Diorama – Rocío Cerón (translated by Anna Rosenwong) – 2015 Best Translated Book Award (Poetry)

You’re going to have to forgive me from the get go on this one. As you’ve probably guessed I’ve recently had a bit of an obsession with Enrique Vila-Matas and when I read his recent work “The Illogic Of Kassel” I came across a section that I thought totally relevant to the poetic work “Diorama” by Rocío Cerón.
I dreamed of fields of grass where beatniks were grazing, fields that split into more fields and then into killing fields like a sprawling nightmare. And then I dreamed (in the part of the night closest to me waking and, therefore, to my cheerful morning mood) that somebody stole my shoes in those fields and told me that the common revered model of the “great man” was the opposite of poetry and the irreducible individuality of being unique. This view was the opposite of the poetry of the unique existence (ephemeral, unrepeatable), which did not need to be written, but only – and above all – to be lived. This second part of the dream, with its agreeable observations on the poetry of individuality, must have influenced my excellent mood the following morning, which was indeed the norm.
Onto “Diorama”, the winner of this year’s Best Translated Book Award for Poetry, and the excellent “Translator’s Note” at the opening of the collection:
Translating Rocío Cerón’s Diorama was at first baffling. As an experienced translator and as a less than conventional poet myself, I know better than to seek clarity or narrative or concrete structure in experimental poetry. Nonetheless, it is precisely this sort of legibility that readers often demand of translated work, which can result in selection bias; difficult, experimental, or what Cole Swenson calls “immanent” poetry is often left untranslated in favor of the more familiar and legible. It is essentially impressionistic, stubbornly elusive, and at times outright hallucinatory.
This book is presented in two sections, the English translation and the original Spanish versions. This may seem an odd approach, but when you learn that Rocío Cerón’s “enveloping, fierce live performances” mean you would gain a lot by trying the lines aloud for themselves “attentive not only to sound and rhythm but to the play and gripping of the words in the mouth.” “This is a work that demands to be spoken and heard”. Not only that, Cerón accompanies her works “with carefully orchestrated multimedia presentations that include still images, text, and film”. 
Opening with ‘Pinhole, 13 ways to inhabit a corner” we have:
Ostriches in flight – there are women whose words are ash trees. Shadow stitch together harbors of air. In the midst of the stampede, a hand rests on the arc of a kneecap. Cigar and smoke. Rosy cypress sleep. The scent reaches far beyond the border. From the bureau – power, smile destroyed/ocher temptation, strophic enjambed body. Vestibule.
For comparison’s sake here is the same section in Spanish
Huyen avestruces – hay mujeres cuyas palabras son fresnos. Sombras hilvanan puertos de aire. Entre la estampida reposa la mano sobre el talud de una rodilla. Habano y humo. Rojizo ciprés el sueño. El olor sigue más allá del borde. Desde el buró – poder, sonríe, destruida/tiento ocre, cuerpo estrófico en el quicio. Vestíbulo.
As we can already see the rhythm, tempo, sound and structure is very similar indeed. As an experiment I put the Spanish text through the Google translate tool – this is the output:
Huyen ostriches – there are women whose words are ash. Shadows weave air ports. Among the stampede hand rests on the slope of a knee. Cigar and smoke. Red cypress sleep. The smell continues beyond the edge. Since the bureau – power, smiles, destroyed / ocher touch, strophic body in the doorway. Lobby.
A simple comparison (albeit a lazy one using Google) but already after five lines of poetry I can see a significant difference. ‘Rosy” or ‘red’? ‘Arc of a kneecap’ or ‘slope of a knee’? ‘Far beyond the border’ or ‘continues beyond the edge’? And sorry a ‘vestibule’ is a ‘vestibule’…it’s not a ‘lobby’!!! Each and every comparison showing the deft poetic, linguistic, rhythmic touch added by translator Anna Rosenwong.
This is not a simple work to read, as our translator points out, it is best read aloud. However it drags you along building towards a mighty crescendo, making the “live performance” frenzy a reality as we move from a ‘Pinhole’ to a ‘Flyover’ through the longer poems ‘A Hundred And Twelve’ ending with ‘Sonata Mandala To The Penumbra Bird’. Only running to seventy five pages, there is a lot packed into this short work (including a photo).
Poetry not my forte on this blog, but I purchased this book based on the Best Translated Book Award win and the comments on the Three Percent website:
David Shook, the co-founder and editorial director of Phoneme Media “congratulates translator Anna Rosenwong for her masterful translation of Rocío Cerón’s Diorama, our first book of poetry and one of the most fascinating and important books to have been published in Mexico this century. Phoneme Media is incredibly grateful for the support of the BTBA’s judges and organizers, to Three Percent and its indefatigable director Chad Post, to our fellow shortlisted publishing houses, translators, and authors, and to our readers around the world. Congratulations, Anna and Rocío, on receiving this much deserved award!”
The opening “Translator’s Note” is a must read as it details the religious, cultural experiences, it leads you to avenues you didn’t know existed, and even the “smells” referenced. I must admit it was a very enjoyable read, one to be taken slowly and absorbed, a work that doesn’t need to be written it needs “to be lived”.

