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Book Review

Testimony of Circumstances

by on October 9, 2018

Testimony of Circumstances, by Rodrigo Lira
Translated by Thomas Rothe and Rodrigo Olavarría
Review by John Venegas

 

I try to write these reviews from a perspective of cultural implication and value. That is to say, while all the technical matters of structure and diction and execution are very important, I try to emphasize the potential emotional and philosophical resonance of a work, not in a manner that tells you how to feel but to convey that the work in question has the capacity to affect at least one person on a profound level. The risk of approaching texts in this way is that, as you can probably imagine, the intimacy of this effect can wound in unexpected ways. We all build our defenses, even the most empathic among us, and yet no defense is absolute. No heart is immune to vulnerability. It is in this context, unwittingly confident in my inadequate preparedness, that I read Testimony of Circumstances, a compilation of the poetry of Rodrigo Lira, a Chilean poet whose reputation seems equal parts famous and infamous.

UNQUESTIONABLY beyond poetry (sic), / but certainly in the reach of originality, / European of the post-war era (…!) / were already experimenting with these gags / around 1950.

To those with a cursory knowledge of Chilean poetry, Lira’s name probably won’t be included in the list of those who first come to mind. His list of published credits is comparatively small and awareness of his work was largely a product of the local performative scenes in Chile. By all accounts that I could find, including the introduction to this collection, he is described as being at times endearing and loyal, at times abrasive and rude. Indeed, he seems a person of contradictions: he was born into financial, social, and educational privilege and yet a supporter of Salvador Allende’s nationalization policies; he will demand and beg for acceptance by his peers while critiquing them and their work, often in the same poem; he was known for his outspoken manner and perspective but also at times reclusive and afraid for his life. As you have probably gathered, there is some speculation that he had manic depressive disorder, and he was diagnosed with schizophrenia (thought admittedly in an age where that tended to be a catchall mental diagnosis). But he was a being of words, in the purest literary sense, and despite his struggles, he has produced works of incredible beauty.

De modo que a veces es preciso o preferible moverse / lo menos posible para evitar tropezones y choques / pues siempre o casi o casi está el refugio / de utopiazantes pero posibles futuros

What Testimony of Circumstances represents then is a kind of pseudo-biography, a fascinating, disarming, and brilliant cross section of a life dedicated to literature. Everything is on display here – Lira’s politics, his contentious rivalries with those he wanted to regard as friends and/or peers, his utterly merciless inner voice – all of it. There is a richness of perspective present that caught me rather off guard. Some poems feel like they were written by entirely different people. “Es Ti Pi” is methodical and deliberate, laid out like mantras that are meant to wrestle a maelstrom under control, while “Tres Cientos Sesenta y Cincos y un 366 de Onces” is verbose and unchecked, rolling with gravitas and an almost palpable need to expel its words. Still other poems, like “El Superpoeta Zurita”, move back and forth between those styles, as if the speaker cannot make up his mind about his reaction to the subject, at once flattering and annoyed, caught up in awe and obsessing over blemishes. It gives an unnerving and empowering impression that Lira is trying on a multitude of essences before ultimately refusing to adopt any but his own.

construct and shape the trademark / registered brand, graphic territory – and at once, the logo – / of a certain motor oil, lubricating substance / which is said to have had – at least at one / time had – (1) psychedelic or psychotomimetic powers.

The structures of the poems are the truest manifestation of Lira’s quest for identity. There is a stubborn refusal to allow the reader to settle into almost any kind of rhythm, which only makes sense when you realize that lyricism and cadence are not primary concerns. We are pushed and pulled because Lira is ultimately trying to convey what it is like in his mind, what it feels like to be him. Again, the layout and line breaks in “El Superpoeta Zurita” are so interesting that it felt like Lira was asking me if I understood what he was saying and, when I answered yes, he told me I was wrong and rearranged. His identity and essence are pulled in a dozen different directions, all of which he holds onto lest they pull him apart and leave the unique perspective shattered. I found this particularly surprising given my reading about Lira and how important stage performance was to his career. This is the kind of poetry that would make most open mic night bards turn green. And yet, it makes its own kind of sense in hindsight. Lira refuses to be bound and defined in simplicity. He is not merely written or spoken word.

