Thursday, April 26, 2012

Poems + Translations: Ana Cristina César

Ana Cristina César (from
Several years ago I came across the poetry of Ana Cristina César (1952-1983), and was immediately struck by how different they looked and sounded in Portuguese, to much of the Brazilian poetry I had been reading. Or they looked different primarily because I did not yet have a context for them. As I read more and studied up on César, I learned that there were, in fact, a number of poets (Cacaso, Chacal, Francisco Alvim and Paulo Leminski, among others) with whom and with whose work hers was in conversation, though that did not diminish the singular quality of her poems for me. I also learned that she was and is still considered one of the most important Brazilian poets of the 1970s era.  A native of São Paulo, she lived in Rio de Janeiro, studied and spent time in London, and later resided in Brasília. What I was detecting in the Portuguese was a poetry that, whether written in verse or prose, often unfolds like a conversation or dialogues, the intimacy enhanced and mitigated by Cesar's quiet, often irreverent, sometimes quite dark humor; a wide range of references, allusions and irony; and above all by her attentiveness to the power and limits of eros.  A queer, feminist poet, César produced poetry that represents a critique, in important ways, of the traditions, in Brazilian and more globally, of poetry as it has developed.  Sometimes her poetry doesn't look like poetry at all; it approximates what another poet I've am drawn to, Nicanor Parra, has called anti-poetry.  At the very least it raises the question of what is poetic, what is literary, and who has the power to designate it as such. American literature and culture was particularly important to her at one stage in her life, and one her strangest little poems comprises nothing more than an index of names of figures she considered significant to her life and art. It is, appropriately, titled "Index of Proper Names" ("Index onomástica"); I include it below.

As the dates above suggest, hers was a brief life, though she began publishing her poetry in childhood, and by the time she was in her 20s, she had gained public notice as an avant-garde pioneer, ranking among the best of the Poetas marginas (Marginal Poets). She was also queer, and her work espoused a discernible feminism. Her fame inside and outside Brazil has steadily grown since her death, by suicide, at the age of 31. During her lifetime she published several collections, including the acclaimed Luvas de pelica (Kid Gloves, 1980), and A teus pés (At Your Feet, 1982), as well as the prose work Literatura não é documentação (Literature Is Not Documentation), on the politics of documentary filmmaking.  I have translated a number of her poems, and featured a rough translation of one (with a companion poem by another Brazilian poet favorite of mine, Leminski), on this blog back in 2010.  Although there is a fine British selection of her poems, Intimate Diary, translated by Cecilia McCullough, Patricia E. Page, and David Treece (Boulevard Books, 1997), I don't believe an American one exists. A fellow translator told me the other day, however, that a very famous American poet is now translating Cesar, so her translations will probably appear in book form before any of mine do. At least I have this blog.

Here then are "First Lesson" and "Index of Proper Names," both of which I translated from a bilingual Spanish-Portuguese anthology of her work entitled Álbum de Retazos: Antología Critica Bilinguë, Ana Cristina César, edited by Luciana Di Leone; Florencia Garramuño; and Ana Carolina Puente, Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 2003. The first is overtly about poetry of a particular kind, the second about literature more broadly. Both press at the very limits of what lyric poetry is; are they--especially the second--even poems as we usually know them? Also it's Poem in Your Pocket Day; both of these poems are short enough to carry around in a pocket or your memory, whichever's easier.


The genres of poetry are: lyric, satirical, didactic,
    epic, light.
The lyric genre comprises lyricism.
Lyricism is the translation of a subjective feeling, sincere
    and personal.
It is the language of the heart, of love.
Lyricism is also so named because in other times
    sentimental verses were declaimed to the sound of
    the lyre.
Lyricism can be:
a) Elegiac, when it treats sad matters, almost always death.
b) Bucolic, when verse about rustic subjects.
c) Erotic, when verse about love.
Elegiac lyricism comprises the elegy, the dirge, the
    threnody, the epitaph, and the epicedium, or funeral
Elegy is poetry which treats dolesome topics.
The dirge is poetry in homage to a dead person.
It was declaimed beside a bonfire on which the corpse was
Threnody is a poetry which reveals the heart's sorrows.
Epitaph is a short verse form engraved on tombstones.
Epicedium is a poetry which relates to the life
    of a dead person.
I look for a long while at a poem's body
until I lose sight of whatever is not body
and feel, separated between my teeth,
a filament of blood
on my gums


Alvim, Francisco
Augusto, Eudoro
Bandeira, Manuel
Bishop, Elizabeth
Buarque, Helô
Carneiro, Angela
Dickinson, Emily
Drabik, Grazyna
Drummond, Carlos
Freitas F°, Armando
Holiday, Billie
Joyce, James
Kleinman, Mary
Mansfield, Catherine
Meireles, Cecilia
Melim, Angela
Mendes, Murilo
Muricy, Katia
Paz, Octavio
Pedrosa, Vera
Rhys, Jean
Stein, Gertrude
Whitman, Walt

All poems, Copyright © Ana Cristina César, 2006, 2012; Translations by John Keene, 2010, 2012. All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment