EILEEN TABIOS Engages
venture of the infinite man by Pablo Neruda, Trans. by Jessica Powell
(City Lights, San Francisco, 2017)
I’ve long thought it unfortunate—and ironic—that there’s sometimes a split among poetry
lovers readers as regards traditional or lyric forms of poetry versus experimental forms. Notice that I struck-through “lovers” in that prior sentence to replace it with “readers”—that’s because I feel that a true lover of poetry should accept the varied ways through which poetry unfolds.
With that, I praise the just-released—historic release—of Pablo Neruda’s venture of the infinite man, translated by Jessica Powell. It is the first English translation of Neruda’s third book of poetry. That it is the first English translation surprises me—actually, it’s appalling—given Neruda’s fame and achievements. As Neruda himself said about it, venture of the infinite man is “one of the most important books of my poetry.”
The reasons for it being overlooked do not seem disputed: it’s a radical stylistic departure from his prior book, the much beloved Twenty Love Poems. venture of the infinite man was an experiment where, to quote from the publisher City Lights as it’s convenient to do so, “Neruda discarded rhyme, meter, punctuation and capitalization in an attempt to better capture the voice of the subconscious.” (This recalls for me, by the way, how, in an interview for my book BLACK LIGHTNING, Arthur Sze said he forgoes capitalizations in writing first drafts of poems so as not to interrupt the poems’ flow.) venture of the infinite man is presented as by its publisher as an example of a poet’s creative and intellectual development, bridging the aching, plain lyricism of Love Poems, and the unique hermeticism of Neruda’s next book, the landmark Residence on Earth.
So, per venture of the infinite man’s critics, is this book then to be dismissed as, say, just a phase in Neruda’s poetry but not itself worthy to be considered on its own? So that, as has occurred, attention and praise then would be due to Neruda’s subsequent books that benefited from his explorations through venture of the infinite man but not to venture of the infinite man itself? As if venture of the infinite man was just a means to the good poetry that would come out in Neruda post-venture? Well, at least English readers now can judge for themselves. And I, one English reader, affirm: this book should not have been kept out from the light.
Neruda’s distilled lyricism is still evident, e.g. this excerpt chosen by opening the book at random
(click to enlarge)
But you also get in venture of the infinite man Neruda’s experiments in trying to renew his poetic efforts—as described on the first page of Mark Eisner’s excellent Introduction:
Two favorite examples of Neruda’s experiments are:
this is my house
perfumed even now by the forests
from which they carted it away
there i shattered my heart like a mirror in order to walk through myself
letting the sky in deeply watching the sky i am thinking
sitting uncertainly on that edge
oh sky woven with water and paper
i began to speak to myself in a low voice determined not to leave
Such moving moments.
Really, it’s sad how those who feel Poetry can only be a certain way cast venture of the infinite man out of favor. Catch up then, Poetry Lover, in your reading by checking out this book which was so important to Neruda himself. City Light’s edition is wonderfully designed and also provides the service of offering the poem in its original Spanish. RECOMMENDED!
Eileen Tabios is the editor of Galatea Resurrects. Her 2017 poetry releases include four books, two booklets and six poetry chaps. Most recently, she released MANHATTAN: An Archaeology (Paloma Press, U.S.A.), Love in a Time of Belligerence (Editions du Cygne/SWAN World, France), and THE OPPOSITE OF CLAUSTROPHOBIA: Prime's Anti-Autobiography (The Knives Forks Spoons Press, U.K.). Her books have been released in nine countries and cyberspace. Her writing and editing works have received recognition through awards, grants and residencies. More info about her work at http://eileenrtabios.com
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