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Modern Chilean poet in English

Altazor, by Vicente Huidobro. St. Paul, Minn.: Greywolf Press. 167 pp. $8.95 paper. North American readers are already familiar with the poetry of the Chilean Pablo Neruda, the Peruvian Cesar Vallejo, and the Mexican Octavio Paz. This distinguished trio has been widely translated, and their works made available thanks to publishing houses such as New Directions. Greywolf Press is inaugurating a new Latin American series, Palabra Sur (Word from the South), with Vicente Huidobro's ``Altazor.''

Huidobro , who was born in Chile in 1893 and died in 1942, was a multifaceted artist and a controversial man - and the least translated of the modernist Spanish-American poets.

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According to Octavio Paz and other distinguished critics, Huidobro is the most important and original figure in Latin America's eclectic poetry world, particularly because of his new use of language as well as his wild and fresh poetic imagery.

Huidobro founded Creacionismo (creationism), an avant-garde movement that proclaimed the poet as a magician/innovator of language through the realm of the imagination. One of his great achievements was to abolish the sentimental rhetoric so prevalent in the poetry of his period. In addition he opened Latin American poetry to international influences and movements.

``Altazor'' (high hawk), Huidobro's masterpiece, consists of seven cantos. Although the poem appeared in Madrid only in 1931, Huidobro began to write it in 1919. ``Altazor'' depicts the mythic voyage of an antihero through an aerial dimension, an Einsteinian space.

The poem begins in the ruins of war, with the misleading subtitle ``A Voyage in a Parachute.'' ``Altazor'' is not about falling to the earth, but rather transcending it, soaring into space, and being able to travel at the speed of light as well as to communicate with the universe. The aerial images and frantic ascending into space culminate in the transformation of language into pure sound. The chant-like words, before untranslated, appear in this collection with unsurpassed cleverness and in their entirety.

Vicente Huidobro, the poet, scriptwriter, and founder of Creacionismo, as well as friend of Picasso, Arp, Apollinaire, and enemy of Pablo Neruda, has finally been done justice.

With this skillful translation of ``Altazor'' by Eliot Weinberger, Latin America's most innovative and joyful poem, a kind of ``Song of Myself'' of the Spanish-speaking world, is available at last to English readers.

Marjorie Agos'in teaches Spanish at Wellesley College.

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