Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What We're Reading: Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry

The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry, edited by Ilam Stavans.

The idea of representing the poetry of a whole continent and more--over the course of a century--and wrapping it up in a single volume seems a little fantastic, a bit itself like the magical realism that is associated with Latin literature. This anthology represents all of the major Latin poets of this period, but the visit with even the most important and well known is necessarily brief. The volume will be a discovery and revelation to most readers. The poetry of most of Latin America, especially South America, remains as unfamiliar to most English readers as the political and cultural history of the continent itself. The selections included in this anthology are not the work of a single translator, but some of the poems have been translated by major American poets such as Mark Strand, Elizabeth Bishop, W.S. Merwin, Galway Kinnell, and Richard Wilbur. The original language text of each poem is included. Most of the poems were written in Spanish, but the anthology also includes work written by poets in Portuguese, Mapuche, Nahuatl, Quechua, Mazatec, Zapotec, and Ladino. Frost remarked that poetry is what is lost in translation, but anything lost or gained here will have to be the judgment of someone more conversant with the original language than the reviewer. The poems read well in their English translations, but I envy the double delight of those who can read the poems in both languages, and it is no doubt that reader who will enjoy this anthology most.


Here in the twilight the translucent hands
Of the Jew polishing the crystal glass.
The dying afternoon is cold with bands
Of fear. Each day the afternoons all pass
The same. The hands and space of hyacinth
Paling in the confines of the ghetto walls
Barely exists for the quiet man who stalls
There, dreaming up a brilliant labyrinth.
Fame doesn’t trouble him (that reflection of
Dreams in the dream of another mirror), nor love,
The timid love of women. Gone the bars,
He’s free, from metaphor and myth, to sit
Polishing a stubborn lens: the infinite
Map of the One who now is all His stars.

Jorge Luis Borges
tanslated by Willis Barnstone


Now you, turned into a poem,
imprisoned in verses naming you,
beautiful, unnamable, luminous,
now you, turned into a poem,
your body, brightness,
frost, word waste,
the poem almost your body
imprisoned in the poem,
turned into verses read in the living room,
your body that is past tense
and is this poem,
a poor vengeance.

Dario Jaramillo Agudelo
translated by Ilan Stavans

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