In Other Words

Loy­naz, trans­lated from the Span­ish by James O’Con­nor, Ar­chi­pel­ago Books, 263 pages

Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

Ab­so­lute Soli­tude: Se­lected Po­ems by Dulce María Loy­naz

One pop­u­lar Span­ish lan­guage course teaches phrases such as: “Ex­cuse me, do you know which way is the Ho­tel Con­ti­nen­tal?” “Sure. Turn right and then go straight ahead.”

If you find a touristy ap­proach to lan­guage ac­qui­si­tion less than in­spir­ing, con­sider read­ing a bilin­gual po­etry book. Ab­so­lute Soli­tude in­tro­duces Amer­i­can read­ers to Cuban poet Dulce María Loy­naz in an el­e­gant bilin­gual edi­tion with se­lected po­ems from her book Po­ems Without Names and the post­hu­mous Au­tumn Me­lan­choly. Loy­naz’s lan­guage shines with such clar­ity that even a reader with lim­ited Span­ish pro­fi­ciency can rel­ish the taste of her po­ems in her na­tive lan­guage. For in­stance, a reader might un­der­stand, or in­tuit, the mean­ing of “¿Y esa luz? — Es tu som­bra.” “And that light? — It’s your shadow.” James O’Con­nor, whose pre­vi­ous ren­der­ing of Loy­naz’s po­ems was short­listed for the Popescu Award for Po­etry in Trans­la­tion, ren­ders th­ese po­ems flu­idly from the Span­ish.

Loy­naz gives us po­etry in its purest form: the sub­stance of her prose po­ems is so po­tent that the style rarely gets in the way. A com­pact nugget of a poem can star­tle with its in­sight: Even in your way of for­get­ting there is

some­thing beau­ti­ful. I thought all for­get­ting was dark­ness, but your

for­get­ting is lu­mi­nous, like a great ra­di­ance. Like the dawn wip­ing out the stars!

A beloved Cuban poet in the 1950s, Loy­naz was os­tra­cized by Cas­tro’s govern­ment for re­fus­ing to join the Com­mu­nist party, and was largely for­got­ten after the Cuban Rev­o­lu­tion. Ac­cord­ing to press ma­te­ri­als, “Loy­naz was a 90-year-old widow when Spain’s Royal Span­ish Academy un­ex­pect­edly awarded her the 1992 Pre­mio Miguel de Cer­vantes, the high­est lit­er­ary ac­co­lade in the Span­ish lan­guage.” Oth­ers who have re­ceived that honor in­clude Jorge Luis Borges and No­bel Lau­re­ate Oc­tavio Paz.

Read­ing th­ese po­ems, one senses that awards were not ter­ri­bly im­por­tant to Loy­naz. Her advice to artists is con­trary to the con­tem­po­rary be­lief that artists ought to wear them­selves out on so­cial me­dia. “Only by devot­ing one­self to dark­ness, ab­sorb­ing its deep waters drop/by drop, can one give rise to a no­ble, last­ing work of art,” she writes. In an­other poem, Loy­naz could be talk­ing about the creative process when she writes, “From the pa­tience of the earth,/inch by inch, or the con­vul­sions of the earth, press­ing up the fire/within, or the painful spasms of the young earth, the world’s flesh,/at the dawn of Cre­ation.”

De­spite its depth, Loy­naz’s work might even be Twit­ter­wor­thy, if only for its brevity. A terse one-line poem that gives this vol­ume its ti­tle, sug­gests the dis­til­la­tion of an en­tire life: “The world gave me many things, but the only thing I ever kept was/ ab­so­lute soli­tude.”

Be­cause Loy­naz’s po­ems speak di­rectly of mat­ters of the heart and the soul, there are no long-winded pre­ludes and lit­tle cul­tural speci­ficity that would cre­ate walls be­tween the poet and her reader. She speaks sim­ply as one hu­man to an­other. It is be­cause of her di­rect­ness, and how she lays bare her suf­fer­ing — in a way that is at once gritty and dig­ni­fied — that her po­etry, for the most part, hasn’t aged. To be sure, we are no longer used to phrases that ref­er­ence “the Cre­ator” — in that sense her work is rem­i­nis­cent of the po­etry of No­bel Lau­re­ate Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) — al­though the emo­tional suf­fer­ing in Loy­naz’s po­ems feels more mod­ern com­pared to the spir­i­tual an­guish in Tagore’s po­etry.

Loy­naz does not use ob­jects or set pieces much in th­ese po­ems, but when she does so, her words are elec­tric. “It was the dark­est part of the night. The wind had died down/and the clock with the bro­ken minute hand be­gan to tick and ev­ery/sec­ond was ab­surd.” There is some­thing Zen-like in her pose of time­less­ness and pur­pose­ful ne­glect. “In the end the only thing that might ex­cuse me for the fail­ure that/is my life is the vague, ab­sent­minded way in which I go walk­ing down/ev­ery road on earth.” Her words here ex­press fel­low feel­ing with Zen mas­ter Shi­tou Xiqian (700-790) whose poem “Song of the Grass-Roof Her­mitage” be­gins:

I’ve built a grass hut where there’s noth­ing of value./After eat­ing, I re­lax and en­joy a nap./When it was com­pleted, fresh weeds ap­peared.

In one poem, Loy­naz prays that her work will not be con­demned “to the fruit­less, love­less la­bor/of warm­ing the cold bones of no one in par­tic­u­lar.” On that count, she need not worry. Her po­ems have such fire that no reader will walk away from this book with cold bones.

— Priyanka Ku­mar

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.