Lisa Rose Bradford (2012)
Oxen Rage, with its shocking imagery and unconventional mode of writing, immediately captivated me as I read Gelman's Obra poética in the late '70s. After nearly a decade of exiled silence, the "interruptions" appeared (Interrupciones 1 and 2), the first of which contained Carta abierta (Public Letter), a tome dedicated to his son, "disappeared" by the military dictatorship of Jorge Videla.The linguistic artistry of this elegy was so moving that I translated every one of its poems before having the author's permission or an editor. Once this book found its way to print, I began to retrace my steps: Commentaries and Citations, Com/positions, and circling back again to Oxen Rage.
The diversity of genres and approaches to writing poetry found in this particular compendium in many ways springs from translation, in the most energizing sense of the word, translation being an occasion to open up the language for it to become enriched by reinvention. For example, pithy prose poems of French inspiration where, with biting fragments of sentences, he dryly ponders the social fate of jailing nonconformists; tango fusions where lines from these traditional Argentine lyrics are expanded and probed for fresh music and meaning; or the pseudotranslations of "John Wendell" and "Yamanokuchi Ando," where the author tries on styles and nationalities to experiment in new subject matter and poetic forms.
The variety of topics and voices in this volume also reflects the poet's quizzical "oxen" attitude of stubborn sadness and strength, often, too, with an ambivalence in meaning -- oral vs. written -- when neologisms and homonyms bloom like wondrous, mutating flowers and, thus, produce a tremendous translation challenge.
It's an honor to have been chosen for an NEA fellowship, which provides such solid encouragement and legitimization for both writers and translators in their creative endeavors.
from Oxen Rage by Juan Gelman
[translated from Spanish]
eugene the tender sleeps nearly fled while those who engendered these tempests have no clue to the price they'll pay for his head shining pale in the cell its light falling upon those descendants who will also be blind to what eugene was like when he smoldered and with his teaspoon warded off the beasts
celebrating its engine
the dogged heart enloves
as if it weren't battered on the bias
wingforth and back in its defiance
forwarding wings to flight
attempting nothing more
troubled by stones
like some sort of foot
feet that are footing instead of flying or how
the world the ox the daughtered would be
if we were not to devour one another
if we were to enlove much more
if we were or might be
like human faces
beginning by twos
complete amid the rest
"Strokes of luck"
you learn person by person
that this is not simple like sewing and singing
though we do sing and we do sew
how can I be sung at this point
by an entire population that piecemeals me
half toward fury half toward pleasance?
how are they to stitch me back together again?
frankly I do not know
I'm not here to ask thorny questions
those who live in love
are hoarse from thinking so hard
(Juan Gelman. Cólera Buey, Ediciones La Rosa Blindada, Buenos Aires, 1971, Ed. Seix Barral, Buenos Aires 1994)
Sample in Spanish
About Juan Gelman
Argentine poet-in-exile Juan Gelman's Oxen Rage (Cólera buey, 1965/71) is a seminal volume of unnerving wit and poignancy that has had a liberating and lasting influence on numerous Spanish-language poets. As poet Juana Bignozzi recently stated when asked who from the '60s still "makes the cut": "Gelman and his Oxen Rage remain." With his penchant for rewriting the Argentine lyrical past and social present using immense irony, wordplay and concatenating rhythms, this recipient of the Premio Cervantes showcases a variety of styles in the 200 poems of this collection -- prose poems, free verse, pseudotranslations -- in order to explore themes of love and revolution, one often morphing into the other.
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Lisa Rose Bradford, born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, holds a PhD in comparative literature from UC Berkeley and is presently teaching at the Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata, Argentina. Her poems, articles, and translations of contemporary Argentina poets have appeared in a variety of journals. Since 1997, she has edited various compendia on translation and cultural studies, including Traducción como cultura, as well as two anthologies in Spanish: Usos de la imaginación: poetas latin@s en EE.UU. and Los pájaros, por la nieve.Two volumes of her translations of Juan Gelman's verse were recently released with CIAL: Between Words: Juan Gelman's Public Letter and Commentaries and Citations, and a third, Com/positions, will appear in 2011.
Photo by Silvia Kofler