The most striking part of this poem to me is the ending, when we find out that the central metaphor is no metaphor at all. Our author takes the well-used living-through-writing idea and writes with his actual blood, the only means available to him at the time. The second thing that drew me to this poem many years ago when I read it in a Spanish class was the beat — of blood? — that moves it along. I attempted to match this musicality by adding some rhymes which are not present in the original. I also utilized a double meaning in English not present in Spanish: “still” as both “even now” and “not moving,” while the original carries only the first connotation. This change, I believe, reflects both the message of the poem that imprisonment will not defeat the poet and that the act of writing solidifies his resolve and preserves it for the future.
What little information exists about Armando Valladares on the internet is full of contradictions and differing accounts. The facts? He was born in Cuba in 1937. He was imprisoned in 1960. He smuggled his poetry that would become the 1974 collection From My Wheelchair out of jail. He was released from prison in 1982 and published a book, Against All Hope, which detailed torture at the hands of his guards. He served as the US ambassador to the UN Commission on Human Rights from 1988 to 1990. The less-straightforward? I won’t comment on the details because they are too numerous and I am not a qualified historian, but suffice it to say that some claims made by the Cuban government, the U.S. government, and Valladares himself could not be substantiated. All sides have tales they wish to tell, whether in good faith or bad, so it’s hard to know what exactly to believe. However, I believe Valladares when he said, “Poetry is a weapon.”
Margaret Lawlace is a graduate student in clinical psychology at the University of Cincinnati. She enjoys watching birds, cats, and cats watching birds.