3 Books

Spent new years in New Jersey, with brief hours in Manhattan. Took the Acela down from Boston for the first time (what luxury: no sore knees, a table to write on, no cell phone chatter in the quiet car, space to stretch out or sleep). Walking in New York is always an education. Came across three books this weekend at the St. Mark's Book Shop:

Aufgabe (Number 3, Fall 2003).

Micah Ballard, Scenes from the Saragossa Manuscript (Snag Press, 2004).

Rodrigo Toscano, To Leveling Swerve (Krupskaya, 2004).

I intended to post a translation of the Sánchez Peláez poem from a few days ago but I'm too tired from the shock of returning to work. Plus, I prefer to take my time when translating poems.

I had been searching for that issue of Aufgabe for a while now, mainly to see the excellent section on Mexican poetry, edited and translated by Jen Hofer. I read through most of it on the cramped, ill-lit bus ride back to Boston last night. Some excerpted highlights:

"aquí el silencio enseña
tecnocráticas teorías"
(José Pérez-Espino, "Neoberlín")

"Caminar por dentro y distraer la rampa de su caída profunda. Cotejar los vicios, vaciarlos, vivificarlos en la cuña. ¿Una floritura dices que soy al leerme? Fauces las tuyas que no frecuentan mi fruto."
(Laura Solórzano, "Lobo de labio")

(en la parte de ti
que no se ve) construyo
lo que pienso


Pienso la mesa de madera roja
la silla para esperarte en los días de nieve

amor, imaginamos"
(Dolores Dorantes, "sexoPUROsexoVELOZ")

Hofer's English versions are impressive throughout, offering accurate outlines while making the language sing.

"But to sit on the throne in Tunisia
among harems, gardens & fountains
in the company of Golemez women
as to have drunk from their chalice

this potion. At mercy of crows
& unknown powers am I still too young
to be a cabalist? Tho I carry also
the same rope 'round my neck. Yet

to experience poetry w/out ghosts
hang a mirror outside the door
shunning gypsies, informers of barren
words whose tone I hone. So now [...]"
(Micah Ballard)

I heard Toscano read from this book last year in Cambridge and I wasn't disappointed by the poems on the page. I read it straight through in one sitting. Like a Bad Brains song, he moves quickly and accurately, always surprising the reader. There's a moment in the poem "Writing" that made me jump when I read it (as it did when I heard it in Cambridge):

"As photons from the spastic sun pelt the same hemisphere, comrades
report from Caracas:

Las Comités Montañeras—on fire!"

Everything these days points me back to Caracas, at least it feels that way. It will, unfortunately, be a dark year in Venezuela, now that the Chavistas have sharpened their knives. Whatever sense of comradery the Bolivarian revolution might claim to be building (particularly in terms of its international marketing campaign—full page New Yorker ads, quarter page NYT Op-ed page ads, etc.), what we have in Venezuela right now is dismal.

But back to Toscano's book. For me, the poems work up nicely to the title poem, which closes the collection. I can think of dozens of rappers who could benefit from reading Toscano's work, seeing how subtle and fine-tuned language can be.

"Build Nature!"

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