An independent small press poetry review

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Broken Jaw Press
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ISBN 0 9121411 80 4
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Broken Jaw Press ISBN 1 896647 81 2
$15.88 [USA $11]

translated by Elizabeth Gamble Miller
Broken Jaw Press
ISBN 1 55391 008 7
$16.95 [Canada; USA $12.75]

translated by Elizabeth Gamble Miller & Jill Valéry
with photos by Brian Atkinson
Broken Jaw Press
ISBN 1 55391 028 1
$15.95 [Canada; USA $12]

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There is something wonderful about these poems — intensely lyrical and tender, yet at the same time powerfully evocative of the situation of women as political prisoners whose ultimate emotional response is that of triumph over the attempt to crush the human spirit. The language has a dreamlike quality, so do not always expect it to be coherant from a waking perspective; however, it is not perversely surrealist. One is carried along by it in a manner which involves you completely in the poet's world; for it is indeed a poetry in which

	La palabra abre mundos
	en la apacible ternura del poerna.

		The word opens worlds
		in the quiet tenderness of poetry.
and in the process triumphs over the world - which is all too rare an experience in contemporary poetry, especially in English.

These poems are political, but not without being entirely poetic. The author describes in a preface how she attended a conference of writers on human-rights in which 8 chairs were set up on stage, each bearing the name of a political prisoner. To her dismay, none of these names was a woman's. The fact that this could happen is in itself extremely perverse, since the experience of women in such situations must surely differ from men's. But such conferences operate only with very narrow parameters. It is not what it means to be a political prisoner that matters, but what political capital might be got out of it, and since men are more prominent in the hierarchies of these movements than women their names tend to come to the fore. That is what politics is about after all, but it is not what poetry is about, and Nela Rio's evocative sequence reverses these priorities.

As for Hugh Hazleton's translation on the opposite side of the page, it has often struck me quite forcibly that Spanish has qualities not possessed by English, qualities which lend themselves to poetry in highly distinctive ways. Hispanic poetry often possesses a power and tenderness which English all too often doesn't, and which English translations tend to flatten out. Hazleton's Spanish is no doubt better than mine, but I was often torn while reading his translation over whether he should have taken more liberties or not. For example, he could have exploited the strengths of English phrasal verbs more fully, I felt. I would have translated estan encerrados en mis ojos as are locked up in my eyes rather than locked within my eyes, also salida as exit rather than departure. I felt that Hazleton did not bring out the sharper, more stacatto qualities of English, but remained too latinate, hence giving a flat quality to his English.

But these are probably minor quibbles. On the whole he has done a good job in bringing this remarkable poet to our attention.

reviewer: Richard Livermore.

Poetry as narrative, this dual text, Spanish/English publication relates

"the different stages in which the body embraces, hurts, sickens, and is mutilated and reborn"
after being diagnosed with, and treated for, breast cancer. The cover painting, by Ana Maria Pavela, inspired by the poetry, is of a naked woman clasped from behind by her lover, a length of material draped over one of her shoulders and covering (one assumes) the missing breast. She is repesented in tones of metallic grey, he in living brown.

The poems are unabashedly first person narrative, recount first meeting and celebrate the first flush of physical love and its many aspects; but giving a sense of the increasing intimacy, rather than being purely descriptive; and being allusive, rather than coy. (Please do bear in mind that I am having to assess these poems in their English translation, not being able to read the original Spanish.)


	Dressed like the horizon
	she calls him by his name.
	And repeats it
	breathing in his vigorous taste.
	She knows the mouth ends in an endlessly
	blossoming kiss.
	Stem and dew, alert
	drunk with sun,
	slipping without return,
	watching over the froth of clamour.

	There's a certain urgency in the river's origin
	fluttering like a salt bird.
Beyond the purely physical Nela Rio captures some lovely moments
	old gold diligently polished...
As the recounting of her fleshly pleasures brought to mind one's own, the shock of her pain is brought home with similar force.

	They met in nights
	that seemed the same.
	They kissed defending the past
	and transformed now into still....
For anyone who has suffered an illness requiring drastic surgery, or for anyone who has had to watch a loved one suffer, this book can be both painful, in the sharpness of the memories it provokes, and, in its sharing, cathartic. The poems, overall, are as much about being the, at times bewildered, recipient of love as about loving — from THE SKIN THAT UNDRESSES:
	No one knows how love persists
	how there can be a skin that undresses us 
The self is of prime importance in love: it needs to be worthy of the beloved. Thus the threat to selfhood, and to the relationships founded on that concept of self, that surgery of such magnitude entails are a double trauma. When the self, the soma, is mutilated, the psyche, the self-esteem, must suffer too. Thus does love itself come to be doubted — from POLISHED AMBER
	...She refuses mirrors
	ignores the eyes that hold her own eyes
	so that gazes will not rain down
	on the hollow.
	She looks at her profile, a road without poplars....
Through a greater awarness of what is self comes a greater awareness itself. Nela Rio, out of her pain and her love, has selflessly given us that.

