Translation: Five Poems by Thiago Ponce de Moraes

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Thiago Ponce de Moraes. Photo: Filippo Ronca

Thiago Ponce de Moraes is a Brazilian poet and translator. He has published the poetry collections Imp. (Caetés, 2006) and De gestos lassos ou nenhuns (Lumme Editor, 2010). He is currently finishing his PhD thesis on Paul Celan’s poetry and teaches the Federal Institute of Rio de Janeiro (IFRJ). Ponce has participated in several national and international festivals, including the Festival International de la Poésie de Trois-Rivières in 2015 and the Struga Poetry Evenings in 2016. As a translator, he made Portuguese versions of poets as Basil Bunting, Emily Dickinson, Antonio Gamoneda, J.H. Prynne, Robert Creeley, Robert Lax, William Blake, Yannis Ritsos and several contemporary poets from Latin America and Europe. He is also releasing his third poetry collection, Dobres sobre a luz (Lumme Editor) and a bilingual pamphlet, glory box (Carnaval Press), which includes my own translations of poems from all of three of his collections.

Thiago and I will both be reading at the launch of Dobres sobre a luz and glory box, this Saturday night in São Paulo in Estúdio Lâmina at São João 108.

These translations are all taken from glory box. Read more of this post

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Translation: “André Wants a Shag”. A short story by Julia Wähmann

 

Julia Wähmann de Bel de Nonno

Julia Wähmann. Photo: Bel de Nonno

Julia Wähmann was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1982. She has written for the online magazine Ornitorrinco since 2014. In 2015, she published the standalone short stories, “Diário de Moscou” (“Moscow Diary”, Megamíni/ 7Letras) and “André quer transar” (“Andre Wants a Shag”, Pipoca Press). In 2016, she published Cravos (“Carnations”, Record), her first novel. Read more of this post

“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.

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

 

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“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

Under Surfaces: Alice Sant’Anna’s Rabo de baleia

"Rabo de baleia" by Alice Sant'Anna

“Rabo de baleia” by Alice Sant’Anna

The cliché belongs to the iceberg of course. But the whale too inhabits this world sometimes in the air, sometimes in the sea—and is more hidden most of the time than those 90% of the iceberg that you can’t see. I’ve never been whale-watching (I have seen river dolphins in the Amazon), but can imagine taking a boat out to sea and watching the still horizon suddenly punctuated by a huge tail fin.

In the same way, Rabo de baleia (literally, the Whale’s Tail, but I’ll stick to the Whale’s Fin to skip a too obvious rhyme that would be out of place in this book), which is Alice Sant’Anna’s second collection, often works out of sight, under the water, at oblique angles. This even comes down to her writing practice that the critic Heloisa Buarque de Hollanda describes in the book’s blurb:

“And I discovered that she writes in syncope and subliminally. She writes on the bus, in quiet interludes, in moments of boredom, in the small gaps over the course of the day and, what apparently attracts her most, in risky situations like at work, in classes, meetings, conversations.”

I’m not sure if all the poems in the collection were written this way, but there are traces of it throughout the poems. In one, the speaker’s companion in Lisbon has “a strange compulsion” to sketch everything: a painting, a doorknob, an egg tart, whereas the speaker herself ends the poem saying (in my rough translation):

meanwhile I anxiously wanted to repeat
the gesture, to document all this, talk about the taste
of cinnamon on the egg tart
of the first blue day in lisbon
but I couldn’t write and hurrying to register things
I became bureaucratic
in my diary: today we took the train, it was hot

Coming at things face-on appears to be a problem and here it turns around the word register, registrar in Portuguese that means to note down or memorize mental perception, but like in English as well, it is also a word widely used by bureaucracy. With too much effort the result becomes banal.

This doesn’t lead to banality with the poems though, although paradoxically some of them are full of finely-tuned observations: the contradictory instructions of an host family in England, a trip to the grandparents in the mountains, a road trip, descriptions of fellow students in Paris or visits to cousins. And in other poems there are colloquialisms that feel verbatim, for example lavar bem lavadas as cerejas (to wash the cherries really washed). They feel like phrases or situations consciously noted down in situ.

In other poems there are unconscious slips, dreams, non sequiturs. There is a dream of a eucalyptus sprouting from a sweet and growing inside the speaker. There is a strange slip in “something always darkened (alguma coisa sempre escurecia)” where you expect—and perhaps if listening would hear—“happened (ocurria)”: phonically they are so close that the normal word hides behind the more unexpected one. There is this fantastic metaphor for snow: “Today we woke up to the city all white, a sensation that we were taking part in someone else’s dream”. And most of all there is the surreal deus ex machina that opens the collection and give it its title:

If only the huge fin of a whale
would cross the living room right now
without any noise at all the animal
would sink between the floorboards

If you’ve picked up the book, you know what the title is, but even so having a whale’s fin suddenly in your sitting room comes as a shock. It is a great poem of boredom, time and things unsaid that continues a few lines later:

what I wanted but can’t tell you
was to grab the whale and dive down with her
I feel a terrifying boredom of these days
of stagnant water attracting mosquitos
despite the stress of these days
of the exhaustion of these days
the body that arrives home exhausted
with the hand outstretched looking
for a glass of water

In both of these extracts, there are words for time at the ends of lines: “right now” in the first and the quick repetition of “these days” in the second that only emphasizes how slow time is passing. It is also a poem of the desire for change or escape and its sheer impossibility: the whale appears in the first line, but there is no mention of the ocean; indeed any mention of water has either been still for days or confined within a glass. And then the poem ends with:

… and the longing
is to embrace the huge
fin of a whale and follow it down.

