Monday, March 16, 2009

Love was Roque Dalton's other country

The candidate put up by a political party formed by the merger of several revolutionary guerilla organizations was elected the new president of El Salvador on Sunday.

Mauricio Funes, of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, beat out Rodrigo Avila of the ruling conservative Arena party.

Frankly, I don't expect most people to care about the political vicissitudes of a tiny Central American nation, even if U.S. tax dollars paid for a lot of covert warfare down there. I myself care today mostly because Roque Dalton was Salvadorean.

Dalton was a great poet and courageous revolutionary. His fellow Salvadorean poet Claribel Alegria has summarized his life better than I could ever hope to, in her preface to Small Hours of the Night, the selection of Roque's poems in translation published by my friends at Curbstone Press.

It's difficult to say whether Roque would be dancing in his grave at the news of the election. It takes immense patience with an alphabet's soup of acronyms for revolutionary organizations to follow the history of resistance in El Salvador. I do know that the party of the new president is an umbrella group that includes the revolutionary sect that executed Roque Dalton in 1975.

However, the poet was killed by hardline militants who disagreed with his more longterm strategy for organizing a mass movement, so the revolution's evolution into a political party with a large enough base to win a national election in a way fulfills the struggle that Roque Dalton died for.

As a poet, I don't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Roque Dalton, but I did use a quote from his work as the epigraph to my chapbook, A Heart I Carved for a Girl I Knew.

Love is my other country
the primary one
not the one I'm proud of
the one I suffer
Roque Dalton was, in fact, a great love poet. In my song settings to his poetry, I have concentrated on his love poems. Pardon me for saying that love takes to poetry - and to song - better than revolution does.

Here are two of my settings of his verse - a sketch on guitar, and an unreleased band recording. Neither source poem bears the same title I chose for the song, and I don't have a copy of Small Hours of the Night handy to check the reference. I heartily recommend you go get your own copy of that priceless book and see for yourself.

Free mp3s

"Soul of a boy who still wants to play with you"
(Chris King, Roque Dalton)
Chris King

Captured from a cassette, with tape speed issues making me sound slightly chipmunkesque.

(Chris King, Roque Dalton)
Three Fried Men

Chris King: vocals and guitar. Lij: guitar. Dave Melson: bass. John Minkoff: electric guitar. Billy Teague: drums.

Recorded live at the old Undertow studio in downtown St. Louis.


Picture of Roque Dalton from Daniel Casado's blog.

p.s. The long poem by Roque Dalton that I always wanted to score, Tavern (Conversatorio), is available online!

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