he aquí las mias / Quisiera poder mostrar algo / de diertas cancioraciones sinfeccionadas, sinfectadas / de ciertas esperrancias y herideas sincereceas / –sincavidades o con carieacontecidas concavidades

I have never quite been sure what the technical definition of conversational poetry is, but I would hazard a guess that poems in Testimony would be prime examples. That refusal of lyricism allows Lira’s diction to feel like he is there, speaking to you; not as a spirit or a god delivering edicts and making demands, but as a person trying desperately to explain their world view and hoping someone will listen. This manner of writing helps the reader deal with the stop and go momentum of the structure, but it also helps you keep up with Lira’s changes of perspective and thought process. It makes what seems like an initially daunting task actually intimately relatable. And speaking of daunting tasks, Rodrigo Olavarria and Thomas Rothe deserve all the credit in the world for capturing Lira’s essence on the page and through translation. Their work is the kind of accuracy you crave as a reader of poetry, accurate to both letter and spirit, with the flexibility to appreciate and utilize the cultural and linguistic divides to enhance the experience.

So what it comes down to is we should die simple deaths / without widespread panic or panspread widnic or wad spread pinic / gently, our traps shut

I mentioned earlier the capacity of literature to wound, particularly when you approach it from an angle that includes a combination philosophy, emotion, and the work’s ability to make you feel. In truth, I was not expecting Testimony to have such an effect. In the interest of complete honesty, as I read about Lira, I was rather concerned that I had agreed to read the ravings of that one poet in any random literary circle who acts like his decent reception at a few open mic nights means more than the work of published poets but who still desperately wants to get published himself. And now, I sit here, writing this, more than a little ashamed in the arrogance of that misplaced concern. Rodrigo Lira’s poetry is fantastic. Rodrigo Lira took his own life on his thirty second birthday. Rodrigo Lira’s written words have come further than almost any text I have ever read to bridging the gap between souls and allowing me to see into the mind of someone else. He deserved and deserves better, especially from me. I approach my own thirty second birthday and have struggled with mental health issues since I was a teenager. Lira’s work serves as a critical reminder that no perspective deserves to be treated with disrespect without merit, and that, in this age where people are finally beginning to wake up on a large scale from the illusion of binaries, that conformity and rebellion are two poorly defined points on a spectrum that is ever in motion.

 

Testimony of Circumstances is available now through Cardboard House Press.

Book Review

Litane

by on June 12, 2018

Litane, by Alejandro Tarrab
Translation by Clare Sullivan
Review by John Venegas

 

One of the holy grails in the study of physics is something called a unified field theory. In short, we have theories that work really well for describing the behavior of stars and planets and light, and we have theories that work really well for describing the behavior of particles and fields, but the dream of many a genius is to mathematically describe a theory that can do both. Does this sound familiar to you? Have you, perhaps, encountered another field of study, maybe even one involving literature, where you are presented with multiple theories derived by very intelligent people, many of which provide a fascinating perspective but which cannot encompass the whole despite some insistence otherwise? It is exceedingly easy to forget that we are all looking at existence and trying to figure out what the hell is going on. I am reminded of these theories and many more as I pour over Litane, a poetry collection written by Alejandro Tarrab and translated from Spanish to English by Clare Sullivan. It is a book that is challenging, engaging, demanding of its reader without condescension, and so far reaching in scope I am still somewhat in awe. In an article she wrote for Asymptote, Sullivan describes Tarrab’s poetry as containing “allusions not just to other literature but also to philosophy, science, the visual arts, and music.” Of course, Tarrab is not the first to attempt this, but he does so with such skill in this book that I find the inevitable comparisons to T.S. Elliott not only justified but even a little lacking given this collection’s experimental tendencies.

