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
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
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!
My pun of the week: I have been basking in the reflected Igloria of Luisa winning the Resurgence Poetry Prize.* But better even than that was the chance to hang out with two Via Negativa bloggers at the same time when Jean Morris came up from South London to meet Luisa and me and other friends and family for few hours on Tuesday night. It felt like a mini-reunion even thought it was in fact the first time all three of us had gotten together. But that’s the way literary blogger meet-ups always feel, in my experience: we already know each other so well from sharing our truest words online that when we finally meet IRL, it’s possible to bypass the awkward small-talk stage altogether and jump right into the deeper stuff (water, BS, whatever).
Via Negativa is twelve years old today. Thanks to everyone who reads, whether on the site itself, on Feedly or other RSS readers, or via Mailchimp. It’s been a fun ride, and with a little more help from my blogging friends I hope to keep it going for many more years.
*Did you know that BIRGing is a thing? Me neither. Thanks, Wikipedia!
A powerful new film from the Spanish director Eduardo Yagüe in response to a poem by the Uruguayan writer Rafael Courtoisie, which is included in the soundtrack. Jean Morris supplied the English translation used in the subtitles.
Eguren is credited with a central role in founding the tradition of modern Peruvian poetry, which would then be consolidated with the worldwide circulation and influence of César Vallejo’s deep, intense poetry. [Peruvian critic José Carlos] Mariátegui said of Eguren that “in our literary history, he is a representative of pure poetry.” […] Simbólicas (1911), his first book, inaugurated contemporary poetry in Peru: “Leave behind the honeyed, Romantic verses, the singsong clarinetesque of Modernism.” He favored a precise and evocative vocabulary, deep lyricism, musical language, dreams, and child-like, hallucinatory visions.
Despite their minimalism, which is part of what attracted us to them, these two poems were a challenge to translate with their difficult language and strange but fascinating imagery. Enjoy.
Ashes translated by Dave Bonta and Jean Morris
in the sand
Birds of smoke
head for the twilight
and in the white borderlands
we wait for night
fragrant with algae
the last sea
In the shadows
giggling triangles lurk
En la arena se ha bañado la sombra una, dos libélulas fantasmas…
Aves de humo van a la penumbra del bosque.
Medio siglo y en el límite blanco esperamos la noche.
El pórtico con perfume de algas, el último mar.
En la sombra ríen los triángulos.
Cubist Song translated by Jean Morris and Dave Bonta
Boulevard of blue rectangles
Atop the skyscraper
a black paper cockerel
crows for night
in distant darkness
the shining city
of pearly obelisks
Somewhere in the fog
strangles a ghost
Alameda de rectángulos azules.
La torre alegre del dandy.
Vuelan mariposas fotos.
En el rascacielos un gallo negro de papel saluda la noche.
Más allá de Hollywood, en tiniebla distante la ciudad luminosa, de los obeliscos de nácar.
The Peruvian poet José Santos Chocano (1875-1934) is of some considerable historical importance, I gather, as the first Latin American modernist poet to turn away from French models and embrace native and mestizo themes. A badass who spent time in prison for killing another poet and died in a knife fight in Chile, he wrote poetry of place long before it was fashionable, and played a huge role in starting the tradition of Latin American writers embracing anti-imperialist politics. Today, however, he is mostly remembered for a poem about a caiman. A 2001 Mexican gangster film even took its title from the poem, El sueño del caimán.
Written in 1906, the poem conjures up an almost steam-punk leviathan, with language as lush and grandiloquent as anything of Darío’s—but there are enough true-to-life details to make me think that the poet had actually observed caimans in the wild, which is a lot more than I’d say about Darío and swans. The poem is difficult for someone with intermediate-level Spanish like me, using some fairly obscure vocabulary and being deliberately vague on a couple of points (such as: Whose dream is it, the poet’s or the caiman’s? And what exactly do the adjectives in line 11 modify?) so yesterday morning I turned to my friends for help, posting a tentative translation to Facebook along with the original. The resulting discussion was lively, with too many participants to name, but Luis Andrade was especially helpful, along with the poets who, much to my surprise and pleasure, each tried their hand at a translation and gave me permission to share them all here. It turned into a really fun exercise, and the results go to show — in case anyone needs convincing — that there’s no such thing as a definitive translation.
Since we all read and were influenced by each others’ translations and comments, I’ve decided to post these in the order of their last posted edit. This means that my own effort will bring up the rear, because this morning I had to have just one more go. I’m not going to post bios, but simply link names to blogs, websites, or Facebook pages. But first, the original poem:
El sueño del caimán
Enorme tronco que arrastró la ola,
yace el caimán varado en la ribera;
espinazo de abrupta cordillera,
fauces de abismo y formidable cola.
El sol lo envuelve en fúlgida aureola;
y parece lucir cota y cimera,
cual monstruo de metal que reverbera
y que al reverberar se tornasola.
Inmóvil como un ídolo sagrado,
ceñido en mallas de compacto acero,
está ante el agua estático y sombrío,
a manera de un príncipe encantado
que vive eternamente prisionero
en el palacio de cristal de un río.
So now I know it’s not really going to get easier. But perhaps it can keep becoming more fluid. Perhaps I can feel my way into the ephemerality of every hard moment.
Somehow the ephemerality of the happy moments, the strong ones, the softly joyful ones, is always to the fore. But it’s not just the good bits, it’s all of it: here, blink, gone. Hard, but not fixed; never lengthy; a flickering, ever-changing string of moments.
I increasingly wonder if the enormity of confronting this is what lies behind so much of human madness, cruelty, masochism; behind our obsessive need to build boxes, lock our own cell doors as well as other people’s.
After a while, the shapes and colours that spring so strongly from the work seem to invade the spaces in between. The people looking at the paintings, their shapes and angles and outlines, appear more and more as if they’d stepped out of them. A painted shock of red hair, a purple dress, a pale, drooping, interesting face, take the eye straight to another that is not painted.