Eyeseas (Les Ziaux)
By Raymond Queneau
Translated from the French by
Daniela Hurezanu and Stephen Kessler
$18.95, Black Widow Press
Reviewed by Brandon Holmquest
Long-time friends to this publication, Daniela and Stephen's new book attempts the practically impossible, translating Queneau's poetry, and pulls it off as well as anybody could. Toss out any sort of hard, fast rules and take every poem on its own terms and do the best you can, getting what you have to get into English and sighing over what gets lost in the process. They do a good job of catching the tone of these poems, which range from the glibly playful to the very very French, and their English versions never sound corny, no small feat when the poems are full of oh's and ah's and references to the soul, etc.
The Poems of A.O. Barnabooth
By Valery Larbaud
Translated from the French by Ron Padgett and Bill Zavatsky
$19.95, Black Widow Press
Reviewed by Brandon Holmquest
Every time I see Ron Padgett at the Poetry Project I think about going up and tickling him. I have no idea why. Seems like a nice enough guy, he might not take it that badly, but still, he's Ron Padgett. Can you really just go up and tickle a guy like that? Anyway. These poems were published under a pseudonym in the now familiar fashion of Pessoa, etc. Fake biography and all of that. It was a few years before Larbaud copped out to having been the guy behind it all. Padgett and Zavatsky's introduction is really good, so go read that if you want to know why Larbaud did it and how it all went. The poems are a little Ro-man-tic for my taste by they do suit the idea of Barnabooth that was originally put forward. This edition also include the original illustrations, photos from postcards and advertisements. It's neat and really fleshes out the general aesthetic, like the photos in Sebald's books.
By the way, I can't be the only one who noticed that Black Widow has been putting out some amazing books lately. Desnos, Breton, Tzara, and Eluard, yeah sure, but Joyce Mansour? Hell yes Joyce Mansour. Have you read that book? Listen, I get a free book in the mail almost every day and you know what, I paid retail for that thing.
Lands of Memory
By Felisberto Hernández
Translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen
$14.95, Paperback, New Directions
Reviewed by Bela Shayevich
If you are wondering why your private bird of fey obsessions has been singing since July, this story will come as a relief. The fact is that Esther Allen’s translation of Felisberto Hernández’s Lands of Memory has been out in paperback for several months now: the Joseph Cornell box on the cover and the cartoonish Cortázar quote on the back (“Felisberto, I will always love you!”) is awaiting your hot little hands on many a bookstore shelf. I repeat: right this minute, Felisberto Hernández is widely available in paperback. If you are like me, you will buy multiple copies in order to finally prove to yourself and your long-tormented friends that this man exists. If you are not like me and getting impatient with this review:
Felisberto Hernández was born in 1902 in Montevideo, where he died in 1964. Though at one point he too traveled the secret tunnel between Montevideo and Paris that brought the world Laforgue and Lautréamont , he spent most of his life in Uruguay. One of the more enchanting stories about him is how for some time, to support his family, he traveled the country as a piano accompanist for silent films. His rather small literary output holds writers like (the ebullient) Julio Cortázar, Italo Calvino, and Gabriel García Márquez in its debt; however, he is a quintessentially minor writer. And therein lies his charm.
His great longing grasps at the minute. His most wildly eccentric loners possess only the most privately manifested and ultimately inconsequential manias. The mystery of the defamiliarized mundane is in itself mundane—and yet, the timbre of Hernández’s lyric voice elevates the Minor Mystery with its true reverence of small intangibles. While Brechts and Tolstoys shine their beacons on the marble pillars of existence, Felisberto illuminates the space around pockmarks of stone shadows. You lay awake in the dark feeling strange and special in your loneliness. You are not special, and if you’re strange, you’re not alone: this is the place of Felisberto.
Esther Allen does a much better, in fact, fantastic job of introducing him. Her prologue to Lands of Memory is earnest and nearly ecstatic. Uncrowded by academicish justifications, it is a work of genuine appreciation. This refreshing essay alone makes the book remarkable. The only other Felisberto Hernández available in English is Luis Harss’ 1993 Piano Stories, which presents a better selection of stories, though in spottier translation. All in all, this glimpse of Felisberto is a supremely poignant addition to the library of regretting you don’t know Spanish. Get it before it disappears.
Vermeer’s Milkmaid and Other Stories
By Manuel Rivas
Translated from the Galician by Jonathan Dunne
$21.95, Clothbound, Overlook Press
Reviewed by Steve Dolph
For a while now I’ve only known of Manuel Rivas as a writer of poems, having seen these here and there, and stupidly pinning him exclusively to this company. I’ve also known the work of translator Jonathan Dunne for some time—I gleefully read his translation of Enrique Vila-Matas’s Bartleby and Co. over a year ago and stickynoted: solicit work for Calque. It wasn’t until I actually corresponded with Jonathan Dunne and discussed publishing some prose poems by Rivas in the forthcoming Calque that I finally managed to slouch downtown and pick up a collection of his stories. Vermeer’s Milkmaid is an excellent grouping, at once sensitive and disorienting. Fantaticism for Iron Maiden and Aerosmith pages apart from allusions to Vermeer and Yeats? You betcha. And Dunne’s translations from the Galician are nicely pitched, reaching for obscure Britishisms infrequently and tactfully in a way that captures the disglossia of Galician for what I suspect is Rivas’s largest audience, the Spanish. Here’s a taste from the eponymous story, a passage that flirts with the way Rivas sounds in his prose poems:
I am three. I remember it all very well. Better than what went on today, before I started this story. I even remember what the others maintain did not happen. For example. My godfather – and I don’t know how he got it – brings a turkey for Chrismas. On Christmas Eve, the animal escapes up the hill for Hercules Tower, pursured by all the neighbours. When they’re just about to catch it, the turkey spreads its wings impossibly and flies out to sea like a wild goose. That was one of the things I saw that did not happen.
Whatever kept me from realizing until very recently that Rivas is a storyteller, and that Dunne has translated his prose with aplomb again and again is beyond me. It strikes me as alarming evidence of my drifting taste under the criminal influence of shady people like Bela and Brandon.