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— Víctor Rodríguez Núñez

Review: Thaw, by Víctor Rodríguez Núñez

David Hart, Stride Magazine, 2013

Happenstance brings books for review, and these three in their different ways couldn't be more demonstrative of what would be missing if there were no poets. Poetry doesn't appear in News bulletins - a famous poet might appear for having died, and I don't recall any poetry scandals - nor is it obvious day by day, year by year who cares. The language of public discourse has deteriorated, is often clichéd, often superficial, often it seems banality of expression is thought to be apposite, while here without fuss are poets whose necessity and pleasure language is. They show, not least, that language can never be used up.

Having been lucky enough to review many books of poetry in translation, while the carrying over into English has in quality been variable, what is shown essentially is the otherness of poetry: the everyday language more deeply, strangely and freshly used, worldwide.

Having set these poets up for a demonstration, I need to quote from them. Victor Rodriguez Núñez is here by a complex route. Born in Havana in 1955, we are told he divides his time between Cuba and Ohio, where he is Professor of Spanish at Kenyon College. Ohio is the location for the sequence. The translator is also a Professor at Kenyon College and one can only guess which language or from one to the other they use in conversation. I have noted before how many translated poets are said to be themselves fluent in English, which has led me to question why they need a translator rather than someone - a poet preferably - who will discuss with them their own work on it.

The poems in Spanish and English on facing pages come off the page sounding, even without speaking them aloud, so different, I wonder if anything like an adequate bringing over is possible. And it is interesting to find several YouTube instances of Núñez reading, how he varies it: strenuously 'with atmosphere' to a large audience, more plainly to what seems a more academic audience and on another occasion privately sitting on a sofa.

The sequence of two-to-a-page poems all (apart from proper nouns) lower case without punctuation, a one hundred sequence, is made of snap-shots, is not a continuous narrative. Here is number 48:

in the nocturnal frost
beauty and hunger
arranged to meet once more
deer confirming
Bloom's notions of influence
grazing on the cherry blossoms
in the yard
only with blood you can amend
on an ordinary night
the folded page.

In Spanish the opening has this:

en la escarcha nocturna
se citaron de nuevo
la belleza y el hambre