MONICA MANOLACHI Reviews
Like the Rains Come by Mercedes Roffé, translated by Janet Greenberg
(Shearsman Books, Exeter, U.K., 2008)
Mercedes Roffé (born in 1954) is an Argentinean poet, translator and editor living in New York since 1995. She has published fourteen collections of poetry in Spanish and her work has been translated into English, French, Italian and Romanian.
The anthology Like the Rains Come: Selected Poems (1987-2006) by Mercedes Roffé, translated by Janet Greenberg and published in the UK by Shearsman Books in 2008, includes poems of almost two decades from The Lower Chamber (1987), Night and Words (1996), Trial by Ordeal (2002) and Mayan Definitions (2006). The four parts, which differ in style, theme and scope, invite the readers to contemplate the poetic seasons across the imaginary landscape of a transnational poet.
The first section, which is the longest, is like “the end of a tale that is never told / but counts”: syncopated singing and oral speech, repetition and enumeration, rhyme and enjambment, exclamations and short questions, all these mix with intertextual references that often draw on European, mainly Mediterranean, heritage. Shakespeare meets Rilke and troubadours meet Lili Marlene in the labyrinth, where: “Nobody blinded the Minotaur / A single shadow.” Her education in music and literature at the University of Buenos Aires left a mark on The Lower Chamber, in which voice plays a more significant role than imagery.
Several cultural and geographical references in the second section remind us that the poet has been living in New York since the 1990s, where she worked on a doctoral thesis regarding the literary debates at the end of the Middle Ages. This section deals with the limits of language, as in “Night and Words,” which gives its title:
The inanity of saying
sea mustache bingo caves
breakfast rings book swords […]
“There is no plot,” I said.
“No intrigue or ending.”
Only the return. There’s no
Possible scaffolding. The night
Against all gravity, the night
The third part contains several prose poems. Some of them are reflections on the meaning of poetry: “Metaphor has died. Nothing resembles anything else. The smallest fraction of each atom engrossed in the task of accomplishing its minimum commandment.” Others deal with morality and panta rei: “There is no poetic justice. Who narrates, otherwise?” In others, the poet subtly criticizes the purpose and the excess of theory and study. In general, the type of discourse employed in this section is more abstract and visionary.
The last slot includes three rather conceptual poems that attempt to poetically define abstract notions such as “Sometimes,” “Then” and “Landscape.” Whereas the first two texts expand the space between personal or world history and language, the third one bridges geography and language. All of them are meditations on the role of language and particular words in perceiving and understanding the world.
Monica Manolachi is a lecturer at the University of Bucharest, where she teaches English in the Department of Modern Languages and where she completed her doctoral thesis, Performative Identities in Contemporary Caribbean British Poetry, in 2011. Her research interests are American, British and Caribbean literature and culture, postcolonial studies and contemporary Romanian and Eastern European literature in translation. As a poet, she has published two collections in Romanian, Trandafiri (Roses) (2007) and Poveștile Fragariei către Magul Viridis (Fragaria's Stories to Magus Viridis) (2012) and one in English and Romanian, Joining the Dots / Uniți punctele(2016). She is also a translator and editor, contributing to the multilingual literary magazine Contemporary Literary Horizon.