9 March 16 | Chad W. Post

Yesterday I wrote a long preview of Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, the Reading the World Book Club fiction book for March. Today, I’m switching over to our poetry selection—Diorama by Rocío Cerón, translated from the Spanish by Anna Rosenwong (Phoneme Media.)

As always, you can post your thoughts and opinions about all of the RTWBC books in the comments section below, on Twitter using the hashtag #RTWBC, or at the Facebook Group.

Anna Rosenwong’s Introduction

Anna’s introduction to Diorama might not put all readers at ease, but I think it’s worth quoting from here because it does provide a couple suggestions for how to approach the collection:

Translating Rocío Cerón’s Diorama was at first baffling. As an experienced translator and as a less than conventional poet myself, I know better than to seek clarity or narrative or concrete structure in experimental poetry. Nonetheless, it is precisely this sort of legibility that readers often demand of translated work, which can result in selection bias; difficult, experimental, or what Cole Swenson calls “immanent” poetry is often left untranslated in favor of the more familiar and legible. Diorama is not plainly legible. It is essentially impressionistic, stubbornly elusive, and at times outright hallucinatory.

To get closer to this book, I found I needed—and I urge the reader—to set aside notions of tractability and surrender to its associative and auditory insights. So much of reading and translating poetry is training your ear to the text’s private language, particularly in a text like this, where sound often provides the surest foothold amid the rush of cascading images. This emphasis on sound is demonstrated by Cerón’s enveloping, fierce live performances, and perceptive readers may find much to gain by putting the book down and trying the lines aloud for themselves, attentive not only to sound and rhythm but to the play and gripping of words in the mouth. In its repetitions, its incantations, its subtle and unexpected linguistic linkages, this is work that demands to be spoken and heard.

An Example

The book opens with “13 Ways to Inhabit a Corner,” which is made up of thirteen short pieces. (Obviously.) Here are two of them:


Ostriches in flight—there are women whose words are ash trees. Shadows stitch together harbors of air. In the midst of the stampede, a hand rests on the arc of a kneecap. Cigar and smoke. Rosy cypress sleep. The scent reaches far beyond the border. From the bureau—power, smile destroyed/ocher temptation, strophic enjambed body. Vestibule.


Jubilation and adoration in parentheses. Above the long hair of that woman, seen in Baden-Baden, a galaxy hangs. No satellite rings. No saintly crown. Aftershock. Pealing bells (no ecclesiastical province) whisper a half-truth. White and cracked. The lips. We need a new password to get back to the world in time. While the word appears, she draws a spiral in the water. Resplendence.

Anna mentioned section “XII” in her intro stating, “To her translator, it appears that Diorama is Cerón’s attempt to find or forge that password.” Which is intriguing to me.

The Sounds of the Poems

Going back to Anna’s suggestion to listen to the poems, to read them aloud, here are two videos that give you a sense of what the poem sounds like.

And, even more interesting, here’s Rocío herself reading “Sonata Mandala to the Penumbra Bird” as part of the Maintenant Series at Poetry Parnassus.

The Author

Rocío Cerón is from Mexico City and her work combines poetry with music, performance, and video. In addition to Diorama (or DIORAMA? Sometimes it’s in all caps) she’s published Basalto, Imperio/Empire, and Tiento. Her poems have been translated into a number of languages, including Finnish, French, Swedish, and German.

Here’s an interview with her for Poetry Parnassus:

SJ Fowler: Mexican poetry has long been an immense and formidable tradition, reflecting so much of the passion and invention of Mexican culture itself. Octavio Paz is obviously a world-renowned figure, but I think his anthology of Mexican poetry, in conjunction with Samuel Beckett, really opened many eyes in the English-speaking world to the depth of the poetry historically in Mexico. Is this tradition ever present to contemporary poets?

Rocío Cerón: Mexican poets are children of their own traditions and customs, for better or worse. Young poets disdain their ancestors and they frequently succumb to them. I think this is only natural and I don’t think that this happens only in Mexican poetry. My generation does not live under the weight of Octavio Paz anymore. There is a chorus of voices and ways of looking at the world. The global era has played an important role in poetry; for example, by bringing together traditions as far as those of the Slavic world and the indigenous pre-Hispanic poetry. Using Internet these influences can dialogue and share their experience. Translation has become a great tool to re-signify different traditions and their poetic legacies.

SJF: Multi-disciplinary approaches to poetry seem very important to you, fusing the art form with music and art. How central is this to your work?

RC: I was raised in a family headed by my grandfather, who was a scientist, and my grandmother, who was an avid reader and storyteller. Contemporary art has nurtured my poetry. It has become an important influence in my writing and led me to something I call “expanded poetry” (the type of poetry that seeks a dialogue and allows for breaking borders between disciplines). Writing from many angles has been a natural process for me. I am interested in the kind of transversal poetry I call Galaxy Projects, meaning a fusion of language, music, action, video and the body.

It’s a really interesting interview—be sure and check out the whole thing! There’s also a short conversation with Rocío and Anna that World Literature Today published shortly after Diorama won the Best Translated Book Award.

If all goes according to plan, we’ll run a short interview with her some time next week.

The Translator

Anna Rosenwong is a former judge of the Best Translated Book Award, and has a MFA from the University of Iowa and a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Irvine. She has also translated José Eugenio Sánchez’s Suite Prelude a/H1N1 and has published an original collection of poetry, By Way of Explanation.

And from this past ALTA conference, here’s a video of Anna and David Shook (publisher of Phoneme Media) talking about this translation and the editing process.

A Review

If you want another entryway to this collection, I’d recommend checking out this review by Anthony Seidman that appeared in Entropy.

Yet for all its experimental or “immanent” and “stubbornly elusive” language as Rosenwong writes in her informative translator’s note, Cerón’s Diorama skillfully situates itself among longer poems from Latin America which use collage, kaleidoscopic experimentation and an all-observant eye to fly over the history and landscape of a country, people or epoch. Cerón´s new collection commences with the micro, ants foraging for candy in a room, and then opens up to the macro in wider thrusts, addressing a “Pan-Latin American” exploration of “Silenced sun on the Rio Grande or the Amazon,” South America and the harrowing legacy of the Guarani and “Columbus on his knees in Hispaniola: the blindness of deer and the cunning need to procure prey: Malinche, the first American Babel.”

Hopefully by now you’re interested in reading Diorama and participating in this month’s RTWBC!

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