Saturday, May 3, 2008

I've just finished reading 'Aurora' by the Mexican poet Pura López-Colomé. It's a book I've been looking forward to for some time, and I wasn't disappointed: an astringent verse and a poetry that hovers between the concrete and abstract; a concentrated writing that still gives an impression of space and light. The translation, by American poet Jason Stumpf, is fine poetry in its own right:

Day had shone
its finest robes.
the outline of its seduction
left a wall of penetrating
night sky of magnificent

With that red-hot coal
in the cave of the eye,
I heard a faint knock
at the window.
The half-open blinds
revealed a smooth
flower without omens.

The book is, of course, infused with Mexican culture; with its religion and its pre-Colombian fascination with death, and with surrealist influence. It's a surprise then to find quotes from Philip Larkin at the head of two of the poems. The quotes themselves are quite striking, and its interesting to consider how Larkin must appear through the lens of another language and without the polarization of poetry into 'left and right' that British readers inevitably bring to his work. I have seen Larkin's pessimism compared to Samuel Beckett's and bracketed into the same post-War despair and absurdism, so maybe it's not so strange to see him referenced here.

López-Colomé's book is published in the UK by Shearsman, who are doing a great job of introducing me (and many other people) to current Latin American poetry. Their next London reading, on 20th May, is by Argentinian poet Mercedes Roffé, and that's one I'm hoping to get along to.


Alistair Noon said...

Hi Alan

I think we get a bit of a warped view of other literatures through the inherent selectivity of translation. I have a Chinese poet friend whose poetics are also quite different from Larkin's, but Larkin is one of the few Anglophone poets he knows (and likes) because that's what's been translated into Chinese. The names Bunting and Graham meet with blank stares from a German poetry audience. In Russia in the very early nineties, pre-collapse of the Soviet Union, students were listening to John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. That was what was available on bootleg cassettes.


Alan Baker said...

Of course Alistair, your're right, which is why Philip Larkin Seamus Heaney are more well-known than the two poets you mention. I think publishers have an important role to play here, and it'd be nice to think the P-O-D revolution might change things - Shearsman are certainly doing good job in the UK with their translations - Salt could do better though - their 'Modern Poets in Translation' series only has 5 titles in it.