caminamos por las placinies todo mi ser aposto que cruzariamos que despues de demontar el pabellon cruzariamos juntos para alzar el vuelo intro vuelve el dia tomamos la 132 lunar medeski el fuego la emocion de estar

we walk through the flatlands that my whole being swore we could cross that after dismantling the pavilion we would cross together to rise in flight intro day returns we take the 132 lunar medeski fire the feeling of being

Litane is collection that actively steers into madness; not the forced simulacra of insanity that many authors try to replicate, but the genuine incomprehensibility of filling one’s consciousness to the brim and attempting to process all of that information. It is a truly fascinating experience following each poem as they shift and move. Tarrab abandons pretty much any notion of grammatical constraint and allows his language unbridled freedom to flow and shift between tracks. It is akin to learning from a dancing master who only instructs by demanding that you follow his lead. It takes some time to learn the flow, and even when you do you will make the occasional misstep, but the effect is hypnotic to the point of camouflaging whether or not what you just experienced was extreme improvisation or choreographed with precision. Most immediately I am reminded of Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s style, which is always welcome, but Tarrab places his own spin on the technique in that where Krasznahorkai is very intentionally playing with grammar and sentence structure, Tarrab is rejecting the need for such limitations. And if one accepts the notion that great artists do not utilize without purpose, then it is difficult to not see this style as a framing device that blends concepts and voices and thoughts into an impressionistic whole. It is common, and often commendable, for many poets to be hyperfocused, using minutiae and intricate detail to flesh out much grander existential concepts. While Tarrab does this, more often than not he extends his lens to an extreme width, zooming out and providing the forest for the trees. It is a surprisingly refreshing vantage point, and brings with it no small amount of vertigo.

aqui va un diablo hermoso inaudito de satan
no hay tragico en el cielo
en su practica solita es un iluminado

here is a pretty unheard of satan’s devil
there is no tragic in the sky
in his lonely practice is a visionary

I imagine that, if a poet approached a great many publishers and told them “I have a habit of routinely inventing words in my poetry”, said poet would earn no small amount of askance looks and skepticism. So, on a rather basic level, you have to appreciate the impulse to do it anyway – it takes some gumption. But in order to use it in a way that is meaningful and will give it any thematic weight, you quite simply have to know what the hell you are doing. You have to have a superb grasp of language in order to tear it apart and rebuild it into something beautiful. Tarrab meets and exceeds this challenge in spades. It begins with his title, Litane, which I imagine is something about which no small amount of digital ink will be expended. For my part, it is something I’ve quite literally never encountered before: an invented word used for a title, and one that perfectly encapsulates and frames the rest of its text. It is meant to evoke the word “litany”, or “letania” in Spanish, and it raises more possibilities for the collection than a sane person could fully explore in a life time. Is it referring to the cacophony of voices trying to explain their frames of reference? Is it a criticism that hearkens back to Milton’s legions of angels singing praise to an authoritarian god, or is it almost religiously reverential in the sound of so many expressing themselves? This questioning and unfurling of possibilities continues throughout the text. Poems take symbols and figures from history and mythology and rearrange them on a whim, like a child with their favorite action figures and dolls, or an adult playing with the pieces of an unsolvable puzzle. And all the while, the words just flow. The missteps in the dance I described earlier will be exclusively your own.

veias el polvo te travestias al lijar tu prenda pude sentir desde el ascensor al verlas plasmadas como algo inmediato te iba minando de lado hacia el piso

you saw the dust you cross-dressed and smoothing your garment i could sense from the elevator on seeing fem take shape how something immediate was eroding from you from the side toward the floor

Along the same lines, there is fantastic work on display here from Clare Sullivan. This is the kind of translation work you want to show aspiring translators, because she manages the three critical aspects of it beautifully. First, the underappreciated grunt work of matching style, flow, and structure. Then, the ability to recognize when improvisation will do more to capture the artist’s idea than a literal translation. Her use of lower case I’s, something she discusses in her Asymptote article, felt so natural and effective that I hadn’t even realized that it had to be a conscious decision on her part until she pointed it out. Lastly, her willingness to leave in an untranslated word or phrase when it does a far better and more succinct job of describing an idea than would its translation. This also happens to work well with Tarrab’s familiar feeling new words.

sin decir una piedra puesta sobre la tumba, sin decir piedra que daria permanencia.

without saying a stone placed upon the tomb, without saying stone that would grant permanence.

