THE HISTORY OF VIOLETS by Marosa Di Giorgio, Trans. By Jeannine Marie Pitas
(Ugly Duckling Presse, Brooklyn, 2010)
One of the many impressive effects of Marosa Di Giorgio’s THE HISTORY OF VIOLETS is the compression of time and space. If there was a landscape from which these poems took off—as is described to be the poet’s family farm in Salto, Uruguay(1) in the useful Introduction by translator Jeannine Marie Pitas(2)—it is a landscape that effortlessly transcended geography to become the universe. Among other things, this results in lovely and pleasingly-surprising phantasmagoric results, as in section XIII
They always had the reddest harvest, sparkling grapes. Sometimes at noon, when the sun gets us drunk—otherwise we wouldn’t dare—my mother and I walked hand in hand along the paths through the orchard, up to the nearly invisible line, up to the monks’ vines. Each vine raised its lantern of grapes; each was like a ruby without facets, with a spark inside. They stood here and there in their black or red robes, absorbed in contemplation, and they seemed to be scrutinizing miniature stamps, great paintings, or else meditating intensely on the Saint of those parts. Hearing our approach, one turned toward us with a stare like a gold or silver arrow. And we fled, never to return, trembling beneath the immense sun.
or, from section V
I barely knocked on the door; inside, I was met by the grass, loneliness.
Well, yes, in this reader’s mind-eye, grass suddenly becomes an apt symbol for loneliness—that lawn where each blade stands surrounded by others, say, but where each blade stands concurrently by itself shooting forth from ground rather than entwined with others. And look at that above sentence again—how grass is “inside” rather than, say, outside some dwelling, bespeaking the collapse of space.
I’m moved to take this effect further—that is, what these poems offer seems to me to be that indigenized space where one becomes the other, where one becomes the many, and does so across all time. And in certain cultures (the Native-American or Filipino cultures, for example), such indigenized space is specifically rooted in nature. Thus, as one reads through the book, easily tipped into these poems’ indigenized version of the world, one finds realistic such references like
The gladiolus is a spear
And since a spear can bear edges, the sentence continues seamlessly into
, its edge loaded with carnations
to become ultimately, all within the same sentence,
a knife of carnations. (35)
There are many such resonant, often sensuous, examples of instantaneous transformations throughout the book, compelling for their surprises, mysteries—this is a reading where perhaps the only thing that can not fit is boredom! And yet, even as I look over the first draft of this review and observe my joy over the so-alive! language of the poems, joy wasn’t what surfaced during my actual reading. Instead, I felt a deep desire mixed with a sense of foreboding, of something sinister, of something perhaps not totally dark but certainly shadowy. I believe this impression is generated from how the fantabulousness delivered by these poems are heightened further by an acceptance of death’s inevitability.
But isn’t that what gardens—gardening!—emphasizes so much? That things are birthed and grow, yes, but that they also will decay and die? I feel this book is brilliant because it accepts the inevitability of death without conceding the proactive nature of living as the verb relishing. It achieves this—and it is an achievement—partly by treasuring memory, by treating history as also a source of joy. Here’s the ending section—doesn’t it make you pause and feel … alive!
I remember the white, folded cabbages—white roses of the earth, of the gardens—cabbages of marble, of most delicate porcelain; cabbages holding their children inside.
And the tall blue chard.
And the tomato, a kidney of rubies.
And the onions wrapped in silky paper, rolling paper, like bombs of sugar, salt, alcohol.
And the gnome asparagus, turrets of the kingdom of gnomes.
I remember the potatoes, and the tulips we always planted among them.
And the snakes with their long, orange wings.
And the tobacco of the fireflies, who smoked without ceasing.
I remember eternity.
(1) From the publisher’s press release is the following bio-note:
Born in Salto, Uruguay, and raised on her family’s farm, Marosa di Giorgio (1932-2004) is one of the most prominent Uruguayan poets of the twentieth century. She published a total of fourteen books of poetry, three collections of short stories, and one novel. Although di Giorgio was relatively unknown outside the Southern Cone during her lifetime, she is now becoming more and more widely read throughout Latin America and Europe.
(2) This is a bilingual book with Di Giorgio's poems presented in Spanish and facing their English translations. I am not fluent in Spanish and so am unable to "review" the poems in their original language. Having said that, I can simply say that I found Jeannine Marie Pitas' translations to be effective in their loveliness.
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects as she's its editor, but she is pleased to point you elsewhere to reviews of her books. Her newest book SILK EGG: Collected Novels is reviewed or generated responses by Joey Madia in The New Mystics HERE; Allen Bramhall over HERE; by Amazon top-notch reviewer Grady Harp over HERE; by Leny Strobel over HERE; and by Jean Vengua over HERE and HERE. Her THE SECRET LIVES OF PUNCTUATIONS, VOL. I is reviewed by Edric Mesmer in Yellow Field and reprinted HERE. Her THE THORN ROSARY: SELECTED PROSE POEMS 1998-2010 is reviewed by Arpine Konyalian Grenier over HERE. Allen Bramhall also reviews the "Hay(na)ku for Haiti" series over HERE. If the latter two get you curious, please note that participating in this fundraiser for Haiti is supported by Marsh Hawk Press, publisher of THE THORN ROSARY: if you order at least $15 worth of booklets, you will receive a copy of THE THORN ROSARY which is priced retail at $19.95; this is one of the best bargains in the poetry world, even as it helps out with a Haiti fundraiser.