One of the great pleasures of having subscribed this year to Ugly Duckling Presse is being introduced to poets whose work I have not read before or in great depth and am unlikely to come across in the average bookstore. In the first group of books I received some months ago was a gem: Fire Wind (Viento de fuego), a bilingual collection of poems by Peruvian Yvan Yauri (b.1963), with translations from the Spanish by Marta del Pozo and Nicholas Rattner.
This small beauty — the collection marks the first appearance of Yauri's work in English and is his second book of poems — comprises two sections: "Fire Wind" and "Down the Tumultuous River". A nine-line epigraph precedes the former:
in that town
star of the province
territory of the cosmos
passes through the archways
we are all transparent
like torrid mountain wind
This lyrical opening is an invitation to a story, which will be told, as we'll come to see, in the first person by a fiercely passionate narrator. It is the story of the poet's love affair with the land he inhabits, not only its "earthen hips" and "tidal flanks" but its "slope aflame / where your breasts / burst with mangroves" and "I tremble . . . / in the aroma of your cold / world of wind. . . ." ("Ritual") In the presence of such wonders, we, the narrator says, are insignificant specks, "ascending toward the World / from the bottom of the Earth." ("Route")
Indeed; for even as the poet sings of his love, he acknowledges the encroaching "mule drivers of sound":
. . . wheelbarrows of stone crushed
fat of wheels turning
blood from wood
the faces can be heard creaking
spilled clay in its flavor
of the acrid stucco of work
from here the terrestrial rhythm
its filthy blanket marking the minutes
the tension of knots the fierce
vertigo of the millennium our war
of movements against the Master's
venom. . . .
~ From "Terrestrial Rhythm"
Progress, as the narrator describes it, is "voracious", its advance on and against the land being stripped of its mineral riches and other resources like an "acid", corrosive; fighting it — "[t]his balm we spread with such dazzling certainty" ("Autumn Time") — is "like a gill's heaving against time" ("Like a Gill's Heaving").
Greed for what the earth gives up to us collides, inevitably, with culture and old ways of life until "it all surges forth", "the fission of hatred the plague" ("Return of the Rain").
Peru the unnamed modern state, is broken, the narrator makes clear in the second section, which consists of a series of continuous, untitled stanzas, and no matter how often "you search again for the song / in its old haunt", ". . . they reappear / their tentacles / more like hooks. / Drilling with hysteria / into these refuges":
. . . we are
our final origin. . . .
. . . we are
all the gods
the century's equinox
the moon at midday
the most eternal mortals
on the planet.
Text in Spanish appears on every even-numbered page, the translations on the immediate facing pages. Quecha words found in the text appear in an informative Glossary at the end of the book, which should not be overlooked. The covers are printed letterpress. The UDP edition is limited to 1,000 copies.
Brandon Holmquest at Asymptote offers an interesting critical appreciation of the translations in this collection.
For information about UDP subscriptions, go here.
Biographical information about Yauri and his translators is here.