Book of the Cold – Antonio Gamoneda (tr. Katherine M. Hedden & Victor Rodríguez Núñez)

There are writers … who are interested in
reality and turn to verisimilitude or realism.
They are confused; both are artifice.
Antonio Gamoneda ‘La pobreza’

As the publisher, World Poetry Books, website states; “‘Book of the Cold’ is the long-overdue English translation of legendary Spanish poet Antonio Gamoneda’s 1992 long poem—a surreal, folkloric, modernist masterpiece between poetry and prose.” In 2006 Antonio Gamoneda received the two highest honours a poet can receive in the Spanish-speaking world, the Reina Sofia Poetry Prize and the ‘Premio de Literatura en Lengua Castellana Miguel de Cervantes” (‘Miguel de Cervantes Prize’), an award that is awarded annually to honour the lifetime achievement of an outstanding writer in the Spanish language. Other winners include Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, Ana María Matute and Elena Poniatowska. However, until now Antonio Gamoneda’s work has been largely ignored by English language translators.

As the translator’s note, titled ‘Translating Radical Reality’, points out, “Gamoneda is not an “establishment” poet, one concerned with maintaining the status quo or accommodating the reader”, we have a book length long poem in the modernist tradition.

His work is challenging: elliptical, hermetic, and what my co-translator Victor Rodríguez Núñez would call dialogic. (Translator Katherine M. Hedeen)

Broken into seven sections;

Georgics,

The Snowkeeper,

Still,

Impure Pavane,

Saturday,

Cold of Limits, and

(blank),

the ‘Book of the Cold’ requires an immersion into an alien, frigid world. The realm of the Franco dictatorship, extending to the post-Franco era. A place of uncertainty, repetition, distance, and the work brings all these uncomfortably to the fore.

I am unafraid and hopeless. From a hotel outside destiny, I see a
black beach and, far off, the great eyelids of a city whose sorrow
is no business of mine.

The personal touches, is our poet being left out in the “cold” (?), brings a sense of gloom, a person uncertain of where they fit in the cultural milieu one who is challenging (through their writing) the “rules”, an experimentation that plays with time (through rhythmical shifts) and deconstructs the natural order of things.

There is a grass whose name is unknown; this is how my life has been.

Space on the page also plays with the shifting rhythms, as well as speeding up, slowing down the cadence, at no time is the reader given the liberty of resting.

You see the mirror with no quicksilver. It is only glass immersed
in shadow and within it your face. Like this

You are within yourself.

There’s also the shift from first to second person to third person, is the first-person nature, is it the “cold”, is it the poet?

There’s an old man before an empty path. No one returns from
the distant city; only the wind over the last traces.

I am the path and the old man. I am the city and the wind.

Repetition also comes to the fore, with images repeated but distorted, an uncomfortable read where you question your perception of reality. All of these elements, time, space, repetitiveness, uncomfortableness being a sub-pot for the Franco era?

Love, you lasting on my lips:

There is a disheartened honey beneath the helixes and the
shadows of great women and in the summer anguish it drops
like mercury until it reaches the blue heart stone.

Love, you lasting on my lips: cry between my legs,

Eat the disheartened honey.

Back to our translator’s note, “the poetry requires an active reader, one who must accept being a co-creator”, there is the feeling of co-creation you pause, re-read, think about the order of the words, and then you realise Gamoneda is not “concerned with maintaining the status quo or accommodating the reader”.

If Gamoneda’s poetry can be seen as an alternative to poetry of experience’s “excellent literature,” I would offer up translating Book of the Cold into English as a way to challenge similar trends in the U.S. In this way, it is an instance of what I have called, in an earlier essay, strategic personality. There, I argue for choosing to translate Spanish American poets who refuse to follow the conventions of how U.S Americans want them to write as a way to disrupt the neocolonialist unidirectional circulation of ideas from North to South back to North again (if the North deems it necessary). (Translator Katherine M. Hedeen)

A collection that challenges, that forces you to work hard, that elicits dark and twisted dreams, a challenge to the expected norms, and a thoroughly enjoyable (if not different) experience. Another great title from World Poetry Books.

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2 thoughts on “Book of the Cold – Antonio Gamoneda (tr. Katherine M. Hedden & Victor Rodríguez Núñez)

  1. Pingback: ‘The Silent Letter’ – Jaume Subirana (tr. Christopher Whyte) | Messenger's Booker (and more)

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