Even as I write this review, a new kind of importance for Litane reveals itself. We are living in an age where the identity of the individual has taken center stage. This, like pretty much everything else, has positive and negative effects. On the positive side, long oppressed voices are finally getting long overdue chances to express themselves and be recognized for their humanity. On the negative side, those who seek to exploit individuality for financial gain have increased opportunity to manipulate that kind of expression. Where Litane fits in is in reminding us that we are not alone. Again, on the positive side, I mean this in a quite sentimental fashion, with all of the solidarity and support that such an idea carries. And on the negative side, we are chastised to not think of only ourselves, to be mindful of the idea that as we express ourselves we better make damn sure that others can do the same.

 

Litane is available now through Cardboard House Press.

 

Book Review

Cadavers

by on April 5, 2018

Cadavers, by Néstor Perlongher
Translated by Roberto Echavarren and Donald Wellman
Review by Rosemarie Dombrowski

 

Cardboard House Press has a reputation for both finely crafted books and exquisite translations from the Spanish, not to mention a team of editors that spans the globe. For an English-only poetry scholar, their editions are essential to an understanding of the Latin and South American landscape.

In their latest release, Cadavers (2018), translated by the Uruguayan poet, Roberto Echavarren and Donald Wellman, Néstor Perlongher (the Argentinian poet and anthropologist) immediately sets the tone for his long poem by creating a tapestry of geography, scene, and image via “clusters,” each containing only a handful of lines, cohered not only by the haunting refrain There Are Cadavers/Hay Cadáveres, but a fervent confrontation with the Argentine dictatorship of the 1970s.

Some of the clusters are overtly sexual. Some are more regional. Some are portraits of the working class. Some are portraits of the outcasted. Many focus on women. From mothers to seamstresses to teachers to sex workers, his sensitivity and attention to the stories of all women seems revolutionary from any perspective.

The fetus, growing in a rat-infested sewer,
The grandmother, shaving herself in a bowl of leach
The mother-in-law, guzzling for a few seeds of wine shoot,
The aunt, going crazy for some ornamental combs,
There Are Cadavers

The desperation depicted in these lines – the desire for humanity and a few incidental material objects – is rarely the fodder of a portrait of an oppressed people. Rather than employing poetic pathos, he chooses to craft unspeakable images and scenes. This, coupled with his seminal role in the global LGBT movement, inarguably weaves a revolutionary fervor through the work.

Perlongher is unabashedly egalitarian in his quest to depict the suffering, and, like Whitman, he isn’t afraid to grapple with sexuality on both sides of the aisle: …in the booty/of that boy…in the stench of the judge’s pubic hair…in the moan of that chorus girl… It’s also worth noting the rawness of the Whitmanesque diction, bodily diction that has more “mucous” and “piss” and “ejaculat[ion]” than anything in the American canon circa the 70’s and 80s (aside from a “cock” or two in a Levertov poem, Rich’s tame-by-comparison “Twenty-One Love Poems,” and the woman-objectifying verse of Bukowski).

The repetition of cadavers at the end of every stanza is not just an aural device, but one that literally imposes the body onto everything. The dead body is ubiquitous. The bodies of looters and lovers and cheaters and fighters and families are ubiquitous. The diction of the body is also ubiquitous, from the musky little hairs to the mucus that is suckled. There is no body too deformed or decayed, too sensual or obscene for inclusion.

Perlongher’s Cadavers is, in part, a descendant of the great erotic protest tomes of Whitman and Ginsberg. It is also playful and buoyant, almost Steinian at times given its perennial return to the female body. It manages to revel in a linguistic landscape that is both plagued with decay and the persistence of life—through it all, the women continue to orgasm, birth, and bathe. The spinner, who managed to coil herself in the wires, in the barbs, becomes a powerful symbol of resistance in the face of a barbarous dictatorship.

