Dark times filled with light: the selected work of Juan Gelman
Saying that I enjoyed this book is true but also must be expanded upon. Juan Gelman, of Argentina, has been writing poetry for decades and, according to the introduction and back jacket is regularly “on the short list of Nobel Prize candidates” (xi).
His early poems were the ones I liked the most and they are small commentaries on life, love, the act of poetry, and the typical mundane aspects of life. His middle and later poems are more focused on the Argentine reign of terror and the “disappeared” and his decades of exile in Europe. These are powerful poems that address a heinous period in Argentina’s and its people’s history that needs to be known more widely. His poems of exile are especially powerful. I marked all four included poems from Under Foreign Rain (footnotes to a defeat) (1980) as ones that spoke to me in an utterly heartrending manner.
The poems come from 26 different books and, I assume, give a good idea of his writing across time. Some of the books only had one poem in here and sometimes I found myself wishing for more if what was included particularly resonated with me.
Thank you Open Letter and the University of Rochester for these wonderful poems in translation. If you have any interest in reading (and supporting) literature in translation—all kinds of lit from all over the world—then do yourself the favor of looking into Open Letter. I have a subscription to them and have enjoyed the couple I have managed to read so far, with the added bonus of having several other translated works sitting at my fingertips when I am ready to dive in.
One of the many poems that particularly spoke to me:
I Sit Here Like An Invalid (from The Name of the Game (1956-1958))
I sit here like an invalid in the desert of my desire for you.
I’ve grown used to sipping the night slowly, knowing
you’re in it somewhere filling it with dreams.
The night wind whips the stars flickering in my hands,
broken-hearted widows of your hair, still unreconciled.
The birds you planted in my heart are stirring and
sometimes with a knife’s cold blade
I’d offer them the freedom they demand to go back to you.
And yet I can’t. You’re so much a part of me, so much alive in me
that if I died, my death would kill you.