an excerpt from “Thinking About Roque”
by Margaret Randall
from her Introduction to Roque Dalton’s Clandestine Poems
I first met Roque in Mexico, in 1964. Poets from some of the Latin American countries and the United States were gathered in Chapultepec Park, engaged in marathon readings where we reveled in and applauded each other’s work…. Roque arrived on the scene fresh from a jail break. He later often laughingly told us he thought he was the only Latin American poet who escaped a CIA firing squad because an earthquake had tumbled the walls of the prison they were holding him in, an episode that is reflected in his (tragically) posthumous Pobrecito poeta que era yo (Poor Little Poet, I Was)…an extraordinary novel about his generation’s grappling with the search for inner and outer liberation.
Roque was reality to us then, in our Mexico City of the mid-sixties. Many of us still thought that “politics was outside the realm of art.” Roque made us see that wasn’t so. He taught us, among many other things, that a simplistic sense of “socialist realism”, in terms of creative expression, was nothing more nor less than a lack of respect for the work we were doing. That art was life, and that political commitment (not in the narrow sense we had been taught to view it, but in the fullest sense) was simply that: a commitment to life. That art, to be revolutionary in the first place, had to be good.