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:

resonant forms
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.


Comments are disabled for this article.

....

fungus skull eye wing
By Alfonso D’Aquino
Translated by Forrest Gander
Reviewed by Grant Barber
110 pages, paperback
ISBN: 978-1556594472
$17.00
The Dispossessed
The Dispossessed by Szilárd Borbély
Reviewed by Jason Newport

To be, or not to be?

Hamlet’s enduring question is one that Szilárd Borbély, acclaimed Hungarian poet, verse-playwright, librettist, essayist, literary critic, short-story writer, and, finally, novelist, answered sadly in the negative, through his suicide in 2014, at the. . .

Read More >

A Greater Music
A Greater Music by Bae Suah
Reviewed by Pierce Alquist

A Greater Music is the first in a line of steady and much-anticipated releases by Bae Suah from key indie presses (this one published by Open Letter). Building off of the interest of 2016 Best Translated Book Award longlist nominee. . .

Read More >

Two Lost Souls: on "Revulsion" and "Cabo De Gata"
Two Lost Souls: on "Revulsion" and "Cabo De Gata" by Horacio Castellanos Moya; Eugen Ruge
Reviewed by Tim Lebeau

The dislocation of individuals from the countries of their birth has long been a common theme in contemporary literature. These two short novels recently translated into English appear firmly rooted in this tradition of ex-pat literature, but their authors eschew. . .

Read More >

Melancholy
Melancholy by László Földényi
Reviewed by Jason Newport

In Melancholy, Hungarian author, critic, and art theorist László Földényi presents a panorama of more than two thousand years of Western historical and cultural perspectives on the human condition known as melancholia. In nine chapters, Földényi contrasts the hero worship. . .

Read More >

The Hatred of Music
The Hatred of Music by Pascal Quignard
Reviewed by Jeanne Bonner

Pascal Quignard’s __The Hatred of Music_ is the densest, most arcane, most complex book I’ve read in ages. It’s also a book that covers a topic so basic, so universal—almost primordial—that just about any reader will be perversely thrilled by. . .

Read More >

Fragile Travelers
Fragile Travelers by Jovanka Živanović
Reviewed by Damian Kelleher

In Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Flaubert attempted to highlight the ordinary, tired, and often crass nature of common expressions by italicising them within the text. When Charles, Emma Bovary’s mediocre husband, expresses himself in a manner akin to that of. . .

Read More >

Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei
Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei by Eliot Weinberger
Reviewed by Russell Guilbault

Eliot Weinberger takes big strides across literary history in his genuinely breathtaking short work, 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, tracking translations of a short ancient Chinese poem from the publication of Ezra Pound’s Cathay in 1915 to Gary. . .

Read More >