71 Followers
33 Following
MochaMike

MochaMike

Currently reading

Swann's Way
Marcel Proust, Lydia Davis
Mating
Norman Rush
The Unknown University
Roberto Bolaño, Laura Healy
Postmodern Belief: American Literature and Religion since 1960 (20/21)
Amy Hungerford
The Fun Stuff: And Other Essays
James Wood
Dark Times Filled with Light - Juan Gelman, Hardie St. Martin

Argentine septuagenarian poet, Juan Gelman, has had a life that would overwhelm most people and leave them in despair. Instead, in the wake of a life fraught with loss (loss of country, loss of his only son [whose tortured body he had to identify] and daughter-in-law ‘disappeared’ during the Argentine “Dirty War,” the loss of a granddaughter probably born in a prison hospital before being given to a pro-government family, the loss of many, too many, compañeros), Juan Gelman writes the most engaging, optimistic, accessible poetry informed by those losses, informed by love—of country, of people, of peace. Never maudlin or self-pitying, never the perverse pride of boastful ‘look what I’ve overcome,’ always humble, always gentle, horrifically informed while genuinely hope-filled.

I’m not a poetry guy. Anyone who’s read many of my reviews knows it. It’s been exceedingly easy to relegate most of the poetry I’ve encountered to the realms of incomprehensibility and/or pretentiousness. I am, however, susceptible to the poetic, vulnerable to the well-said. The poems in this collection caught me up and urged me through them at a pace that demands revisiting, repeated revisits that I look forward to. Absolutely compelling and easy to recommend. Try them.



The Art of Poetry

Of all trades, I’ve chose one that isn’t mine.

Like a hard taskmaster
it makes me work day and night,
in pain, in love
out in the rain, in dark times,
when tenderness or the soul opens its arms,
when illness weighs down my hands.

The grief of others, tears,
handkerchiefs raised in greeting,
promises in the middle of autumn or fire,
kisses of reunion or goodbye,
everything makes me work with words, with blood.

I’ve never been the owner of my ashes, my poems,
obscure faces write my verses like bullets firing at death.

Facts

while the current dictator or bureaucrat was speaking
in defense of the regime’s legally established disorder
he took a line or verse born of the cross
between a stone and a bright glow in autumn

outside the class struggle raged on / brutal
capitalism / back-breaking work / stupidity /
repression / death / police sirens splitting
the night / he took the line of poetry and

deftly opened it in half packing
more beauty into one part and then more
into the other / he closed up the line / put
his finger on the first word / squeezed

it aiming at the dictator or bureaucrat
the line shot out / the speech went on / the
class struggle went on / brutal
capitalism / back-breaking work / stupidity / repression / death /
police sirens splitting the night

this explains why so far no line of poetry has overthrown
any dictator or bureaucrat not even
a small dictator or bureaucrat / and also explains
how a verse can be born from the cross between a stone and a bright
glow in autumn or

a cross between the rain and a ship and also from
other crossings no one would know how to predict / in other words
births / marriages / the
shots fired by neverending beauty

Exergue

i call the following poems com/positions because I’ve com/posed them, in other words, put my own things in texts great poets wrote centuries ago. obviously i wasn’t trying to improve them, their vision of exile shook me up and i added—or changed, went through, offered—the things i myself felt, as contemporaneousness or companionship? mine with theirs? the other way around? tenants of the same condition?

in any case, i talked with them, as they did with me from the dust of their bones and the radiance of their words. i don’t know which to honor more: the beauty of their poems or the vital voice that composed them. but, the two combine to offer me that past, surround my present and give me a future.

such is the mystery of the human word. it has its origin, whatever the language, in the same flight between darkness and light and thus it consubstantiates them: its light is dark, its darkness bright. with each tongue, with each human group it opened a mouth to make flight possible, follow its slow movement at all times, see how it develops and has to be worked out.

translation is something inhuman: no language or face lets itself be translated, you have to leave one beauty intact and supply another to go with it: their lost unity lies ahead.

that’s what the tower of babel was all about: not essential discord but a partial science of the word. reality has a thousand faces and each, its own voice. science, but also patience to let the face and its word rise from the fear that binds them all the way to the love that will unite them. time and its pain, burn deep in the night where each word is a cold sar, a sun that is still to come.

So 5 stars it is—in accordance with my own rating 4 stars because I liked it, and the fifth because I read it at the right time. I hope you check Gelman out, I also hope you like him.

translation is something inhuman: no language or face lets itself be translated, you have to leave one beauty intact and supply another to go with it: their lost unity lies ahead.
How fine is that?