This is, perhaps, one of the greatest homages to a people living and dying under an oppressive regime. Despite how many were murdered, Perlongher’s striking corporeal flashes do not allow you to forget.

 

Cadavers is available now through Cardboard House Press.

 

Rosemarie Dombrowski is the inaugural Poet Laureate of Phoenix, AZ and the founder of rinky dink press. She is the recipient of five Pushcart nominations, a 2017 Arts Hero Award, the 2017 Carrie McCray Literary Award in Nonfiction, and a fellowship from the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics. Her collections include The Book of Emergencies (2014, Five Oaks Press), The Philosophy of Unclean Things (Finishing Line Press, 2017) and The Cleavage Planes of Southwest Minerals [A Love Story], winner of the 2017 Split Rock Review chapbook competition. www.rdpoet.com

Book Review

Roberts Pool Twilights

by on November 14, 2017

Collection by Roger Santiváñez
Translated by Elsa Costa
Review by Vicent Moreno

 

“I feel the materiality of language most intensely when writing poetry. It is a push/pull relationship where the material resists. You have a sense of speaking through language and of language speaking to you. The plasticity is primary. This doesn’t mean that content doesn’t matter, but poetry is this space where every single particle of language is charged with the most meaning” Ben Lerner, The Guardian, 20 November 2016.

Lerner’s comments on the resisting and polysemic nature of poetry could be applied effortlessly to Roger Santiváñez’s book of poems, Roberts Pool Twilights (2017), published by the Cardboard House Press, and aptly translated from the Spanish by Elsa Costa in a bilingual edition. This book is welcome news for lovers of poetry and it is yet another example of Cardboard House Press’ ongoing commitment to publishing in English some of the best cutting-edge poetry found in Spanish. Santiváñez is a renowned poet from Perú, famous founder of the artistic and literary movement Kloaka in the 1980s in Lima. He currently lives and works in the United States where he teaches at Temple University. His poetry has a lot in common with the historic avant-gardes of the 1920 in their attempt to create “something new,” and their belief in a poem as an autonomous object, which exists outside of our material world and is created ex nihilo by the poet. In this sense, behind Santiváñez’s ars poetica one can see the ghost of Vicente Huidobro’s aesthetic movement, Creacionismo, and its clear poetic premise: “Make a poem the way Nature makes a tree.”

In Santiváñez’s book, the reader encounters a language that has been exposed to the highest temperatures of poetry; under this pressure, words bend, meanings melt, and out comes a product that only deceptively resembles ordinary language. As it stands, Roberts Pool Twilight is above all a book on the craftsmanship of poetry, a trance-like meditation on the poetic language where the mundane, suburban man-altered landscapes of New Jersey (like the title itself, Robert Pools) offer the Peruvian author an improbable locus amoenus for his inspiration.

Consider, for example, the opening poem in the collection, “Cooper River Park”:

& the glitter of the river’s shimmer
Still I glaze on the green bank
Sleekest ripple aquatic mi

Niature drawn by the goddess in
Visible hidden behind the celes
Tial frond that melts into the vault

In my earthly pain like the
Majestic vanished cloud
Just at forming and being deli

Quescent fragile presence swims
In the silent expanse adrift
O suspense gasp of miscomprehended

Rose

Here hyperbatons, enjambments, and split rhymes tense the language across verses; the poem and the reader wrestle for a moment until, as in the distorted image reflected on rippled water, familiar tropes of the locus amoenus appear: the water, the magical creatures, the grass, and at the end, standing alone in the verse, the Rose, arguably one of the most stereotypical topos in poetry. Much like Magritte’s pipe, a rose is never a rose in a poem and it’s definitely not in Santiváñez’s work, which attempts to create its own autonomous space, avoiding an easy referentiality to the “real” world. One could even affirm that poetry itself is in fact the real locus amoenus for Santiváñez.

