A glimpse from the gutter: three poems by Alejandra Pizarnik

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 33 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

 

por un minuto de vida breve
única de ojos abiertos
por un minuto de ver
en el cerebro flores pequeñas
danzando como palabras en la boca de un mudo

for one minute of fleeting life
the only one in which eyes are open
for one minute of seeing
small flowers dance in the brain
like words in a mute person’s mouth

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has construido tu casa
has emplumado tus pájaros
has golpeado al viento
con tus propios huesos

has terminado sola
lo que nadie comenzó

you’ve built your house
you’ve put feathers on your birds
you’ve struck the wind
with your own bones

alone you’ve finished
what no one began

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una mirada desde la alcantarilla
puede ser una visión del mundo

la rebelión consiste en mirar una rosa
hasta pulverizarse los ojos

a glimpse from the gutter
can become a complete worldview

rebellion consists of gazing at a rose
until your eyes are reduced to dust

Árbol de Diana (Tree of Diana), nos. 5, 16 and 23

One of the great advantages to being here in London is the super-fast internet. Without it, I doubt I would’ve seriously entertained the idea of making a bilingual videopoem with both the original poetry and the translation alternating in the soundtrack — it takes hours to upload a three-minute video file back home in Pennsylvania. Also, I was able to work closely with my co-conspirator here, Jean Morris, who came over to the house last week to record the the three Alejandra Pizarnik micropoems I’d chosen for the video (the first three from this post). In existing recordings of Pizarnik, the poet’s voice is slow, almost dreamy, and Jean tried with I think considerable success to imitate that quality without going so far as to actually mimic her Argentinian accent. I recorded my own reading later on, trying also to keep it slow and quiet. Jean also offered some valuable suggestions for improving my translations (she’s a professional translator; I’m a mere dilettante) and gave feedback on the imagery I’d had in mind to use.

The footage of the construction site at sunset had come first, shot out the back bedroom window. That made me think of these Pizarnik poems, which it seemed to me might form a unity with it. I shot the other footage purposefully for the project a few feet from the back door. (That rose had still been in bloom as late as December 15!) Finding the music was as usual a frustrating and time-consuming process, but at length I settled on a track at ccMixter which included some klezmer-like fiddle, a nod to Pizarnik’s Ashkenazi background. Enjoy!

A genius for brevity: Alejandra Pizarnik

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 26 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

 

Alejandra PizarnikI’ve long admired the writing of Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik (1936-1972), but her mastery of the short poem has become an especially important inspiration for me in the past two and a half years since I began my Pepys Diary erasure project, as I’ve struggled to make whole-seeming poems with very few words. During this same period, a new Pizarnik translator has appeared on the scene, Yvette Siegert. Her translations of El infierno musical (A Musical Hell, New Directions, 2013) and Árbol de Diana (Diana’s Tree, Ugly Duckling Presse, 2014) are so perfect, I almost didn’t bother attempting any of my own translations from those collections. But finally I couldn’t resist, telling myself it would be a worthwhile exercise to deliberately make my versions as different from hers as I could, since of course there’s never such a thing as a definitive translation. Nevertheless, I still think hers are better in every instance. (Check out her essay “Forgetting Language: Translating Diana’s Tree.”) As for my other translations below, they too should be left in the dust in two months’ time, when Siegert’s translation of all of Pizarnik’s middle and late poems, Extracting the Stone of Madness: Poems 1962 – 1972, is due out.

Somewhat shockingly, this will be, as the publisher (New Directions) notes, “The first full-length collection in English by one of Latin America’s most significant twentieth-century poets.” For those who have some Spanish, there’s a generous selection of Pizarnik poems at a website devoted to poètes maudits: Escritores Malditos. (Pizarnik certainly deserves inclusion in such a gathering, especially since Rimbaud and Lautréamont were among her biggest influences.) Finally, for anyone with even a passing interest in Latin American literature or the relationship between writing and mental illness, let alone the background and tumultuous life of a great poet, I highly recommend the award-winning documentary Alejandra, by Argentine filmmakers Ernesto Ardito and Virna Molina. It tells Pizarnik’s story through interviews with her sister, her biographer, and various friends and lovers as well as through excerpts from her diary, letters and poems. It’s a highly poetic documentary in the way it was written and shot, and is simply an outstanding film in every way (except for the English translation in the subtitles, which is slightly dodgy in places).

