The Poet Who Wasn’t


Carlos Fuentes died last week, a writer with a poet’s heart who didn’t write poetry.

In 1986 as part of a master’s program, I took a course at Washington University in St. Louis entitled “The Latin American Novel.” Cretin that I was, the only Latin American author I was familiar with was Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his One Hundred Years of Solitude. That happened to be the first book assigned in the course, and while most of the class (largely adults in their 40s and 50s; I was the kid at 35) were dismayed by “magic realism,” I wasn’t. Reading One Hundred Years of Solitude was like reading some of my own history, growing up in New Orleans.

The course introduced me to two authors whose work I fell in love with – Mario Vargas Llosa of Peru (Nobel Prize for Literature, 2010) and Carlos Fuentes of Mexico. Fuentes has been a writer in residence at Washington University in 1984, and he returned for a lecture in 1986. I can recall what he talked about – the Mexico City earthquake, the incompetent response of the federal government in dealing with, and how people finally ignored the government and undertook search and rescue on their own, not unlike almost 20 years later with Hurricane Katrina.

Carlos Fuentes

The only Fuentes novel we were assigned to read in the class was The Death of Artemio Cruz, even though his best known work in the United States had just been published the year before – The Old Gringo. In writing Artemio Cruz, Fuentes had been heavily influenced by the movie “Citizen Kane” by (and starring) Orson Wells. It is the story of the betrayal of the Mexican Revolution by the PRI, the political party that ruled Mexico from the 1920s to the 1980s.

It is still one of my favorite novels. Even in translation, it has a poetic, lyrical quality about it.

Fuentes wrote in virtually every genre – screenplays, fiction, criticism, history and commentary. But he never wrote poetry, or at least he never published any if he did indeed write any. But he was writing to the very end. And he has just published the novel Destiny and Desire in 2011.

His son, Carlos Fuentes Lemus, was both a poet and a painter. Born in 1973, he had hemophilia, and contracted HIV as a child through a contaminated blood transfusion. He died in 1999 at age 26. His first poem was published when he was 13, and recently the Dalkey Archive printed a collection of his poems. His father with the poet’s heart must have been proud.

From 4:56: Poems by Carlos Fuentes Lemus:

Is that what it seemed, wandering
in seeminess? A woman 30 a
girl 11. Pink mini skirts, heels (I
don’t remember color), silver (I hope)
tank tops, swinging patent leather
purses, hair pulled back, bangs.
They were on the same corner, yes in
Juarez, but it was almost my
birthday, no Easter eggs, nothing
hidden, everything easy to find.



Poets & Writers list of sources on Fuentes

The New York Times obituary.

Post photo by Mozzecork. Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Glynn Young, author of Dancing Priest: A Novel


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  1. says

    today i have been listening to the news of joplin, missouri…one year after the tornado.
    and i think of christchurch nz and how the city will have to be rebuilt in another location.

    I am sorry to hear of the passing of carlos, as well as his son.
    Thank you for the introduction and the poem.

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