But it’s impossible to sink down through the floorboards like that.

Alice Sant’Anna, Rabo de baleia, Cosac Naify (São Paulo, 2013) (Buy it from Cosac Naify)

On a Test of Resistors

“um teste de resistores” by Marília Garcia

I’m not sure I can do this. Write a blog or a review on Marília Garcia’s um teste de resistores (a test of resistors). She’s one of the Brazilian poets whose work I most admire. Can I do this justice?

Last December I was in Salvador. As usual I had more books with me than I could sensibly read. Especially under the wide tropical skies, in the endless traffic, in taking care to look where I was going in that famously dangerous city. I had to leave them for the flight home. At the airport, I was listening to a podcast on the Russian Romantic poet Mikhail Lermontov. An inappropriate juxtaposition for the time and place. I turned it off, opened the book. Did I feel a sinking feeling that the second poem began on page 41 and I would be interrupted by questions about snacks and drinks before I had finished? I can’t remember. I read.

I do read a lot. But it’s rare for books or poems to have that effect of breathlessness on me. Poems by Raoul Schrott, Fred Moten, Yolanda Castaño and Claudia Rankine weigh on my recent mind. When this happens you have to tell someone. But what if you’re on a plane? What if the guy sitting next to you is hypnotized by the action movie on his tiny screen? What if you look at the disinterest of the stewardesses who you know will have no time for a second-hand account of a poet breaking down the fourth wall? What if you look out the window and feel an uncontrollable urge to switch on your phone who knows how many thousands of metres above Minas to make an urgent call about a poem? The only way was to write something down. Read more of this post

A Labyrinth in Four Lines: A Riff on Tomasz Różycki’s “Colonies”

Tomasz Różycki’s “Colonies”

Tomasz Różycki’s “Colonies”

I’ve been scared of this blog since January. I’ve read and reread Colonies by the Polish poet Tomasz Różycki at least three times now. The 77 delicately rhymed sonnets, brilliantly translated by Mira Rosenthal, work on a multi-dimensional plane: Różycki can take you on a straight path that turns out to be circular, the poems sit in the book like an intricate weaving or a labyrinth of hyperlinks.

There are lines I find incredible, like: “When we skim along / the wrong surface of night, of language, someone // fixes our commas.” I feel I have no idea what it means: I feel I have skimmed along the wrong surface of night, and language myself. Did someone fix my commas? Even the translator in her introduction notes: “It is difficult to extract individual poems. Each is so dependent on the rest of the series as to build in significance only through resonance within the whole.”

She’s right. Here are four lines:

4. Paradise Beach

We’re leaving. Parents, books, and dresser drawers,
the rank and file and freakish herds remain,
the city slowly fading under ash
of a volcano awakened at dawn.

Each word of this quatrain means something. Here goes:

1) 4.

  • All of the book’s poems are numbered, as sonnet sequences often have been: Petrarch, Philip Sidney, Shakespeare, Rilke and the rest. These are to be read as an interlinked sequence.

2) Paradise Beach

  • So many titles in the collection echo the 19th-century definition of ‘colony’ (other definitions below). They refer to commodities (‘Cinnamon and Cloves’, ‘Bauxite and Cardamom’), navigation (‘Sextant and Planisphere’, ‘Saint Elmo’s Fire’), distant places (‘The Mosquito Coast’, ‘Tierra del Fuego’). But the poems are clearly set in Europe, mostly in Central Europe, meaning that the content is often mysterious and askew from the tropical colonialism of the titles.
  • Or is it? In ‘Missionaries and Savages’, the missionaries are clearly bureaucrats and plutocrats; the savages are us. At the same time that swathes of Asia and all of Africa was being colonized by the “great powers”, Poland and Central Europe was also one of the areas being pushed around. Is it not more a question of continuity?
  • There are two other definitions of colony (kolonia in Polish) that Mira Rosenthal identifies in her introduction. It can mean a children’s holiday camp, but for Różycki it primarily refers to his family’s and his city’s history. Różycki’s family was originally from Lwów, now in Ukraine, and were moved westwards with Poland’s borders after 1945 to previously German Oppeln, today’s Opole.
  • “Paradise Beach” comes back later in the sequence, in the poem ‘Ants and Sharks’, as real beach in Goa. In that poem, ant eats larva, child eats ant, shark eats child, God catches shark. And then? “The poet in his room / will then eat God. He’ll feed, alas, on everything. / … / He feeds on paper. … / he’ll steal what’s holy, chew it up, / grow pasty flesh and toxic fur.”
  • The figure of the poet in this sequence is ambiguous, often a parasite, especially in nine poems spread throughout the book beginning with “When I began to write”. The act of writing poetry itself has a transformational, disfiguring effect on the poet and on the world, as well, where words “bit by bit remove / things from the world and in return leave blank / spaces.”

Read more of this post

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