The poetic voice in the poems of Robert Pools Twilight inhabits a double liminal space: the suburban, yet natural landscapes and the actual space of the poem. At times, there is a revealed tension in trying to translate one space into the other:

Here she comes blue in her graceful steps
Nubile curves at a pace sculpted
By the infinite deities shaping her

Innocence before the poem that only
Yearns to portray her triumphant playing
With the damp sand & found shells

By the ocean at her feet

While in the example above, the poetic voice “yearns” to capture the image, in other instances it’s the opposite as the poet finds solace in the actual poem, which anticipates or imagines the poet’s desire:

Thirst for you conspiring with me to
Draw you running every sway cur
Ve pronounced in every verse o’this

Song

Eroticism is at the core of most poems in this collection and, in a way, the dynamic force that shatters and complicates the otherwise static natural world that surrounds the poetic subject. On the one hand, if this is indeed a book on the art of poetry, Eros must have a strong protagonism; on the other hand, it showcases one of the traditional features of the locus amoenus as a space where love and sex is explored freely, away from societal conventions, an aspect that Northrop Frye has developed through the concept of “green world” in his study of some Shakespeare works. In most cases, the object of desire is directly mythologized (or in other words, poeticized as a classical literary trope). Fittingly, Venuses, Goddesses, and Nymphs populate the poems:

Absolute venus rattled by the
Foam in its point of breakage oh
Thighs bathed by the fate of the blessed

…..

You came back into view goddess girl of the
Freshening waves now with celestial drip
Ping & gilded bliss in your breasts

……

Rosy nymph of sensual calves
You stretch your back devoted to the
Movement that provokes your beauty

Roberts Pool Twilights takes the reader on an exciting journey that demands attention and patience. The reward is a stimulating collection of poetry full of stunning and enigmatic images that leave the reader with a feeling of vitality and joie de vivre. Each poem is a meticulously crafted piece that creates its own reality through the plasticity and playfulness of its language. Considering the difficulty of this type of poetry, the work of the translator, Elsa Costa, has to be commended for being loyal to the original while retaining the same plasticity in the translation.

 

Roberts Pool Twilights is available now through Cardboard House Press.

Book Review

And We Were All Alive

by on August 8, 2017

Collection by Olvido García Valdés
Translated by Catherine Hammond
Review by Benito del Pliego

Among the contemporary Spanish poets, few are better suited for a translation into English than Olvido García Valdés. Her poetry cannot be reduced to any of the stereotypes surrounding what any Spanish speaking poet —particularly female poets— should be like, and yet a fine-tuned reader will have the opportunity of noticing that she is not leaving behind key aspects of the conversation that, one may say, the Spanish poetry has been having in the last few decades.

What is it, then, that makes this translation such an interesting read in English? It is about what the poem pays attention to. It is about how the poet positions herself in the language of the poem.

And We Were All Alive covers just about half the original included in the book that received Spain’s National Poetry Prize in Spain in 2007. With few exceptions, the poems offered in the translation are short notes in verse in which an observation of the surroundings takes the reader to an unexpected place.

Between the literal meaning of what you see / and hear and another less obvious place, / inquietude opens its eye.

That inquietude, as many poems, seems to come from an unusual glance to common views, from a chain of reflections without obvious connections, from memories of dreams, from retained memories.

A few poetic strategies define the writing process here. Among them, the most prevalent are a variety of forms of juxtaposition, such as opposition, or transitions eased by some short of grammatical or lexical ambiguities that moves the poem from one place to another without apparent discontinuity. Sometimes the bridge is established by a discrete echo such as in:

…Explosions / or skin tight to cheekbone; / veins and rough texture, / deteriorating, unable to adapt, the denim jacket had the odor / of the person, the person and the odor…

In any case, since there is not juxtaposition without a previous cutting, the poems also have another striking formal feature related to what is elided. These are quite poems, contained poems.

Being mindful of these two qualities (juxtaposition and ellipsis) greatly facilitates the possibility of chasing the elusive sense that presides García Valdés writing. The capacity to displace what is literally said, while safeguarding the possibility of other meanings, opens up an area of mysterious truth, a truth impossible to state in any other way but the way it has been written. Here, perhaps, lays the key of the fascination caused by García Valdés poems.

