ArchivesSite MapSubmitOur GangHot Sites
tearing the rag off the bush again
Suzanne Jill Levine translates Gabriel Magana Merlo PDF E-mail
This review of Mexican poet Gabriel Magana Merlo insists on the translator's art, which is an overdue perspective. The review itself is quite mysterious (or maybe too brief) to let us in on  why a reader of poetry might find a line arrangement "goofy," or how exactly the great Jill Levine "collaborated" with Merlo, but these are questions that might be elucidated in future communiques. Should these occur, we would also like to know what" hand-grenades," "canyons," and "fresh paint" are doing in there (especially "hand-grenades of meaning," which is something the Corpse editors duck constantly.)

Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is”                                                                                                            Wallace Stevens

 Nothingness In the Rough: La Nada en Bruto (Diálogos Books, 2012; 116 pp.)

Gabriel Magaña Merlo, tr. Suzanne Jill Levine

review by Robyn Z. Bell


Nothingness In the Rough forms a terrific book. I didn’t expect that, having glanced at the lineation and decided the lines look goofy.  The back-cover’s mention of Mallarmé also sounded highly unlikely—until I opened Gabriel Magaña Merlo’s book and started jumping from line to line. My initial experience of his poems, small-on-the-outside/big-on-the-inside, my experience of so much happening in so little space, occurs because his poems ignite surprise, meaning, intensity.

That's art. It happens in English because of Suzanne Jill Levine’s astonishing translation. Magaña, a great Mexican poet, lives in Guadalajara, Mexico. A collaboration between Magaña and Levine, Nothingness In the Rough is well served by its publisher’s dual-language text (diá One may compare a phrase or word in English with its compatriot in Spanish.  To paraphrase Frost, poetry is what gets found in this translation. In any language, that’s rare.

Magaña’s compression recalls Emily Dickinson: pared lines set off hand-grenades of understanding, when you get them. It's possible with him, as with Dickinson, for the reader to stumble--you fall into a canyon between lines and look up, and, like a rocket rocketing, the poem has gone on, lifted star-high. Then you start over, trying to hang on as the first stage drops off, second stage drops off, and the final stage takes you to some sort of new mental space. 

To know a poet, as with knowing a person, requires many encounters. (I’ll bypass the obvious—“Do we ever know anything”— and just say, “Yes.”)  Nothingness In the Rough is the first book of Magaña to appear in English. It’s fresh as wet paint.


< Prev   Next >