Tim Wright Reviews Sarah St Vincent Welch and Juan Garrido Salgado

By | 5 February 2021

Moving on to Cuando Fui Clandestino / When I Was Clandestine by Juan Garrido Salgado, the sense of difference from OPEN is immediately apparent: visually in the poems’ long lines (contrasting with St Vincent Welch’s typically short-lined verticality), and, once you begin reading, in the tone of the work, the way it imagines the role, or figure, of the poet. Garrido Salgado does not remain tethered to dailiness, and his voice is overtly public, overtly political His lines, a number of times, ‘break the page’, extending past the page margin and running onto the line below. Here is a short extract from near the opening of the first poem, ‘Borges me dictó una frase de “Il Inmortal”, mientras yo leía “Tango” de Geoff Page’ / ‘Borges dictated me a quote from “El Immortal”, while I read “Tango” by Geoff Page’ (a typically lengthy title); it appears as a single line in the Spanish (running over two), and as two in the English (running over three):

Busco la cita de Borges entre las ruinas de aquealla ciudad de Alepo saqueada por 
la cruealdad, más aún recuerdo el compás que nos hizo bailar entre tanta nostalgia.

I seek the quote of Borges among the ruins of that city of Aleppo plundered by 
Even more I remember the beat that made us dance to so much nostalgia.

In contrast to the halting and syncopated music of St Vincent Welch’s lines, Garrido Salgado’s are more like single, extended notes, into which can be fitted, potentially, ever more light and shade, or in a linguistic sense, more clauses.

The literariness of Garrido Salgado’s poetry is also on display in this poem, with two literary references in the title, and beneath it a short passage quoted from one of those references (Borges’ ‘El Immortal’). Akin to this literariness is the prominence in his work of literary tradition and the vocation of the poet, the latter understood as necessarily being among (talking to, corresponding with) groups of likeminded poets and friends, at least as much as it is a solitary pursuit. One upshot of this is that there are abundant names in Garrido Salgado’s poems. All of the nine poems here apart from one short lyric are occasioned by the work of another poet or the memory of friends who are named.

Images favoured by Garrido Salgado in this chapbook are: blood, flight, shadow, grain and the moon (images of the moon are favoured also by St Vincent Welch). The most striking lunar image is in the final poem, ‘Dentro de tus brazos hay paz . . .’ / ‘. . . In your arms there is peace’ (a title attributed to Ali Cobby Eckermann, a poet who has written intensely moving poems about mothers), that of the ‘luna seca’ / ‘dry moon’, linked with ‘la sangre de nuestra madre’ / ‘the blood of our mother’. ‘Borges dictated . . .’, the poem discussed above, shows a typical way that Garrido Salgado handles these images: in chains of metaphor which work hand in hand with his employment of the long line.

In ‘He Fallado, He Caído’ / ‘I have failed, I have fallen’ the poet reimagines the state murder of his friends under the Pinochet regime. It is hard not to think here of that other Chilean expatriate Roberto Bolaño, whose fiction works again and again the moment of the Pinochet coup, with its lasting effects not just for Chilean but for world history. ‘. . . Otre hombre ha muerto en el Centro de Detención de Naura y la Isla Manus’ / ‘. . . Another man dies at the Nauru & Manus Island Detention Centres’ again tries to imagine a way into horror, as if the poet must take a share of it via imaginative acts of empathy: ‘A refugee died today, and my heart does not beat.’ Both are poems, ultimately, of witness-bearing.

The convocation of Latin American, Aboriginal, Spanish and Australian traditions that Garrido Salgado assembles in this book is ambitious and valuable. The English translations of the poems, however (presumably by Garrido Salgado, as no translator is credited), could be improved. Here and there the language does not read as fully ‘carried across’, worked into an English idiom, or simply lacks clarity. To take one example, the opening lines of the English translation of ‘Leyendo un poema de Robert Adamson escuché la voz de Federico García Lorca’ / ‘Reading a poem by Robert Adamson I heard the voice of Federico García Lorca’ read: ‘Can you see the birds gathering the wounded verses of love / in the eternal war against Lorca? / Today they launched the flight over blood / with the only trace left . . . ’. Would not ‘took flight’ capture the action of the birds in the third line more clearly? Avoiding stilted phrases such as ‘launched the flight’ would improve these translations overall, and in the case of this particular phrase, it would also avoid the eye misreading it as ‘launched the fight’, a misreading encouraged by the subject of the poem being in part the ongoing fight to locate the remains, and in part the contested legacy, of the murdered poet.

In an age when all poetry publishing is and has been for a long time ‘small’ in terms of print run, and when the more handmade and autonomous forms of printing (the letterpress, the mimeograph) are rare or extinct, it’s not always clear what ‘small press’ might mean. For Rochford Press, a sense of continuity with the tradition of little mag and chapbook production is clearly an important part of its meaning, and OPEN and Cuando Fui Clandestino / When I Was Clandestine both situate themselves within this tradition: St Vincent Welch acknowledges her publishers’ commitment to ‘the spirit of small press creative collaboration’, and the blurb for Garrido Salgado by Steve Brock comments that his poetry ‘finds its natural home in the pamphlet and the chapbook, passed hand-to-hand under the curfew of night’ (unfortunately a possibility in Melbourne presently). From the list of its recent titles, which includes Rae Desmond Jones, Garrido Salgado and St Vincent Welch, as well as Mohammed Ali Maleki and Robbie Coburn, the direction of Rochford Press is suggested: a combination of honouring the small press tradition that it has helped to sustain (through publishing poets associated with it), alongside the publication of chapbooks by lesser-known and younger poets, with an additional focus on poetry translated from other languages into English.

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