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Nunez and Hedeen - a Great Double Act

Posted 8th March 2012

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We had a wonderful evening last night with Victor Rodriguez Nunez reading at the White Lion Inn in Hebden Bridge, alongside his translator/wife Katherine Hedeen. They are another example of how fruitful a relationship between poet and translator can be when they're husband and wife - Mourid Barghouti is translated by his wife, Radwa Ashour, and Razmik Davoyan by his, Armine Tamrazian. Katherine put this partly down to understanding her husband's thought processes, knowing exactly what he was wanting to say, while also having the kind of frank relationship in which if she didn't get it right, he'd be quick to point it out.

They were also a great double act in terms of readig voices/styles - he the fast dynamo in Spanish and she somewhat softer English echo. The bounce between the two voices hightlighted the rhythm of the poems, the melody that rose above literal meaning, and hung as a sensation around the poems.

Victor's choice of poems displayed his fascination with rhythm over rhyme, and (near) obsession with numbers - 7 being his favourite - reading from Thaw, a new book-length poem of decimas (10 line stanzas) and also from poems that followed strict syllabics. He explained how such numerical rigour created structures from which he could explore new ways of saying things, of cutting the wheat from the chafe, providing a way of editing his notebooks, he seemed to be saying. As well as the fun of imposing such structures upon himself. He was quick to point out such fascination in numbers in form was not new, rather that he was proud to be following in the footsteps of Mallarme in his interest in syllabics. It reminded me of the comment: 'Poetry is mathematics' - music in words. Although as I reminded him, he said once that "poetry is something only possible if we disregard words". His cluster of images, revelling and dancing in the space of a page (space, which itself creates rhythm - punctuated by silence), reinforce his search for expression that does not rely solely on words.

We talked too about his relationship with Cuba. He has been living in the States for the past fifteen years, not as a political exile, he pointed out, but like many of his fellow (European) lecturers it suits him to work there. His family is in Cuba and he obviously draws on it for much of his work, and clearly celebrates its spirit as his spirit.

So we ended the evening giddy with the scales of poetry, feeling refreshed and invigorated by observations swinging from the benefit of mistakes to watching the regeneration of nature around him.