	I live life 
	as if I'd been born 
	halfway through it....
Thank you Nela Rio.

reviewer: Sam Smith.

Elizabeth Gamble Miller is a translator from the Spanish. Her publications include the work of some thirty authors. Here she translates the Spanish poems of Nela Rio, an internationally known Argentine-Canadian writer.

DURING NIGHTS THAT UNDRESS OTHER NIGHTS contains a section of poems, an article on the literary techniques in Nela Rio's poetry by Elizabeth Gamble Miller, REMEMBRANCE by Nela Rio and pieces called ABOUT THE BOOK, ON THE AUTHOR AND ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR. The cover illustration, CANDELAS V is by Nela Rio.

The collection contains poems

chosen to remember the lives of fifteen women.
These women have in common that they have
lived under oppressive, dictatorial political regimes, and have experienced the violence of repression.
Many of these women were personally known to the poet, and others were encountered during her work in organizations for immigrants and refugees in Canada.

The book is composed of twenty-four poems in which physical and mental torture reveals the spiritual courage of the fifteen women to whom the poems are dedicated. The structure of the poems follows an ordered sequence: escape, surprise at being pursued, lack of understanding as to why capture took place, the nightmare of imprisonment, torture and anguish, and the agony of death. These experiences are begun and end in the first and last poems, thus serving as prologue and epilogue. The poems, spoken by a narrator, draw a circle round the lives of the women and brings to closure their suffering and torment.

DURING NIGHTS THAT UNDRESS OTHER NIGHTS is nothing if not questioning. Indeed, the violence/death-orientated, intellectual poetic imprint may raise questions it doesn't necessarily intend. However, it is a relief to find a poet who so obviously knows her craft. Take: POEM IV: TO ELISE, WITH RESPECT:

	bullets like a thousand lances
	pierce the fugitive
	in the only spot left of her homeland.
but exaggeration, however well executed, as its limitations. Despite such excesses as the rampant soldiers in POEM X, TO NENINA, ALWAYS, who
	drag me toward unnameable horror
readers discover that while killing is just a boring job it does have its lighter moments, as in POEM XIII,TO SILVINA, WITH RESPECT:
	And there are also other things
	lovely things
	things that bring a smile
	although the mouth hurts
	and three teeth are missing
	left on the floor of the beating.
Nela Rio is clearly more than a technically proficient poet. She does not limit herself, nor constrict her attempts at a more meaningful worldview, by catering merely to violence. All the same, these are poems that combine a conflicted, apparent liberalism with clear humanity and humility that find a place in the reader's mind and heart. These poems go beyond the heroines, unable to forget God in a Godless world where history is a series of bloody battles, suffering leading to pointlessness. These are adult poems, clearly related to the sense and troubled times witnessed throughout her life by the poet.

reviewer: Patricia Prime.

This is a book of poems inspired by Nela Rio's translation of testimonials given by Guatemalan refugees in 1983; it is accompanied by photographs by professional photographer Brian Atkinson taken in Guatemala's Ixcan jungle between 1994 and 1997.

The photographs are all of women freedom fighters. The poetry is a mirror to the suffering reflected on the faces of these women in arms. The small, beautifully produced volume also contains a few indications about the inspiration for the book as well as extracts of some of the testimonials.

Originally conceived of as an exhibition at St Thomas University Nova Scotia, with texts only in Spanish and English, it has now been brought out in book form. Spanish, French and English appear sometimes on opposite pages, sometimes in random order, so that you forget which text is a translation of which. The translations are of good quality and manage in all three languages to render the starkness of the subject matter.

	Today's sun stings hard
	with the force of bullets
	and no tree will offer shade
	will shelter me
	will cover me
	will not kill

	el sol pica hoy con la fuerza
	de la balas
	y no hay árbol que dé sombra
	que me cubre
	que me tape
	que no mate

	Le soleil tape aujourd'hui avec la force
	des balles
	et il n'y a aucun arbre pour m'ombrager
	pour me couvrir 
	pour me cacher
	qui ne tue pas


	with my woman's boot
	I grind hard
	this ground damp
	with the blood of my people

	y piso fuerte
	con me bota de mujer
	este suelo húmedo
	con la sangre de mi pueblo

	avec ma botte de femme
	je foule d'un pied fort
	cette terre humide
	du sang de mon peuple
These are poignant poems that capture despair and determination with disarming simplicity.

reviewer: Jacqueline Karp-Gendre.