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Latin America: Poetry in Popular Song

Mar. 19, 2023

by José Luis Mendoza Aubert

When the Spaniards arrived in the New World, in what we now know as Latin America, they brought with them a great variety of uses and customs very different from the native civilization. Many were used to evangelize, subdue and control the natives. But among all these new cultural forms was poetry.

Of course, the New World had its own local poetic development. Pre-Hispanic poets include Netzahualcóyotl, the Philosopher King (1402-1472), born in Texcoco, México, one of the greatest Latin American poets.


But among the poetic forms introduced by the Iberians, were the "Redondilla de diez versos", later called "Décimas", Tenths. This poetic form was developed by the Spanish poet Vicente Espinel, and was immediately adopted by the people and musicians of the time. Since then, it has continued to be a popular poetic form, and is still widely used in our times, in Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, Cuba, the Caribbean, and, of course, here in Mexico, eminently in Veracruz. The Décima was used during the Spanish Golden Age by great writers such as Lope de Vega, Calderón de la Barca, Miguel de Cervantes, Quevedo and Góngora, among others.

The Tenth, is formed by roundels set by means of two verses that rhyme one with the last verse of the first, and another, with the first verse of the second, this form is very musical and satisfying. Its structure is: A BBA AC CDD C, where verse 1 rhymes with 4 and 5, 2 with 3, 6 and 7 with 10 and 8 with 9.


This peculiar form is sung and recited in Jarocho music in innumerable Sones and Fandangos. At parties it is sometimes used in improvised challenges, wherein two musician/poets compete with each other, reciting, with great talent, improvised Decimas based using as a theme the name, origin, adventures, facts or vicissitudes of someone celebrated.

There have been great decimistas from Veracruz such as: Don Guillermo Cházaro Lagos, Rodrigo Gutiérrez Castellanos and the contemporaries Daniela Meléndez, Karen García, Ángel Pulido Albores, Fernando Guadarrama Olivera, etc, all of them excellent poets and musicians.


José Luis Mendoza Aubert: actor, director and theater technician; teacher and writer of Theater and Plastic Arts; founder and director of the Comedia del Universo theater company and school, operating in San Miguel for the last 20 years; musicologist and cinephile, judge of the En Corto Film Festival now GIFF for 8 years; Director of Art and Culture of the Public Library for 15 years; member of the board of directors of El Sindicato Centro Cultural Comunitario.

José Luis gives talks and workshops on environmental awareness in schools and communities. He is a founding member of the Allende la Cultura Collective. He plays Veracruz music and writes poetry and is a founding member of the music group Jarocha "Soledad".


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