In My Own Words: Ricardo Pau-Llosa
Parable Hunter carries the themes of my previous three books to their logical conclusion. The man without a sense of belonging to a time or a place—at home in exile—is impelled to question all other kinds of belonging: family, religion, even loyalty to one’s own work. Traditionally, we think of parables as allegorical answers to complex questions about life, meaning, transcendence, and the like. But parables are also questions, or more accurately, they are dramatic episodes in which questions, answers and the symbols that negotiate between them act out their own conflicts and interactions. The persona in many of these poems weaves and then dismantles the parables, or the images which immediate experience offers up as potentially pregnant with resonances, pointers, hints, and theories. The process of weaving and dismantling, or rejecting the parable, is in itself a kind of parable—a process which seeks to elucidate another process (thinking, creating) through symbols that stand between the two processes.
The four sections of the book delve into the themes of need, instinct, fulfillment, and transcendence. The themes, of course, intertwine. Some poems focus on works of art—from Bruegel, Titian, Zurbarán et al—while others take off from contemporary experiences, such as looking out of plane windows onto diverse landscapes or views of cities or the sea. Parable-making, ultimately, is about point of view, and that is the primary disclosure in the reception of symbols, be it in isolation or embedded in a narrative.
The book is dedicated to Cubans like my father who died in exile, and while the theme of lost homeland is less evident in this collection than in previous books of mine—such as Cuba (1993) and Vereda Tropical (1999), also from Carnegie Mellon—the theme provides a historical and personal backdrop to my interest in parables. Poetry reaches its first fruition as epic, a genre rooted in the idea that the power of symbols is transferable to narrative. And epic—Gilgamesh, the epics of Homer and Virgil—is utterly linked to the theme of exile. Journey is always an expulsion, from a home that must change in one’s absence, from a goal that must perish before one attains it. What reconciles courage and the fundamental absurdity of life is the making of parables, if not always the parables themselves which have come down to us through religion and popular lore.
Here is a sample from Parable Hunter and one of my favorite poems by Ricardo: "Flight to L.A."