Tuesday, May 22, 2018

El espacio improbable de un haikú ( “The Unlikely Space of a Haiku”) By Sergio Inestrosa Translated by Margaret Young


Author: Sergio Inestrosa
Translator: Margaret Young
Introduction: Ramón Alberto Meléndez Quinteros
Publisher: Almava Editores
Review by: Ari Samuel Alkalay Appel

El espacio improbable de un haikú (“The Unlikely Space of a Haiku”) written by Sergio Inestrosa and translated by Margaret Young is a collection of short poems that explores the themes of language, beauty, love, loss, homecoming, and the pursuit of self-realization, all in the forms of the haiku and the senryu. Small Japanese drawings accompany the poems on some of the pages. With just over one-hundred poems, the work makes a good introduction to the forms for those new to them, and for experienced readers, it challenges possibilities. The title influenced my reading of the collection, begging me to think about the haiku as a space rather than a form, a space in which we can rest, meet each other, or encounter forces greater than ourselves. The idea that this space is “unlikely” implies that the architecture of the haiku may contain hidden corridors to places we would not usually go. The time spent in a haiku is brief, less than one breath. Just as the heartbeat is the meter of the body, so breath is the meter of the mind, an indivisible unit of life. Inestrosa explores the poetic possibilities of a breath as a venue for thought. 

With some exceptions, the first three-quarters of the book are love poems, and the final quarter are existential poems. Some of the love poems manage to depict a tragedy in few words, such as “my life depends upon / the ration of time / you spend on me.” Some convey longing and impatience: “what good are dreams, / if you will never / appear in them.” Others convey physical desire: “my fingers grazing / the skin of your hips; / sets the room on fire.” 

The existential poems are my favorite, including: “low tide / broken shells, trash / on every beach,” which elucidates a 21st century conundrum, “lips are silent / through tears / the eyes speak,” which packs an impressive level of metaphorical significance into a small space, and my personal favorite, “where have I gone? / I can’t find myself anymore / in this mirror.” This last poem is haunting: if the first-person narrator can’t find herself in her reflection, where could she have gone? The paradox is that if one is lost, a mirror only reflects a lost person. One cannot find herself there. The mirror reflects the visual but not the metaphysical. Famously afraid of mirrors, Jorge Luis Borges might have been fond of this poem.

Each poem is printed first in Spanish, then in English. I enjoyed both versions together, sometimes the Spanish more and sometimes the English as standalone poems, but always their unity above all. One poem in which the translation really shines is “arde espuma / en la cresta de una ola / juegan delfines” (“froth blazes / on the wave’s crest / dolphins play”). The verb “blazes” utilizes the semantic repertoire of the English language to enhance the Spanish version. 

In my favorite poem about mirrors, I would change the translation. The Spanish is as follows: “¿dónde me he ido? / que ya no me encuentro; / en este espejo.” The English is printed above. In the Spanish, the second line is connected to the first syntactically with the word “que,” which is lost in the English. The “que ya” cannot be translated directly, but “now that” at the beginning of the second line in place of “any more” at the end would have at least maintained the syntactic connection between the first two lines. Despite this, many of the poems are clarified and enhanced by their translations. The book is simply not the same as a monolingual text. Reading it bilingually gives the poems more texture and resolution. An inhale prepares the reader for the page, an exhale reads the Spanish, an inhale processes what was read, an exhale reads the English, and finally, an inhale comprehends the poem as one: Spanish and English.

Taken together, El espacio improbable de un haikú (“The Unlikely Space of a Haiku”) by Sergio Inestrosa translated by Margaret Young is a beautiful and insightful volume of poems. It is nice as a book to peruse or to place on a coffee table and open to any page.

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