?!

–Carlos Pellicer

This traditional recipe comes from Oaxaca, where surrealism grew mangrove roots and is still evident in much Yucatecan expression.


Chili Strips Oaxaca


3 tbsp. oil

1/2 cup whole epazote or coriander leaves

9 chiles poblanos, charred, peeled, cleaned, and cut into strips

A pinch of salt to taste

1-1/2 cups milk

12 ounces queso fresco, Monterey Jack, or Muenster cheese cut into thick slices


Heat oil in a heavy pan. Add whole epazote or coriander leaves and fry until wilted, stirring constantly—about two minutes. Add chili strips and salt and fry, stirring, for about three minutes. Turn flame to low, stir in the milk, then add cheese slices, and cook until melted. Serve hot over white rice.


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