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Tres Ojos

January 10, 2011

Today I did not meet my goal. Today I was not as productive as I intended to be. Today, I went to Los Tres Ojos, an underground cave system in the east part of Santo Domingo. It was amazing.

So though no excuse, it did take up the bulk of my day, plus by the time we got back to our neighborhood I was boiling in the heat and humidity.

But I did get 1/2 of the way through Praises & Offenses: Three Women Poets from the Dominican Republic. I managed to finish reading the selection of the early 20th century poet Aida Cartagena Portalatin. And frankly, the selection was longer than the book I read yesterday, so I feel ok about that. Also, three caves-as-eyes, three women poets – today was a trinitarian kind of day. A nice parallel. Ok, back to the book.

Aida Cartagena Portalatin is one of the most important 20th C Dominican writers, and in her life she published eight collections of poetry. The selection here is substantial, and the translator/editor Judith Kerman succeeded in making it feel comprehensive. It certainly captures several styles, from the early heavily surrealist-influenced work through the middle elegiac and more obviously political to the final terse lyrics overtly concerned with race politics. The poetry is very interesting, and though the translation falls flat in many of the early surrealistic poems (“I will disguise your shout with rare exaggerations, / secret understandings without agony.”) Kerman hits the rhythms and beauty of the final lyric pieces spectacularly.

I was reading something yesterday for work I do updating the ALTA Facebook page that quoted Michael Heinrich Heim as saying translation is always a gain, because before English readers had nothing and now they have the translation. I want to agree, I really do, but that still seems to problematically hinge on ideas of an immutable text that can be packaged and transferred from one language to another. It may not be perfect, he seems to be saying, but it’s “the text” in some form or another. Or perhaps there’s this idea of the essence of the text that is looming behind the both the original and the translation that can be accessed through either, though perhaps somehow less directly through the translation. I have to think more about this.

In any case, without also reading the Spanish it’s sometimes hard to tell in these poems whether the lapse into cliche is because of the time and cultural differences or because of a lacking of language. What is truly captivating about these poems is the fierceness of the language, which comes across best in the sparse final poems, the series “memories in black” and “extermination in grey”.

I’m going to read the second two poets, who make up the second half of the book, tomorrow. I’m also going to be reviewing this book for reals, so won’t say anymore now.

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