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


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


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.