Valerie Mejer Caso
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Roughly three percent of books published in the United States are translations, and only around 30% of those are books written by women. When you start looking at poetry collections, you’re taking a fraction of a fraction of a fraction, until you arrive at a number so small that, according to the translation database housed at Publishers Weekly, a scant nineteen translated books of poems written by women will be published by the end of 2018. One of those is the easiness and the loneliness by Asta Olivia Nordenhof, a best-selling poetry collection that took Denmark by storm and arrives in English with Open Letter Books this October. With poems that double as social critiques, it addresses the difficulties of living under financial strain, various forms of abuse, and working in a brothel. To round out Women in Translation Month, we wanted to create this playlist to celebrate Nordenhof and to shine a spotlight on a handful of other living female poets already available in translation.View playlist
For Valerie Mejer Caso, EDINBURGH NOTEBOOK is a testament to the power of language’s ability to heal and to help come close to answering the questions we thought grief would silence us from asking. Written in the wake of her brother Charlie’s suicide, Mejer Caso’s collection, through honest language and hallucinatory imagery, examines the consequences of uncertainty and sorrow when those we love the most are gone.
—Esteban Rodríguez, Heavy Feather Review
Michelle Gil-Montero’s translation of EDINBURGH NOTEBOOK is tuned in to the echoey, open sounds of Mejer Caso’s poetry as in “rolling like worlds” and “The crone Moon was coming back.” But more than just tracking sonic echoes, Gil-Montero manages the many unruly, thematic trails of Mejer Caso’s poetry throughout her translation, reminding the reader through purposeful reiterations and resonant images of the same event, at once a flight and a fall, a vacuum, a silence, an explosion.
—Mallory Truckenmiller Saylor, Kenyon Review
Painter and poet Valerie Mejer Caso was born in Mexico City into a family of European immigrants. She is the author of the poetry collections Rain of the Future (2013), translated by C.D. Wright, Forrest Gander, and Alexandra Zelman; de la ola, el atajo (2009); Geografías de Niebla (2008); Esta Novela Azul (2004), which was translated by Michelle Gil-Montero as This Blue Novel (2015); and Ante el Ojo de Cíclope (1999). Her book De Elefante a Elefante (1997) won the Spanish Government’s “Gerardo Diego 1966” International Award. Mejer Caso has collaborated with photographers, among them Barry Shapiro and Russel Monk. With the photographer D.S Borris, Mejer Caso and Forrest Gander co-authored Time’s Playing Fields, a book about empty football fields in Mexico (Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, TX). She has translated poetry by Charles Wright, Ruth Fainligth, and Pascale Petit. From 2016-17, she participated in the Biennale of Kochi-Muziris in India, where she exhibited her unfolded book “Untamable Light.” Her poetry has been translated into English, Slovenian, and Korean.
Michelle Gil-Montero is a poet and translator of Latin American poetry, hybrid-genre writing, and criticism. She has been awarded fellowships from the NEA and Howard Foundation, as well as a Fulbright US Scholar’s Grant to Argentina and a PEN/Heim Translation Prize. She is the author of Attached Houses (Brooklyn Arts Press) and Object Permanence (Ornithopter Press). She is Professor of English at Saint Vincent College, where she directs the Minor in Literary Translation. She publishes contemporary Latin American poetry in translation at Eulalia Books (eulaliabooks.com).View playlist
First Movement (The Burning)This is how doors close: a car parked for years flees its asylum. Quits the void. Light trickles through chinks in the horse’s stable. The moment the car finally budges, a magnified face peers down from a billboard. It is raining on the fresh departure and the huge red mouth, on the intense sad face. The driver wonders about the woman on the billboard. That profile reminds him of someone. Streaks of lighting. A hill in the distance. In the car, he’s aggrieved by tangible things: he can’t quite tune the radio, he finds a wet book on the seat. It smells like dank soil, like wood, like his mother’s clothes that he brought home from the hospital. It smells like something exceedingly human while, on the hill, a bolt of lightning sets fire to an elm. The tree is a poem and, like him, an intelligence that hurries to its feet, erect. The flaming hill sets the horses loose. Stroboscopic thoughts of the man watching the fire from his car: With this rain crystals fog up, I’m lost in my mother, maybe I’ve got a dog’s heart, like I thought before she died, this car smells like her, like she’s alive in a wet book, that woman on the sign is familiar, that nose, forehead—do I know her? As the window lowers, fog seeps out, as if from a steaming kettle, and in the haze are faces, countless windows, the cracked billboard, the elm’s red hot stump. A word stampede is carbonized. Behind the stables where his car was parked, where something is still happening, the gilding of light, still, still. In the past, a / / long neck, a head that balances a pair of sad eyes, trotting horses, the radio tuned to a boleros station, and a book in the attitude of being read. It’s like that, even now.
Primer movimiento (la quema)Es así como se cierran las puertas: un auto detenido por años sale de su asilo. Deja al vacío. Se derrama la luz hacia adentro, por las fracturas del establo. Tal como el auto avanza por fin, cae el rostro ampliado de un anuncio. Llueve sobre el nuevo trayecto y sobre la inmensa boca roja, sobre la intensa cara triste. El hombre que va en el auto piensa en la mujer del anuncio. Ese perfil le recuerda a alguien. Relámpagos. Un monte en la distancia. Adentro del auto hay cosas tangibles que angustian a ese hombre real: no consigue sintonizar la radio, descubre un libro húmedo sobre el asiento. Huele a tierra mojada, a madera, a la ropa de su madre que él recogió en el hospital. Huele a algo tan humano, ahora mismo cuando en el monte el rayo incendia al olmo. El árbol es el poema y como él, es una inteligencia que se pone de pie, erguida. La colina en llamas anticipa la liberación de los caballos. Veloces son los pensamientos del que mira el fuego desde su automóvil: Con la lluvia se han cubierto de vapor los cristales, avanzo en mi madre, tal vez yo tenga corazón de perro, eso pensé cuando ella vivía, ahora este coche huele a ella, que aún existe en un libro húmedo, ya sé quién es la mujer del letrero, esa nariz, esa frente ¿la conocí? Al abrir la ventana, el vapor escapa como de una tetera hirviendo, y entre esa niebla se ven las caras, las ventanas innumerables, el anuncio roto, un tocón de olmo al rojo vivo. Una estampida de palabras queda carbonizada. Atrás el establo donde aparcaba su auto, donde aún ocurre algo, el oro de la luz, aún, aún. En el pasado un cuello largo, una cabeza que balancea unos ojos tristes, trotes, la radio sintonizada en una estación de boleros y un libro mientras está siendo leído. Es así, todavía.