MONICA MANOLACHI Reviews
New Poetry from Spain, Edited and Translated by Marta Lopez-Luaces, Johnny Lorenz & Edwin M. Lamboy
(Talisman House, Greenfield, MA, 2012)
The anthology New Poetry from Spain (2012), edited and translated by Marta López-Luaces, Johnny Lorenz & Edwin M. Lamboy, includes poems by twenty five poets, born between 1945 and 1973 and raised under Franco’s dictatorship. As it is mentioned in the introduction, the collection “focuses on the poetry written in Spain after 1975,” the year when the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco died. There are between four and sixteen pages for each poet. Therefore, it represents a bilingual document that can sensitively explain some of the political, social, economic and cultural changes that have occurred over the last few decades, given the fact that it voices “an interrogation of language after the defeat of fascism and the exploration of new, dynamic contexts that arose with the fledgling democracy.” In this context, it would have been helpful if each poem had been accompanied by a note including the source collection and the year of publication.
Many of these poets are concerned with the power of language to express man’s position in the world. In “Oceans,” Juana Castro (born in 1945) emphasizes the contrast between using and misusing language or the imbalance that often affects dialogue: “One speaks and speaks and speaks / a language of rags / and sponge / and water, / while the other – man or woman – / chokes on his (or her) own uvula.” A similar aquatic aesthetics is employed by Francisco Ruiz Noguera (born in 1951) in a short poem called “The Concealed Lake”: a running river accumulates in a lake, which is not what it seems. Described as “a lake / that crouches waiting beneath the ice,” it rather stands for human unconsciousness. The reference to “the ice” and the imminence of leaping remind us of the natural water cycle and subtly point out that language, like water, has a fluid substance:
Under this space,
prepared for the sign and its construction,
a river of forms is running,
demanding its death in the word.
The deep silence of its noise
is like the disturbing
smoothness of a lake
that crouches waiting beneath the ice.
Another recurrent theme is that of writing as an individual process of understanding how complex and unusual life can be. For example, in a series of fragments with no title, Jorge Riechmann (born in 1962) presents his pictorial view on the relationship between writing and life:
never duplicates life.
It pierces it
like a needle to a cloth
and when the moment is fertile something appears dragging behind,
pinned to the trembling
writing that is not knowledge
but a burning phrase
open to the strange.
In “God in the Library,” Jaime Siles (born in 1951) reflects on the process of writing and the roles of various subjectivities in representing creative undertakings. The fragment below shows how interrelated all these subjectivities are in capturing “a very brief moment of enthusiasm, / serene shivering, labyrinth and desperation”:
A poem is a form of truth
that necessarily creates a character:
the one who recites it, the one who writes it,
the one who hears it, the one who reads it.
None of them is the I who speaks in the poem,
but they all are, just as the secretary
and the bedel and the student are all in this library
and even myself, the only one who knows I am not,
that I was not, that I have not been, that I will not be
but that I think that I am in the poem
and in the library, both in the library and in the poem…
A few poets give definitions to the art of poetry as in “Poetics” by Ernesto García López (born in 1973), in which the poet hopes that the gap between individual identity and collective identity or between personal consciousness and the consciousness of one’s times can be bridged through poetry:
The most significant part of a man
is the way in which he is trapped
in the contradictions of its time
and of his soul.
is the bridge that unites them.
In “Translation as Memory,” Marta López Luaces (born in 1964) – one of the translators and editors of this anthology – starts from one of Emily Dickinson’s poems, beginning with “Ample make this bed…,” and plays with its words to reveal some of the mnemonic mechanisms at stake when someone creates poetry. Her poetic experiment includes a personal translation of Dickinson’s poem into Spanish, “La traducción,” and “The memory” of the original poem as well as “El recuerdo” of the Spanish translation. When translators work on important literary projects, sometimes they come out of the linguistic labyrinth with the need to show the fragmented nature of that mysterious space existing in between languages.
Many of the poems in the collection are, of course, love poems. In “The Arrival,” Tomás Sánchez Santiago (born in 1967) reminds us that poetry is often the mirror of the simplest, but significant events in our life such as a “toothy kiss” or love, in general:
I came looking for
your toothy kiss,
the small passion of your footsteps
and the white smoke,
your longer words emit,
those of quiet silver,
those words that come out at the world’s invitation
from the opening of the obvious.
I came looking for everything,
for everything includes you.
New Poetry from Spain (2012) includes many other poems on several other themes. They were selected so that they convey a sense of the change from a totalitarian regime to democracy, which is obvious in some of the poetic strategies employed: free verse predominates; some texts are prose poetry; some authors recuperate literary traditions of Spain and other Spanish speaking countries; others are visibly interested in translating contemporary realities into verse etc. The three translators are all professional literary translators, hold PhDs in literature or linguistics and regularly publish scholarly works on literature and language. Marta López Luaces and Johnny Lorenz are poets themselves, while Edwin M. Lamboy is a language educator and theorist. The anthology they put together is a feast for those interested in what twenty five contemporary Spanish poets have written over the past four decades.
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.