“Sometimes the night closes in around me like a small room without a door.”

I must have heard of Bruno Schulz (1892-1941) before this year. I probably had while reading secondary literature for my university dissertation on Kafka; I definitely had listening to this BBC documentary about the history of Jewish life in Poland by the writer Eva Hoffman.

But it was this year that I kept coming across his name: referenced in Tomasz Różycki’s sonnet sequence Colonies; in this interview with David Grossman where the conversation turns to See Under: Love and Bruno Schulz’s resurrection after being murdered on the street by a Gestapo officer; in this radio essay on Kafka by Margaret Atwood that—by incredible coincidence—I listened to the same night as a discussion at the Goethe-Institut on a book by Martin Walser about the Yiddish writer Sholem Yankev Abramovich; in the new Brazilian edition of complete fictions of Schulz that I saw on a friend’s bookcase.

If it was the sheer anonymity of his name and the fleeting references that had made me forget him before, in 2015 it was impossible and now—after reading his incredible prose that conjures up something like a disembodied synaesthesia where all the sense are mixed up—doubly so.

Here is a paragraph from The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories (Penguin) translated from the Polish by Celina Wieniewska:

A night in July! The secret fluid of dusk, the living, watchful, and mobile matter of darkness, ceaselessly shaping something out of chaos and immediately rejecting every shape. Black timber out of which caves, vaults, nooks, and niches along the path of a sleepy wanderer are constructed. Like an insistent talker, the night accompanies a lonely pilgrim, shutting him within the circle of its apparitions, indefatigable in invention and in fantasies, evoking for him starry distances, white Milky Ways, the labyrinths of successive Colosseums and Forums. The night air, that black Proteus playfully forming velvety densities streaked with the scent of jasmine, cascades of ozone, sudden airless wastes rising like black globes into the infinite, monstrous grapes of darkness flowing with dark juice! I elbow my way along these tight passages, I lower my head to pass under arches and low vaults, and suddenly the ceiling breaks open with a starry sight, a wide cupola slides away for a moment, and I am led again between narrow walls and passages. In these airless bays, in these nooks of darkness, scraps of conversation left by nightly wanderers hang in the air, fragments of inscriptions stick to posters, lost bars of laughter are heard, and skeins of whispers undispersed by the breeze of night unfold. Sometimes the night closes in around me like a small room without a door. I am overcome by drowsiness and cannot make out whether my legs are still carrying me forward or whether I am already at rest in that small chamber of the night. But then I feel again a velvety hot kiss left floating in space by some scented lips, some shutters open, I take a long step across a windowsill and continue to wander under the parabolas of falling stars.

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Same and Different: Ana Martins Marques’ “The Book of Similarities”

 

semelhanças

“O livro das semelhanças” by Ana Martins Martins

The Book of Similarities opens, as it surely should, by holding a mirror up to itself. It begins with six numbered couplets that are “Ideas for a Book” (not necessarily this one) before a sequence called “Book”, where each poem describes the cover, the title, the first poem, etcetera, the colophon, the back cover.

The book as a whole (published this year and called O livro das semelhanças in Portuguese) is Ana Martins Marques’ third and sometimes has the feeling of being a series of pamphlets: the first three, “Book”, “Cartographies” and “Visits to the Commonplace” are concept-based; the final one “The Book of Similarities” more open. On a superficial level, this is similar to her previous book On the Art of Traps (Da arte das armadilhas, 2011). And perhaps more than superficially: indeed, the book remains full of traps.

One of the most noticeable things about Marques’ poetry is its apparent simplicity. It’s nothing of the sort. The first section is full of winks and dead-ends. In “First Poem”, the speaker promises “at least here, dear reader / you won’t find / any dirty cups”, which may be true, but seems also to be a sly nod towards the Tender Buttons-esque first section of her previous book. With relief, “Second Poem” begins saying “Supposedly it’s easier from here / the worst is past”, but then turns out, contradictorily, to be a sonnet in hendecasyllables (a traditional Portuguese metre) and the most formal poem in the whole book. There is an alphabetical index of words found throughout the book that appears on page 30 but refers to the book’s 100 plus pages. And there is a poem called “Translation” that ends with an intricate mirroring of sound in its final lines. The translation is my own and includes a rough attempt to replicate the patterning—deep down, I feel the Portuguese is almost untranslatable: Read more of this post

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