You’re going to have to forgive me from the get go on this one. As you’ve probably guessed I’ve recently had a bit of an obsession with Enrique Vila-Matas and when I read his recent work “The Illogic Of Kassel” I came across a section that I thought totally relevant to the poetic work “Diorama” by Rocío Cerón.
I dreamed of fields of grass where beatniks were grazing, fields that split into more fields and then into killing fields like a sprawling nightmare. And then I dreamed (in the part of the night closest to me waking and, therefore, to my cheerful morning mood) that somebody stole my shoes in those fields and told me that the common revered model of the “great man” was the opposite of poetry and the irreducible individuality of being unique. This view was the opposite of the poetry of the unique existence (ephemeral, unrepeatable), which did not need to be written, but only – and above all – to be lived. This second part of the dream, with its agreeable observations on the poetry of individuality, must have influenced my excellent mood the following morning, which was indeed the norm.
Onto “Diorama”, the winner of this year’s Best Translated Book Award for Poetry, and the excellent “Translator’s Note” at the opening of the collection:
Translating Rocío Cerón’s Diorama was at first baffling. As an experienced translator and as a less than conventional poet myself, I know better than to seek clarity or narrative or concrete structure in experimental poetry. Nonetheless, it is precisely this sort of legibility that readers often demand of translated work, which can result in selection bias; difficult, experimental, or what Cole Swenson calls “immanent” poetry is often left untranslated in favor of the more familiar and legible. It is essentially impressionistic, stubbornly elusive, and at times outright hallucinatory.
This book is presented in two sections, the English translation and the original Spanish versions. This may seem an odd approach, but when you learn that Rocío Cerón’s “enveloping, fierce live performances” mean you would gain a lot by trying the lines aloud for themselves “attentive not only to sound and rhythm but to the play and gripping of the words in the mouth.” “This is a work that demands to be spoken and heard”. Not only that, Cerón accompanies her works “with carefully orchestrated multimedia presentations that include still images, text, and film”.
Opening with ‘Pinhole, 13 ways to inhabit a corner” we have:
Ostriches in flight – there are women whose words are ash trees. Shadow stitch together harbors of air. In the midst of the stampede, a hand rests on the arc of a kneecap. Cigar and smoke. Rosy cypress sleep. The scent reaches far beyond the border. From the bureau – power, smile destroyed/ocher temptation, strophic enjambed body. Vestibule.
For comparison’s sake here is the same section in Spanish
Huyen avestruces – hay mujeres cuyas palabras son fresnos. Sombras hilvanan puertos de aire. Entre la estampida reposa la mano sobre el talud de una rodilla. Habano y humo. Rojizo ciprés el sueño. El olor sigue más allá del borde. Desde el buró – poder, sonríe, destruida/tiento ocre, cuerpo estrófico en el quicio. Vestíbulo.
As we can already see the rhythm, tempo, sound and structure is very similar indeed. As an experiment I put the Spanish text through the Google translate tool – this is the output:
Huyen ostriches - there are women whose words are ash. Shadows weave air ports. Among the stampede hand rests on the slope of a knee. Cigar and smoke. Red cypress sleep. The smell continues beyond the edge. Since the bureau - power, smiles, destroyed / ocher touch, strophic body in the doorway. Lobby.
A simple comparison (albeit a lazy one using Google) but already after five lines of poetry I can see a significant difference. ‘Rosy” or ‘red’? ‘Arc of a kneecap’ or ‘slope of a knee’? ‘Far beyond the border’ or ‘continues beyond the edge’? And sorry a 'vestibule' is a 'vestibule'...it's not a 'lobby'!!! Each and every comparison showing the deft poetic, linguistic, rhythmic touch added by translator Anna Rosenwong.
This is not a simple work to read, as our translator points out, it is best read aloud. However it drags you along building towards a mighty crescendo, making the “live performance” frenzy a reality as we move from a ‘Pinhole’ to a ‘Flyover’ through the longer poems ‘A Hundred And Twelve’ ending with ‘Sonata Mandala To The Penumbra Bird’. Only running to seventy five pages, there is a lot packed into this short work (including a photo).
Poetry not my forte on this blog, but I purchased this book based on the Best Translated Book Award win and the comments on the Three Percent website:
David Shook, the co-founder and editorial director of Phoneme Media “congratulates translator Anna Rosenwong for her masterful translation of Rocío Cerón’s Diorama, our first book of poetry and one of the most fascinating and important books to have been published in Mexico this century. Phoneme Media is incredibly grateful for the support of the BTBA’s judges and organizers, to Three Percent and its indefatigable director Chad Post, to our fellow shortlisted publishing houses, translators, and authors, and to our readers around the world. Congratulations, Anna and Rocío, on receiving this much deserved award!”
The opening “Translator’s Note” is a must read as it details the religious, cultural experiences, it leads you to avenues you didn’t know existed, and even the “smells” referenced. I must admit it was a very enjoyable read, one to be taken slowly and absorbed, a work that doesn’t need to be written it needs “to be lived”.