Cuban-native Jose Kozer visits for bilingual poetry reading, discussion

Michael Bragg

Jose Kozer, winner of the 2013 Pablo Neruda Ibero-American Poetry Award, visited Appalachian State University on Monday and Tuesday for a bilingual poetry reading and discussion.

This was Kozer’s first visit to Appalachian but his work was not new to students and professors of the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, many of whom gathered at the event. 

“He is a man of universal culture,” James Fogelquist, department chairman, said before introducing Kozer.

Kozer, who is author of more than 60 poetry books, was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1940 to Jewish parents who emigrated from Poland. He left his home country at age 20 with dreams of being a writer.

Rather than following the majority of Cuban immigrants to Miami, he settled in New York City. There, he taught Latin American literatures at Queens College for more than three decades and was, to his dismay, not able to visit Cuba again for 53 years.

Kozer discussed his past, his writing inspirations and his view of today’s literary world during his two-night series at Appalachian.
“He really integrates everything,” said Andres Fisher, a professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures. “He is a scholar, a poet and a translator.”

Fisher recently had one of his own critical studies published in Kozer’s latest book of poems, “Índole.”

Jose Kozer began Monday by explaining that a normal bilingual poetry reading would consist of two people reading back and forth between languages, but he was not going to conduct his reading that way.

Instead Kozer proceeded to read several of his poems in Spanish to the audience, combining mood with rhythm, hand gestures and voice fluctuation.

He then opened the floor for Appalachian professors to come up and read any poem of Kozer’s in English.

“It does not matter what is being said,” Kozer said. “What matters is the aura of what is being said.”

Tuesday, Kozer continued his visit with a discussion on Poetry and Exile. He described what the word exile meant to him after having grown up under a dictatorship in Cuba.

“I have an inner power as a poet that no castrating Castro-ism can impose on me,” he said.

Over the course of his lifetime, Kozer has compiled more than 9,000 poems.

When speaking about his writing process, Kozer said that every morning he starts the day by writing a poem. He never knows what it will be about, but the words come to him without force. He feels lucky to be given the “mysterious” ability to compose a new poem every day, he said.

“I am not a poet,” he said. “I am just a person who writes poems.”

Story: MEREDITH WARFIELD, Intern A&E Reporter