In the poem below, you can see what I'm talking about as the speaker addresses the late, unsurpassingly strange master artist Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski, 1908-2001), whose portraits of young women do feel out of time and deeply suffused with eros yet also carry, at least to me, an air of something lost, missed, amiss, something quite sinister. The speaker has an idea of what--or who--is behind that, and it isn't just the poet, and that agent is also working its seductive magic on the speaker too.
One translation note: the verb otorgar usually means to "grant" or "agree to" or even "condescend to," so I had to find an English word that would convey the meaning while also fitting the other requirements of the poem. English fortunately has an incredibly rich vocabulary, and the quite old, somewhat formal-sounding verb "bestow" seems to capture all these meanings, while also creating a rhyme with "shadows" in the first line of the first stanza, and maintaining the consonant sibilance ending each of the first four lines. It is always a challenge to capture the beautiful sonorities of the Romance languages in English, all of which have baked into them the possibility of much internal rhyme and much more regular rhythm, but English has its own resources and I try, as best I can, to utilize them in service of making the translation as effective as I can.
I'd never come across Vico's work before, but according to his book jacket, he was born in Badalona in 1975, and studied Audivisual Communication and has a Masters in Literary Theory and Comparative Theory. He's published at least one other book of poems, Víspera de ayer (Pre-textos, 2005), and two notebooks, Gozne (2009) and Densidad de abandono (2011), and has written extensively for a number of cultural magazines on issue literature and cinema. He has a vibrant blog, simply titled Juan Vico, featuring his own and others' works, and you can even see him being interviewed on it (which is the clip at the bottom of this page).
At the bookstore I also saw a novel by Vico, Hobo, set in Mississippi with a protagonist named "Bob Skinny Lunceford," his life seemingly paralleling while also diverging in many key ways from that of the great jazz saxophonist Jimmy Lunceford (also a Mississippi native), but I was watching my euros, so I'll have to get that one another time. He talks about the novel in Vimeo clip below. the Here is "Letter to Balthus," and as always, any faults with the translation are mine alone, any suggestions or comments are always welcome.
LETTER TO BALTHUS
There are neither shadows of the past nor promises
in your timeless bodies, cher Balthus,
but there is Death, who bestows
color on Thérèse's cheeks,
tousles Georgette's hair,
discovers only one breast of Elsa Henríquez
and plays with Laurence's cat
while kissing my forehead very slowly.
CARTA A BALTHUS
No hay sombras del pasado ni promesas
en tus cuerpos sin tiempo, cher Balthus
aunque sea la muerte quien otorgue
color a las mejillas de Thérèse,
le despeine a Georgette la caballera,
le descubra a Elsa Henríquez sólo un seno
y juege con el gato de Laurence
mientras besa mi frente muy despacio.
Copyright © Juan Vico, "Carta a Balthus," from Still Life, XXVIII Premi de Poesia <<Divendres culturals>> de 2011, Bellaterra: Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona Servei de Publicaciones, 2011. Copyright © John Keene, translation, 2012. All rights reserved.
UPDATE: Kai W. suggests the following translation of the second to fourth stanzas of the poem to emphasize the subjunctive mood required by "aunque":
although Death may bestow
color to the cheeks of Therese,
muss Georgette's hair
and of Elsa Henriquez, bare but one breast,
playing with Laurence's cat,
while kissing my forehead very slowly.
Copyright © Kai Wilson, 2012.
I do like this suggestion a lot, because it definitely includes the subjunctive mood and the color it casts upon the poem. I wonder if it doesn't elide that "sea," though, which suggests permanence (against the "hay" or, had he Vico chosen to use the verb "estar," impermanence); Death (which I have capitalized now, following Kai) is always there, he's saying, I think, and emphasizes this, as opposed to writing "aunque la muerte otorgue / color a las mejillas...." I thus changed "there's" to "there is," maintaining the consonance with "bestows" and the other sibilants. Morever, to keep the meter from clanging I used the English possessive form, reformulating "cheeks of Thérèse" to "Thérèse's cheeks." I also do like Kai's "bare but one breast," and I wanted to hew closer to the exact words Vico's poem, but "bare" rhymes with "hair" and tracks Vico's syntax more closely. Originally I went with "uncombs" for "despeinar," which is the literal translation--since death of course does just that, but Kai chose "muss," which is great, and that led me to go with "tousle," though in a sense "uncomb," which is a bit clunky, also captures the eeriness of the description. Death is always un-doing something to all of us, to everything. One thing I thought about was that "aunque" usually requires the subjunctive (doesn't it), it's hard to know how much the mood need translate into English. I think it should, but need it be as strong as the "may," or can it be implicit? I'm not sure but I appreciate the suggestions.