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Latest Review: "Birds for a Demolition" by Manoel de Barros

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by BTBA judge Erica Mena on fellow BTBA judge Idra Novey’s translation from the Portuguese of Manoel de Barros’s Birds for a Demolition, which came out from Carnegie Mellon University Press earlier this year.

Erica Mena is a poet, a translator, and visible. She joined the BTBA poetry committee this year, and has reviewed for us in the past. She’s also the host of the “Reading the World Podcast series”: http://www.rochester.edu/College/translation/threepercent/?s=tag&t=reading-the-world-podcast which is available by clicking there, or at the side, or on the iTunes.

I don’t know much about Manoel de Barros, but Idra Novey is phenomenal, and if she translated something, I’m sure it’s good. Idra is the director of the Literary Translation at Columbia program. (Quick observation: so they’re using the “at” in the acronym? Is that because LTAC is that much easier to pronounce than LTC? Must be another department with that same LTC designation . . . The Long Term Care program?) She’s also a poet, a translator, and an overall awesome spokeswoman for literature in translation.

And as mentioned above, she’s also a member of the BTBA poetry panel. And just to make sure no one thinks the fix is in, to avoid potential conflicts, Birds for a Demolition won’t be considered for this year’s award.

But that doesn’t stop us from reviewing it . . .

Birds for a Demolition is a deceptively slight book of deceptively simple poems. Poems that at first glance seem embedded in the natural world, in the landscape of Brazil, in the language of the wetlands. But this is in fact an expansive collection, spanning more than forty years of Manoel de Barros’s illustrious career and a breadth of styles and subjects. Idra Novey’s first triumph in this book is the selection of these poems, which make clear the development of the poets trajectory, while elucidating de Barros’s unwavering interest in language and the poetic self. Her second is her successful performance, as she put it in an interview with Subtropics, of de Barros’s voice in English.

These sparse poems are poems of “re” and poems of “un.” Poems that reinvent the natural world, that undo the poetic self, that redraw the relationship between language and nature and undermine it. “Before anything else a poem is an un-utensil.” (“from Thrush in Darkness III”).

Click here to read the full piece.



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