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the pink trophy table of non-being: A Review of Alma Venus by Pere Gimferrer

By David Swartz.

“the hand of a white washer”

With a rapid-fire succession of metaphors, similes and allusions, Alma Venus presents itself with descriptive force and sustained energy. Adrian West’s translation is razor sharp, passionate, courageous, and resourceful. This is not poetry for the timid, nor is it poetry for despisers of dictionaries. Gimferrer is historical, epic, didactic, ironic, visionary, and above all, never alone. Anthologizing words, ideas, memories and achievements of representative poets and artists from across the western tradition Gimferrer intermingles life and death. In the process, he finds his own voice. What is a poem if not the poet’s own biography? And what is a poet’s biography if not the poet’s own reading history?

They are in the past and today I cross them,

In a sheet draped, chasing myself.

Everything is a pact of irreality:

The intermingling of life and death means that nothing is absolutely in one world or another. The poet himself resides between light and shade, sun and shadow, in the poem itself.

Real, above all, in the poem…

I came from living in the poem

So that thus, the poem would live in me.

Reality, a major theme throughout Gimferrer’s work, is not only about perception, language and history, but more specifically about living amongst shadows and shades.

How the black-mouthed sun devours us:

We have lived by clinging to shadows.

This reappearing trope assures us that Gimferrer’s pathway through poetry is inter-personal. When he writes “They are in the past and today I cross them”, “them” refers to the members of his library. “We” refers to us poets and readers in the realm of the living. Gimferrer is a fraternity of atemporal voices, an anthology of inner-space reunion with time past.

Moreover, Gimferrer paints with fire-eating hands. “The fire-eaters of the stolen word, / Surrounded by the image-crafting wind.” Gimferrer’s school, founded by Don Quixote himself, understands its capacity for illusion, that is, for delusional perception, and accepts this consciously. “I, who projected myself, am projection; / design for Living, poetizing.”

Venus is a song sung by many voices, containing multiple philosophies, principles, projections, memories, allusions.

The poem, a mosaic of voices:

All poems are a single voice

That murmurs words wearing makeup,

the smeared eyeshadow in the voiceless light,

the wave that arriving departs.

The philosophical foundations of Gimferrer’s eccentric poetics are the combined force of the ages. Gimferrer indeed is a man of the ages.

Octavio Paz dedicated his poem “La Arboleda” (“The Grove”) to Gimferrer. In this poem the late Nobel Laureate describes the grove (which I assume to refer to Gimferrer’s poetry) as “a web of fronds and branches [with] flaming spaces / and, fallen into these meshes, -restless, / breathing- / is something violent and resplendent, / an animal swift and wrathful.” There is, in Gimferrer’s style, an innovative fury, a thought-provoking violence, and a very personal social conscience. Such a social conscience is the honest revelation of the prison-house of culture itself.

Significantly, throughout Alma Venus, Gimferrer presents himself as both reader and writer throughout Alma Venus, variously recounting his personal history alongside his reading history, reflecting himself vicariously through authors and artists and cultural productions. With Gimferrer, the writer is the reader. Gimferrer’s memories are our memories. Gimferrer’s readers are part of the pact, participating in a Quixotic visionary reading of western poetry along with the author. “All poems are one”, writes Gimferrer. Suddenly we too, having become part of the text, feel used. It was, after all, the author who made this pact on his own, when he set out to write such a poem. While Gimferrer periodically speaks from the perspective of we and our (i.e “Our Homer”), generally, he avoids pronouns altogether. For example, when Gimferrer talks about whitewashing the walls he writes.

In this last stage, no longer the hand

Breathes in the voices of pigment,

In the breath of the walls as it whispers:

No more is it the hand of the resuscitated,

but rather the hand of a whitewasher.

This new voice that emerges is the voice of the hand of a whitewasher. It has become useless to talk about he or she or it. The meaning of identity has been made empty and useless. The artist’s hands themselves have become subject and object of their own discourse. Above all, there is a connection between the poet’s hands and the walls themselves.

There is a time when wall and hand are

A lone thing, articulated night…

The hand gropes in search of the wall

In each of the cracks’ respiration…

For Gimferrer darkness and death allude to the realm of the shades, the underworld, visited by all the epic masters of poetry, including Homer, Virgil and Dante. It is in this realm, that all the words and languages that have ever been spoken remain forever stored. Interweaving the words of the fallen and departed, the poet interweaves death with life, restoring the dead to life, bridging the two worlds, while passing through the underworld of spirits. “Let us pass through yesterday’s mist”, writes Gimferrer, implying passing backwards in time.

With the harvest of words dead

Because the poem petrified them.

I am the harvester of shadow.

One who takes the time to read Gimferrer’s book will find that while the poet lives and breathes shadows and shades, his reflections on the originality and freshness of language remain permeated by a dark scepticism.

The deadly cavalcade of memories,

the pink trophy table of non-being.

Each word, bereft of meaning,

is only the clamour of secondaries,

the hoarse caw of scrap-dealers,

An exchange of falsifications

Thus, according to Gimferrer, it would appear that we are none other than reflections of our cultural-personal histories, the poem itself being a “reflection of a reflection.” Gimferrer’s poem reveals his private and public tradition, his legacy in the western whirlwind. “The mask of my yesterday looks at me.” He is a mirror of his yesterday’s perceptions, and of all who contributed to the cultural creation of his illusory world. That said, there is much more to Gimferrer. Alma Venus cuts across the past with heroic detail, unassailable passion, presenting an ode to the memory of culture, society, Europe, the canon, the death of the poet. Gimferrer is a modernist magician, revealing a multiplicity of voices and the extraordinary gifts of scholarship, lyricism and wit. Ultimately, while Gimferrer presents life as a mirror of his complex vision of poetry itself, for all its contradictions, pessimism, and far-reaching allusions, such a vision harbours radiant light.

Death ahead, for poetry:

Manifestly leads to the prow the eyes of living.

Alma Venus: love, revolution.

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

David Swartz currently resides in Lisbon, Portugal. In 2014 his reviews and translations appeared in the Malahat Review, Arc Poetry MagazineVallum Contemporary Poetry, Absinthe: A Journal of World Literature in Translation and the Prairie Journal. His co-translation of the University of Lisbon’s 2014 conference E a Pintura? A pintura contemporânea em questão / AND Painting: Questioning Contemporary Painting is scheduled to be published online this autumn.

 

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, August 5th, 2015.