Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Veronica Volkow

Years ago, during a long sojourn in Mexico City, I became acquainted with the poetry of Veronica Volkow.  I first heard her name in conjunction with her translations, into Spanish, of Elizabeth Bishop, John Ashbery, and, among prose writers, Victor Serge and Leon Trotsky.  I was able to read a handful of her poems in the fine anthology published by Copper Canyon Press, Reversible Monuments: Contemporary Mexican Poetry, edited by Monica de la Torre and Michael Wiegers--a book I often turn to for relief from the increasingly obscure and pointless verse featured in the notable American poetry journals. Volkow and many of her contemporaries (she was born in 1955) write challenging poetry that is engaged with politics and history and political traditions within Latin America--the obvious influences on Volkow are Octavio Paz and César Vallejo, whose volume Trilce (1922) brought the aesthetic of surrealism to Latin American poetry; other influences on Volkow are mystics like St. John of the Cross and, especially, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz.  Bishop was also a central figure for Volkow, and she has noted that Bishop's sense of the opacity of reality fits her (Volkow's) own sensibility.  "We are all dancing above the void," Volkow has written, and there is in her poetry a sense of the magic of a life lived in the spirit of this dance.

This poem is from her newest collection, Arcana, and Other Poems, translated by Luis Ingelmo and Michael Smith.


El mago                                                                                   

¿Quién escuchó la voz del viento,

la palabra que dice,

su grito interminable en la montaña,

y descifró el lenguaje de los ruidos,

el galopar de letras del follaje,

y las «eles» del agua?
¿Quién atrapó con un nombre el fondo de la noche,
la rasgadura del rayo?
Poderes precisos de lo etéreo,
y un saber que rescata en manos de aire.

Lo eterno es hueco, es forma, es alma

—esa imposible sed de la memoria.

Sin cuerpo y sin las cosas,

sólo viento y sueños, las palabras,

viento tejido por los sueños,

almas al aire que el silencio olvida,

estatuas de la ausencia insomnes,

despertar de la nada hacia la nada.

Hay sombras en los sueños

que no son de las cosas,

sino cuerpos quizá de las palabras,

ánimas de los nombres,

resurrección de la llamada.

Para poder morir son las palabras:

salvación profunda de lo ido,

tiempo enamorado que habla.

The Magician

Who listened to the voice of the wind,

the word that speaks,

its unceasing shout in the mountain,

and deciphered the language of noises,

the galloping of the letters of foliage,

the liquid ‘l’s’ of water?

Who captured with a name the night’s depth

and the tearing flash of lightning?

Precise power of the ethereal,

and a knowledge that rescues in aerial hands.

The eternal is a gap, a form, a soul

—that impossible thirst of memory.

Bodiless and without substance,

nothing but wind and dreams, words,

wind woven by dreams,

souls in the air which silence forgets,

insomniac statues of absence,

waking from nothingness to nothingness.

In dreams there are shadows

which are not of things,

but maybe the body of words,

the soul of names,

the resurrection of calls.

Words are to help us die:

profound salvation of what’s gone,

time speaking in love.

Arcana and Other Poems was published by Shearsman Books, one of the best, if not the best, sources of contemporary poetry from Europe and the Americas.  Here is the link for Volkow, and for the press.

For Reversible Monuments, see

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