One of the elliptical —and fundamental— elements of the poems is the nature of their subjects. The voice that articulates the poems is defined by her capacity to see and say, rather than by any presupposed category (cultural, national, political…). There is someone in the poem; it is a she, it is a she who sees and says. Her voice takes us to a kind of knowledge that has nothing to do with so called common sense. Like other aspects of the book, the subject is precise, but not limiting. The projection of the identity is not the goal of writing; it is just one of the dimensions of which the poem make us aware.

The poetic forms resonate and may define the topics that emerge from the poems: death as a looming possibility, the disconcerting nature of human relationships, the warming presence of nature – especially animals – and places… In what is said arises the possibility of an answer, even if it is only an evanescent one.

The translation of these pieces may look like a simple task considering what Catherine Hammond has achieved. Or simply reading García Valdés’ original. In both cases there is a deceiving sense of normalcy. The difficulty seems to be placed in the interpretation or the evaluation of the words we read, rather than in the words themselves. The subtle dramatic points where the poem shifts gears or makes a turn are, nonetheless, difficult to capture in a translation. Hammond gently wrestles with then in a way comparable to the approach favored in Spanish by the author; it is a matter of punctuation, or the resonance of a few words. In that delicate process, Catherine Hammond achieves the essential task without too many concessions to translators’ tendency to make the translation look more natural than the original.

The second element I think poses a very interesting challenge for the translator is the delicate balance between distance and affection that crosses the book. It’s not ease to parallel García Valdés’ austere – but elegant and warm – Castilian phrasing. It may be hard for many readers to respond to both languages alike, but I would like to encourage everyone to search for that subtlety. Luckily, Cardboard House Press facilitates that approach with a bilingual edition. And we were all alive carefully in both languages.

 

And We Were All Alive is available now through Cardboard House Press.

 

Benito del Pliego is a Spanish born poet, translator and professor at Appalachian State University, in North Carolina. DiazGrey Ed. has recently published, in a bilingual edition, one of his poetry books, Fábula/Fable. His poems have been included in anthologies such as Forrest Gander’s Panic Cure. Poetry from Spain for the 21st Century (2013) and Malditos latinos malditos sudacas. Poesía iberoamericana made in USA (México, 2010). He has translated into Spanish, in collaboration with Andrés Fisher, selections of poetry by Lew Welch, Philip Whalen, and Gertrude Stein.

Book Review

Luna Park

by on May 30, 2017

Luna Park, by Luis Cardoza y Aragon

Translated by Anthony Seidman

Review by Kristin Kaz

 

I was four years old in kindergarten, which is when I learned how to identify coins using my fingers alone. Is this a common lesson for young capitalists? Hands thrusting into deep, dark cotton sacks, fingering the heavy ridges of a quarter, the slightness of a dime. The nickel and the penny were hardest to distinguish for a while, but I got the hang of it. Eventually.

And now I so rarely use my hands to explore the world.

I lost my way.
Where was I?
I rambled along singing!

This work, this collection, I’ll tell you first how it feels, and then how it feels.

Luna Park is a slim text, bound in cardboard and wrapped with a smooth, heavier stock. Is this recycled paper?[1] Difficult to say without my eyes, but there is something organic about it all. I drag my nails against the cover and it sounds like marbles. Like a rain drum. The pages themselves are slighter, still smooth, and they make a pud-pud-pud sort of thwacking sound against themselves as I flip swiftly through them. There is something nostalgic about the presentation. I have it. There I am, at the start of a new school year, wrapping text books in paper bags. This is the comfortable, familiar part of the process. This is what my fingers and nose can tell me about how this work feels.

This is what my eyes can tell you.

Luna Park (1924, 2016) is Luis Cardoza Y Aragón’s first collection of poetry. It is translated from the Spanish by Anthony Seidman, thrust into the thick of this decade’s hazy Twitter feed by Alan Mills, and steeped in the kinetic energy of Daniel Godínez-Nivón’s graphics.

From this critical living, restless,
A new soul has flourished:
Tender and strong,
Beautiful and sweet,
Like a flower of steel.