 

from Tree of Diana (Árbol de Diana)

(5)

for one minute of fleeting life
the only one in which eyes are open
for one minute of seeing
small flowers dance in the brain
like words in a mute person’s mouth

por un minuto de vida breve
única de ojos abiertos
por un minuto de ver
en el cerebro flores pequeñas
danzando como palabras en la boca de un mudo

(16)

you’ve built your house
you’ve put feathers on your birds
you’ve struck the wind
with your own bones

alone you’ve finished
what no one began

has construido tu casa
has emplumado tus pájaros
has golpeado al viento
con tus propios huesos

has terminado sola
lo que nadie comenzó

(23)

a glimpse from the gutter
can become a complete worldview

rebellion consists of gazing at a rose
until your eyes are reduced to dust

una mirada desde la alcantarilla
puede ser una visión del mundo

la rebelión consiste en mirar una rosa
hasta pulverizarse los ojos

(29)

for André Pieyre de Mandiargues

We live with one hand on the throat here. Those who used to invent the rains and spin words from the torment of absence already realized that nothing is possible. That’s why their prayers had the sound of hands in love with fog.

Aquí vivimos con una mano en la garganta. Que nada es posible ya lo sabían los que inventaban lluvias y tejían palabras con el tormento de la ausencia. Por eso en sus plegarias había un sonido de manos enamoradas de la niebla.

a André Pieyre de Mandiargues

(1962)


Poem

for Emily Dickinson

On the other side of the night
her name is waiting for her,
her surreptitious urge to live—
on the other side of the night!

Something cries in the air;
sounds are sketching out the dawn.
She ponders eternity.

Poema

para Emily Dickinson

Del otro lado de la noche
la espera su nombre,
su subrepticio anhelo de vivir,
¡del otro lado de la noche!

Algo llora en el aire,
los sonidos diseñan el alba.
Ella piensa en la eternidad.

(1965)


Clock

Miniscule lady
tenant in the heart of a bird
she goes out at dawn to pronounce a single syllable
NO

Reloj

Dama pequeñísima
moradora en el corazón de un pájaro
sale al alba a pronunciar una sílaba
NO

(1965)


Like Water Over a Stone

whoever goes back to pursue a former pursuit
night closes over her like water over a stone
like air over a bird
like two bodies closing to make love

Como agua sobre una piedra

a quien retorna en busca de su antiguo buscar
la noche se le cierra como agua sobre una piedra
como aire sobre un pájaro
como se cierran dos cuerpos al amarse

(1968)


Vertigos, or Meditation on Something that Ends

The lilac sheds its leaves.
It falls away from itself
and conceals its old shadow.
I should die from things like this.

Vértigos o contemplación de algo que termina

Esta lila se deshoja.
Desde sí misma cae
y oculta su antigua sombra.
He de morir de cosas así.

(1968)


The Musical Inferno

They beat with suns

Nothing connects to anything else here

And with so much dead animal in the graveyard of my memory’s pointed bones

And with so many nuns like crows flocking in to peck between my legs

I’m broken by the weight of these shards

Tainted dialogue

A desperate dice-throw of verbiage

Liberated in herself

Sinking like a ship into herself

El infierno musical

Golpean con soles

Nada se acopla con nada aquí

Y de tanto animal muerto en el cementerio de huesos filosos de mi memoria

Y de tantas monjas como cuervos que se precipitan a hurgar entre mis piernas

La cantidad de fragmentos me desgarra

Impuro diálogo

Un proyectarse desesperado de la materia verbal

Liberada a sí misma

Naufragando en sí misma

(1971)

Bizarre Pizarnik flick and other poetic diversions

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

From time to time, I motivate myself to do a translation of a Spanish-language video poem for Moving Poems. This morning’s effort was for an adaptation of a couple of pieces by Alejandra Pizarnik done in the style of a classic black-and-white horror film. Check it out.

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My Identi.ca collaborator Patricia F. Anderson and I continue to work at our chain poem derived from news stories. I think it’s near completion.

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The new Read Write Poem social network is really taking off, with 267 members, 6000-10,000 page views a day, and lively conversations proliferating in the groups and forums. I administer groups for Micropoetry, Video Poetry, and Politics and poetry, which is probably about all I can handle right now. Fortunately, lots of other people have been stepping forward, and the site now has 44 groups to choose from — everything from American Expatriates to New Formalism to LOLcat Poetry.

I’ve been a little surprised to find myself so active there; up until now, I’ve actively avoided involvement in discussions about writing and literature, which so easily become contentious. But so far, at least, the dominant tone at Read Write Poem has been enthusiasm rather than snark. And in another test of the expanded site’s success, the responses to the first weekly poetry prompt since the changeover have included a number of pretty impressive poems. I may never become a regular writer to prompts myself, but it’s great to see so many talented writers coming together across boundaries of distance, background, level of expertise, and stylistic approach. If you were thinking of applying for an MFA program somewhere, I’d advise you to save your money and join Read Write Poem instead.