Baboon – Naja Marie Aidt (translated by Denise Newman) – 2015 Best Translated Book Award

Short stories, short review.
Born in Greenland, Danish language writer Naja Marie Aidt won the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize in 2008 for this short story collection (originally published as ‘Bavian’), and the translation, her first work to appear in English, was the recipient of the 2015 PEN Translation Prize. Add to the list of honours, a longlist appearance for the US based Best Translated Book Award, it meant my purposely delayed reading of these fifteen short stories to co-incide with Women In Translation Month was only heightening my sense of anticipation.
A collection which includes the surreal, the all too real, twists, simple incidents, it is not a work which can be easily classified. However the theme of fractured relationships kept bubbling to the surface.
We have stories with divorced couple, a couple with an adopted child revealing their extra marital affairs to each other, an abusive mother who beats her two-year-old child, a minor shoplifting incident which spirals out of control…
The story “The Honeymoon” explores a couple on their way to the matriarchal city of Olympus when they are attacked by a William Blake quoting savage.
Clearly the women had all the power here. He and Eva had read about it. The whole island functioned as a matriarchy; the order of succession went from mother to daughter. The women owned everything, whatever was worth owning. And here he saw it in practice; in any case, that’s what he thought. The women ran the businesses with an iron fist. The gathered outside the shops and bars, standing in small groups with their hands on their hips, and, with agitate hand movements and loud shouts, the bossed around the older boys and men who had snuck in to take a break from working. Old men with little children on their hips, boys in the middle of sweeping or carrying in goods, men dragging heavy bags home from the shops, men sweeping the stone steps, men washing dishes in the kitchens of the restaurants, whose eyes he met through the open windows. The women frightened him. There was a self-confidence in their eyes when they looked at him that he’d never seen in women before. A clear strong energy, a power, and the deep satisfaction that that power gives. Without undertones of either anger or vindictiveness. No disdain or cloying sweetness. No hint of a wish to be accepted, acknowledged, or liked.
In “The Green Darkness Of The Big Trees” we have a narrator who can only find peace and happiness whilst wandering alone in a garden:
That night I woke up crying, bathed in sweat. I had dreamed that in one single night a hurricane had stripped the leaves off all the trees in the world. I was in despair. Bare black trunks and a trembling stillness. I cried over my loneliness, which I only now understood. And I scolded myself. How could I think that you desired my company? In the mirror I saw a pathetic figure, unshaven, half bald, gray, dull red eyes with an empty expression. I couldn’t stop crying. I stayed in bed all the next day. It was Friday, I was weak and warm. I staggered down to buy a few groceries. It wasn’t until Tuesday that I returned to the garden. But I was unable to enter my silver maple. It rejected me. Or was it the opposite? The tree was silent. I felt unworthy. That’s how I was standing there, limp arms hanging at my sides, staring at the tree, at the yellow and light green leaves at its base, my legs shaking under me, wearing a coat that was far too big, when you walked up behind me, stood there quietly for a little while. I felt your gaze, and then saw you turn around. I saw your back. I saw you hurry away. In no way can I blame you for avoiding me. I would’ve done the same.
This is a collection that explores the breadth of human emotions and interactions, with “The Car Trip” giving us the all too familiar tale of what your life would be reduced to when you take four kids in a car to a summer holiday house. From a sulking teenager, seeking their own independence, through to a screaming baby, forget the romance you thought may happen whilst you are away, here is the reality.
Poetic in style, it is no shock to know Naja Marie Aidt has numerous published poetic works and linking her up with the translator Denise Newman is a coup de grace with Newman a published poet (three collections). At no stage did I find any of this varied collection cumbersome or slow, although there is a wide range of styles, from short sharp bursts, the melancholic wanderings. There is a hint of the surreal in the final story “Mosquito Bite” where our protagonist has a one night stand, where he can’t recall the full outcome, notices a mosquito bite the following day and his healthy life slowly deteriorates along with his relationship with his brothers and sisters. Is the one night stand linked to his health failing, is this some kind of metamorphosis, is it simply a mosquito bite?

This is a very enjoyable collection and a worthy inclusion on the Best Translated Book Award longlist, personally I am looking forward to Open Letter adding to Two Lines Press’ release of Naja Marie Aidt’s work with their upcoming publication “Rock, Paper, Scissors”.