In these selected works of the Afro-Cuban poet Nicolas Guillen--ranging from his early sound experiments through his more overtly political poetry to his final works--the Afro-Cuban experience of everyday life and its socio-historical and contemporary political underpinnings are constants. From slavery on to the natural and urban settings of Cuba, to the international places and communities of poets, politicians and activists shaping contemporary Cuban life, to the twinned invasions of Cuba by soldiers and tourists, and to the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, Guillen portrays a life where everything, including love, is colored by suffering and rebellion.


This selection emphasizes the mature works of Guillen, one of an international group of poets of the African Diaspora, which includes Leopold Sedar Senghor and Aime Cesaire in the francophone literature, and Langston Hughes and Leroy Jones in the African-American tradition. Like his contemporaries, Guillen combined modernist and surrealist influences on poetic form and content--including a valorization of "Africanity"--with revolutionary political engagement in the construction of a new society, one that comprised exposure of the social discrimination, prejudices, and poverty which plagued Africans of the Diaspora, and revindication of the beauty of Africaness--physically, linguistically, musically, and culturally.

In encouraging revolt against the existing order Guillen encouraged Afro-Cubans to pride of race and place. By connecting this revolt to International Socialism he wove a cosmopolitan interconnectedness for an otherwise disenfranchised people. Rooting this interconnectedness in the rivers, bars, cities, regions, and heroes of Cuba, Guillen created a new vision of Cuban culture on which to ground social and political change.

Like the other poets of revolutionary decolonization Guillen pointed the way to constructivist postmodernism and planted the seeds of contemporary postcolonialism. His poetry is thus an important page in the literary theorization of these movements.


Translated and annotated with introduction by Robert Marquez and David Arthur McMurray. Original titles and dates of Guillen's publications (in Spanish): Primeros Poemas 1920-1930 (1930), Motivos de son (1930), Songoro Consongo (1931), West Indies Ltd. (1934), Cantos para Soldados (1937), Sones para Turistas (1937), Espana (1937), El Son Entero (1947), Elegias (1958), La Paloma de Vuelo Popular (1958), Tengo (1964), Poemas de Amor (1964), El gran zoo (1969).


Univ. of Massachusetts Press

Place Published

Amherst, Mass.




Robert Marquez & David Arthur McMurray

Page Count