Gabriel García Ochoa Reviews Poems of Mijail Lamas, Mario Bojórques & Alí Calderón

6 June 2017

By contrast, Alí Calderón is the youngest of the three poets in the anthology, and as far as I am aware, this is the first time his poetry has been translated into English. Calderón’s writing is, in a sense, global, in the way fellow Mexican author Valeria Luiselli recently described the new generation of Latin American writers in OZY – untethered from place, but not from identity, cosmopolitan, with ‘a sense of plurality that saves us from the solitude a twentieth century writer must have felt.’ Calderon’s narrative poems are set all over the world, in historic Constantinople and contemporary Istanbul, in Sarajevo, Florence, Bruges, and Paris. In ‘Shadow at Saint-Salvatore de Brugge’ a tragic story takes place by the foot of the cathedral by that same name. Outside a different church, ‘Margherita del Cerchi’ begins in the centre of Florence, with a regretful rumination about an email that should not have been sent; and then there is ‘Sarajevo’, an elegy for the city that takes place under the threshold of an orthodox church. All three cities and their corresponding narratives are united by the common denominator of places of worship. The selection of Calderon’s work also includes two sequences: ‘Constantinople’ and ‘Obscurum per Obscurius’. The first follows the pattern of the other three city poems, beginning with a meditation by ‘Edirnekapi / IV Century a Byzantine church / outside Theodosius’ walls’ in Constantinople. It is a subtle story across centuries, ending with a coffee in the tourist promenade of Istiklal Caddesi, in modern Istanbul. The narrative of ‘Obscurum per obscurius’ is, not surprisingly, more cryptic (the Latin aphorism translates as ‘explaining the obscure by means of the more obscure’). The imagery in this poem, however, is some of Calderon’s most powerful:

Now night is a carnivorous flower of shadows
and every flash in the darkness
invokes ancient wounds that humiliated my flesh
now silences and day are
ashes that inhabit me you will be
a necklace of flowers a pinch
comfortable
virgin in someone else’s hands.

Only two of Calderon’s poems touch on Mexico. ‘Mexican Democracy’ is an excoriating critique of violence in Mexico, with one of the most poignant final stanzas I have read in a very long time. The imagery in ‘Stone of Sacrifice’ evokes Aztec mythology, in particular the sacrificial ceremonies associated with the God of war, Huitzilopochtil. Similarly to ‘Constantinople’, ‘Stone of Sacrifice’ fuses past with present, and associates the sacrifices to Huitzilopochtil with the 1968 student massacre that took place in Tlatelolco in Mexico City, one of the darkest episodes of contemporary Mexican history.

Mexico has a thriving, vast and rich poetic ecosystem. There is the immersive, Neo-Baroque writing of Coral Bracho; the narrative poetry of Tedi López Mills; Mónica Nepote’s visceral, body imagery; the intimate verses of Nadia Escalante; Gabriel Zaid, Óscar Cid de León, Hernán Bravo Varela, Carla Faesler; the list goes on. This anthology provides a limited but satisfying taste, eclectic in its choices, and highly recommended.

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