The beauty of a work like Luna Park is its ability to transcend time and space – or, rather, the ability to so clearly encapsulate the speed at which we hurtle through time, through space; the push-pull of experience and innocence; the jarring, grotesque specter of age that stalks us through the funfair.

The one who doesn’t reside in the future doesn’t exist.
The future started yesterday.

My third reading of Luna Park is punctuated by the metronome of relentlessly tack-tacking fingers on an ergonomic keyboard. I put the book in my back pocket (this is a book that fits in your back pocket), where I keep it while I carry my cat through the house to the kitchen, where I pace back and forth, cat slung over one shoulder, left-handedly nosing my way through the experience of Luis Cardoza Y Aragón’s poetry.

La vie s’en va…
A woman, with her gaze,
Tells me:
“Live it up”
Life shouts out
“Follow that woman”

This is not poetry to be read passively, to be enjoyed on some quiet Sunday.
This is poetry that begs to be read in motion; this is poetry that pushes you up and out.
This is poetry of exile, of transcendence, of momentum, of vitality.
This is poetry that tells you to live.
So you live.

 

Luna Park is available now through Cardboard House Press.

 

Photo of Luis Cardoza Y Aragón and Carlos Mérida in Paris, 1927 from litearturaguatemalteca.org

[1] It is recycled paper.

Book Review

Radio: Wireless Poem in Thirteen Messages & Uncollected Poems

by on August 23, 2016

diseno-de-tapa-kyn-taniya-print1Radio: Wireless Poem in Thirteen Messages & Uncollected Poems by Kyn Taniya

There is something to be said about the importance of translation in regards to literature. I would not have been able to experience the work of so many writers that I love and admire if it were not for the endeavor of translators. Sometimes, the translation is coupled with a work being re-issued after many years, shining light on authors that may not have had much exposure outside their language. Allowing the work to breathe new life and hopefully widen the reach of their powerful words. When I am handed a book of translation it is quite frequently an exciting moment. The gravity of the process that it took in order for the book to reach my hands does not fall lightly on me. This was especially true with the book Radio: Wireless Poem In Thirteen Messages & Uncollected Poems by Kyn Tania.

 

Originally published in Mexico in 1924, where it now considered a cult classic of the estridentista avant-garde movement, Radio has now been translated after 92 years for a new audience to experience. The first thing that strikes about this bi-lingual collection is the sheer modernity of the work. The poems in this short collection feel like they could have easily been composed today as they were in the early 1920’s.

 

Poems discussing wireless technology and celestial objects, making reference to radio waves, could be seamlessly interchanged to discussions of cell phones and Wi-Fi signals. An example of this is in the poem “Midnight Frolic”:

 

           Silence

Listen to the conversation of words

in the atmosphere.

 

There is an insupportable confusion of terrestrial voices

and of strange voices

faraway

 

The feeling of connection in these poems – that is hopeful in many ways – still bleed so beautifully into the feelings of unease that has only grown exponentially as technology has grown. Today the voices we hear are schizophrenic and never ending (unless you are lucky enough to pass through a data dead zone which is becoming more and more infrequent). The idea of broadcasting yourself out in the world is still such a novel idea today, one that I grapple with on frequent occasion. Because it is still so new, the rules and etiquette are ever changing, what may be socially acceptable one day may be strange another day. You just have to listen to the right voices.

 

The concepts and feelings in regards to technology are coupled with social unrest, political instability on a global level, and loss of loved ones to make poems whose words are cutting, sincere, and contemplative. In the poem “… IU IIIUUU IU …” (of which there is a great recording online of the poet reading it) we are presented with broadcasts of problems and occurrences around the world: Deaths in Chicago, unrest in Bagdad, sports heroes, and more all for sale to consumers at low prices. So quick and accessible it would be a shame not to take it all in.

 

When I read these poems I was given the realization of how much the world has really not changed. There have been advancements in technology that have pushed us closer together, closer to the stars, yet closer to oblivion; however the sentiment, the soul of what concerns us as human beings is still very much the same. The poems that live within this collection are fresh, and vibrant. Just as alive as when they were written.

 

Radio by Kyn Tania is available through Cardboard House Press