Today’s poem is “Ode to Acario Cotapos.” The gentleman in question seems to be a political revolutionary, a leader, a teacher or a prophet for Neruda. I did try briefly, in the five free seconds I had today, to look him up, but Wikipedia failed me! Even the Spanish Wikipedia didn’t help. Now there’s probably some discussion of this in the long lovely introduction to the book that I haven’t read yet, but obviously, I haven’t read it yet.
So this becomes a good opportunity for me to remember what it feels like when, as a student, you have absolutely no idea what the heck is happening in a poem. In fact, I really just enjoyed it while having no clue who any of these people are or what they’re actually doing, or even if they’re real. But I know that enjoying without understanding is something of a luxury—I don’t have to know. Students always feel they’re performing, and mostly they are, just like I’m performing in teaching, and they often fear not knowing—but the play, the not knowing and wondering is such a lovely part of my own intellectual life that I wish I could figure out how to help students feel more comfortable with that sort of freedom. I wish I could tell you, students—we all don’t know. We all feel like somebody’s going to find out we’re not smart enough to be here. Every one of us.
Now, I could find out all about this poem—who are these “diminutive Bolivians”? I could—but not today. And to tell the truth, I’m a little leery of knowing. What if Acario Cotapos is some awful person and then I can’t love Pablo Neruda anymore? (This happened recently when I found out that Michelle Shocked, a musician whose work I loved, is not somebody I can respect or admire. Now what?) Instead, for now, I’m going to enjoy the play of the words and the crazy looseness of following along without fully understanding, just enjoying that loopy image of that “irascible corpulence”—and especially “Ramón with his serious squid.”