When I pick up a book of poems labelled “nature poetry” I expect images of autumn leaves, sunrises and sunsets, flowers in various stages from spring through the end of summer, tracking a first person reflection on life’s challenges. Roethke, Ammons, and contemporary poets such as Patti Anne Rogers craft authentic metaphorical images from nature, but for the most part nature poems can seem tired or forced. D’Aquino’s poems are deeply informed by the natural world, but his images are fresh, the reach of his poetry is into a fusion of the natural world with human experience that does not privilege one over the other.
Gander is one of the English-speaking world’s foremost translators of contemporary, living poets from Latin America. In his introduction Gander explains that D’Aquino lives a life apart from the central poetic world found in Mexico City, which Gander terms as combative. Instead D’Aquino has lived on the outskirts of Cuernavaca, in jungle-like vegetation where the poet has learned the names and uses of plants, and is an expert on the fauna. Gander and D’Aquino had significant face-to-face time, together translating each other’s works into their respective native languages—so fitting for a poet who translates between the human and natural, as if this is the node in which D’Aquino dwells. The poems are presented with the original Spanish facing the English translation.
While this volume is a selection of poems from several previous books, they are arranged in a way that gives insight into D’Aquino’s poetics. One of the first poems, a longer one whose last line gives the volume its title, is “Networks.” It begins:
internodes gleaned between dreams
cattails grasses circles
pale sapwood trembling tender
seed berry grass
the apperception of each blade
the distinction of each blade
and gaps gleaming between them all
crops of words
“the ten thousand growing things”
D’Aquino is building a concrete world of related particularity—the stand-apart, in lists—perceived, then merged with language, the “crops of words.” Attention is given to the things themselves, from the general to the particular, and the space that separates, but all in connectedness to create a whole as the wide-angle view zooms in. Perhaps the best place to capture the interplay between the natural and the written as found in D’Aquino’s use of language is that first line, “resonant forms.”
Note the Taoist “ten thousand things,” plentitude. In the longest poem of the collection D’Aquino draws from another ancient source, the Greek mythological figure Zagreus, a pre-figuration of Dionysus. D’Aquino is one of those thinkers so immersed in the particularities of place and life that the vision and vocabulary opens up to other traditions not in a superficial, buffet-style borrowing, but in a mastery of similarities that joins times and cultures.
Two poems further in the resonant forms become even more explicit in “Spores,” arranged on the page as lists of three joined images on each line, separated by a dot:
Rhyme and rubble • Lily and line • Bough and ballad
. . . .
Thought’s nut • Sonorous membrane • Lingual root
The effectiveness of this use of language on the page accumulates over 20 lines. The poem “Frond” is a concrete poem, with related stanzas appearing side by side, separated by a hollow “stalk” of space, seven paired leaves/stanzas that reach to the ground with the last line/frond,
While most of the poems here are shamanistic summonings, my favorite poem of the volume is one of the few narrative poems, during which the poet goes on a walk that leads to unexpected results. “13” starts:
As I walk, I’m holding in mind
two visions in counterpoint,
or better yet, two co-penetrating visions:
the carnal abyss where all empties out
and my vivid perception of airborne threads
that interweave and connect everything.
I pause to pick up a stone
and this act which I’ve repeated countless times
. . . .
As he “squint[s] fixedly” at the stone he experiences some version of a moment in time where connections are briefly made, with the violet filaments in the stone “joining the filaments in my hands / and emptying out in the lake of luminous air . . .” The very existence of the stone, he realizes, will “burn his hand” and “bruise his eye,” so that he flings the rock to his immediate regret; it arcs through the “luminous suspended sky” into the
mental depths of the lake
the elemental depths of the water
in its fall
to the bottom of itself
As I go on walking . . .
As usual, Copper Canyon Press has produced a beautiful book, and closely in time to another volume of Spanish poetry, edited again by Gander but of poems from multiple poets by multiple translators, curated by Raul Zurita, Pinholes in the Night: Essential Poems from Latin America, also from Copper Canyon.
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .
Last year, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was an unexpected critical hit. Now, it’s just been published in the U.S. and has already received a great deal of positive critical attention. The Vegetarian was a bold book to attempt as an. . .
It’s been almost a year since the publication of Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, but despite being included on the 2015 PEN Translation award longlist, and some pretty vocal support from key indie presses, the book has. . .