Friday, June 04, 2010

Chris Daniels in Portland, 5/21/10

Chris Daniels gave a front-to-back reading—19 epigraphs-inclusive—of his first collection of original poems, porous, nomadic, last month with David Abel in Portland. Its a slender production with a tellurian reach, TIERRA DEL FUEGO TO BOOTHIA FELIX AND ON,” that moves from birth (Open Letter Opened) to perception (In a Treeless Wood) to despoiled innocence (Paradise Found Encumbered, ANTIPHON TO SLAVE OWNERS) to wordlessness (Open Letter Closed) with the history of the Americas as the unifying field that works the individual lyrics into a larger human pattern. In particular, the poems read as dialogs with modern Brazilian poets, from Cruz e Sousa to Josely Vianna Baptista, many of whom Daniels has translated in his earlier books.

Part of the appeal of porous, nomadic is how close it stands to Daniels’s work as a translator. His poems quote freely from Baptista, Jose Lezama Lima, Haroldo de Campos, Oswald de Andrade, and a cast of dozens cited near the end, but not at the very end; he names his sources inside the sequence instead of making them bring up the rear. Since his quotations are also translations, they act as expansive meditations on what translation in its widest sense might mean. In his remarks between poems, Daniels mentioned how much hed learned from such and such a poet; where he first discovered her work; how learning to read the poems, and then how to translate them, had taught him how to write. In the case of Baptista, his interest led to a letter, then a visit, then a collaboration, then a walk on a wild beach with penguins where one of his own pieces got written. The poems in porous, nomadic save the traces of these affective genealogies, casting themselves as letters or choral antiphons or revolutionary battle cries (Cruz e Sousa Lives!) or open addresses to dear ones (queridos, begins the first poem) that push the social dimension of translation front and center. The result is that even at their most cosmic and lyric, the poems retain the flavor of a loving correspondence, as if the answer to the usurping Personifications of conquistador, banker, economist, and employer were as simple (and political) as uniting real persons, Berkeley to Curitiba, via friendship.

At several points in the sequence Daniels touches on the subject of the Baroque, the house style of the Ibero-American colonial regimes but also, if Im reading right, a potential weapon against the deadening simplifications of Columbus, Hayek, Krugman, and Ayn Rand whove undermined the idea of locality to take exploitation global. The foolhardy defense of beauty that Daniels finds in Gongora, Bernini, and early accounts of the New Worlds surfeit comes to rest in the final section like this:
Teenage Bernini tried to sculpt living flames in marble. That his failure resulted in a near-parodic representation of martyrdom by fire in no way diminishes the beauty of his rejection of impossibility. I realized fairly recently that this has always mirrored my rejection of the grand social impossibilities trumpeted by demagogues. What I do is tiny. But I wouldnt want to be without it. Language, our million-year collective endeavor.
The same piece ends with a description of one of Lippis (pre-Baroque) paintings of the Nativity,
“... which forces my eye stage left, where a peasant, at play with his dog, is missing the whole millenary event. Sometimes I imagine that peasant to be Remedios Varo or Franz Marc, Lygia Clark or John Heartfield, among others, especially you—is that strange, do you think?—its just that we love to experience beauty together. Its for our sake: the realest beauty is always among others.
Trim Frommers to an alternate but still possible hemisphere, porous, nomadic is the third book available from Portlands own Airfoil Chapbooks.

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