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Mexico in Ruins: Metaphors of Ruins and Ruination in Twentieth-Century Mexican Poetry


This project began with a simple observation, that the vast archive of Mexican poetry, is brimming with ruin poetry, poems written about a specific site of indigenous ruins or some other material ruin, or verses that use the idea of ruins as a metaphor or symbol by which the poet comments on Mexico’s political or social state of affairs. This dissertation explores three tropes of twentieth century Mexican poetry as they relate to ruins: the modern city as a ruinscape and maker of ruins, the ruins of disaster, both man-made and natural, and the concept that contemporary poetry in indigenous Mexican languages serves as a form of resistance through which indigenous peoples in Mexico struggle against cultural ruination. The introduction features ruin poetry by José María Heredia, José Juan Tablada, and Efraín Huerta, which serves as examples of more traditional verses about ruins. Chapter 1 examines the presence and characterization of the modern city over time in the works of Ramón López Velarde, Manuel Maples Arce, Salvador Novo, Xavier Villaurrutia, Efraín Huerta, and Eduardo Lizalde, who at the end of the century reads the city as a modern ruin. Chapter 2 focuses on José Emilio Pacheco and Jorge Humberto Chávez’s poetic reactions to natural and man-made disasters, the 1985 Mexico City earthquake and the surge of violence in northern Mexico, related to the drug trade, during Felipe Calderón’s presidency. Chapter 3 explores the poems of Natalio Hernández, Jun Tiburcio, and Alberto Gómez Pérez, who write poetry in their respective indigenous languages, Nahua, Totonac, and Tzotzil, as a form of cultural resistance to political practices that would marginalize their languages and cultures to the point of extinction. Within the verses of these aforementioned poets, I found that ruins and ideas about ruins function as a particularly adept critical tool through which Mexico’s poets criticize, critique, or simply respond to their nation’s state of affairs and circumstances.

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