Review by Thomas Sanfilip
DIADEM: SELECTED POEMS
by Marosa di Giorgio, tr. by Adam Giannelli
BOA Editions Ltd.
250 N. Goodman. St.
Rochester, NY 14607
The line that separates prose from poetry is often indistinct, but palpable, not so much two, but one that extends beyond any poetic formalism the poet may consciously set out to articulate. In point of fact, what becomes more important is the distinct purity or impurity of the poetic consciousness that yields forth such a fusion in prose vernacular that either succeeds or fails to bridge to the realm of the truly poetic. In this, Uruguayan poet Marosa di Giorgio succeeds beyond expectation as rendered in this first extended English translation of her work chosen to represent the full range of her poetic expressionism. A sensitive and poetically vibrant translation by Adam Giannelli provides a compelling context to experience the rich tapestry of her work as it extends over a lifetime of writing in her distinct poetic idiom.
Di Giorgio, who died in 2004, considered her work one narrative, and Giannelli has expertly constructed his translation around selections taken from seven books of the fourteen published in her lifetime in order to approximate her seamless poetic line of thematic engagement. This might have been labored and inconclusive as a reading experience, but Giannelli applies the right balance to di Giorgio’s work, sustaining the consistent tonality essential to a complete immersion in di Giorgio’s sentient being.
What is immediate apparent in di Giorgio’s prose poems is how the transformative aspects of her being dictate her syntax. More than that, she uncovers the amorphic nature of all existence, at least poetically expressed. At a deeper level, what she reveals in her transmutations from one form to the next is an existential vacuity that seems to bear the whole weight of human existence often lived through her alone. She rides these inevitable transitions in half-awe as they strip her memories of their human value.
Last night, again, the Shadow returned; although a hundred years had passed, we recognized it instantly. It went past the violet garden, the bedroom, the kitchen; it circled the candy dishes, the plates white as bone, the candy dishes smelling of roses.
For di Giorgio, all things animal, human, or vegetal share in a universal nature, but at some point transcend their own inherent shape, purpose or being. She expresses this in continuous revelation, merging with all things existent at whatever state of evolution. As such, her prose is reminiscent of the reductionism of French poet Francis Ponge, but also evokes the organic shapes of Joan Miro.
Sometimes, the horses gather over there. The owls, with their dark overcoats, thick spectacles, and strange little bells, summon the mushrooms, white as bones, as eggs.
What di Giorgio seems to resurrect in all her physical transmutations, inadvertent perhaps, but quite palpable, is a deeper chthonic reality that poetry normally never reaches, manifesting itself as a kind of Sibylline articulation of what her being is in relation to the world’s elementality, but without the overt prophetic qualities attendant to a true oracular utterance. As a result, her poetics emerge from organic primalities that know no boundaries, at least in her perception of ever-evolving substances, human and otherwise. These boundaries are freely crossed in poetic prose that, as a distinct form of poetic sensibility, substantiates this eternal process of reconfiguration.
For years we ate devil stew/I wish I could explain its irresistible flavor and it’s very difficult; the scent of a dead body larded with jasmine.
Di Giorgio transmutes a difficult poetic vernacular that successfully opens space between what in reality we understand definitionally as language and something other that breaks through her translation of the world’s substance. This is hard to describe poetically since what is really at issue is the authenticity of poetic consciousness as opposed to mere facility with words.
On this score, di Giorgio cannot be faulted, though it is necessary for the reader to move beyond a limited expectation of what is reasonably expressed poetically. What these reasonable expectations are cannot be anticipated, except that her work breaks beyond a certain barrier of linear consciousness to tell us more about our connection to all things substantial. Di Giorgio does this by revealing the world’s vegetal soul at some deeper level of fear and longing. Even God takes on substantiality.
God’s here/God speaks/Sometimes at night, when I least expect it, his face, his forehead, emerges among our things, massive and tiny as a star. Shimmering and motionless.
At some point, di Giorgio brings about a cyclical understanding of all existences that make up the world, and though her continual revolution around these cycles and transformations may after a time feel poetically redundant by the sheer exercise of her perceptual instincts, her poetry becomes the vehicle through which existence is either affirmed or rediscovered. Hers is a poetry rendered vibrant and living in English through a skillful translator’s hands that manages to convey the essence of her native Spanish into a nearly perfect mirror of di Giorgio’s poetic essence.
Thomas Sanfilip’s poetry and fiction have appeared in such publications as the Shore Poetry Anthology, Thalassa, Ivory Tower, Nit & Wit and Tomorrow. Five previous collections of poetry have been published: By the Hours and the Years (Branden Press, 1972), Myth/A Poem (Iliad Press, 2002), The Art of Anguish (2004), Last Poems (2007), Figures of the Muse (2012), in addition to a collection of short fiction, The Killing Sun (2006), all previous four published by Ara Pacis. A collection of published and unpublished essays will be published in 2013 by Bigio Morato titled Poetry in the Age of Impurity. Presently he lives in the Chicago area and has written for a variety of publications, including Book Page, Rain Taxi, Letter Ex, Filmfax, Film Quarterly, Film Score Monthly, The Journal of Popular Film and Television, and the Walt Whitman Encyclopedia.