Where We Are Taken

Arcana and other poems: Veronica Volkow,
Translated by Luis Ingelmo and Michael Smith
(123pp, 9.95, Shearsman)


Among transcendentalists' core beliefs is an ideal spiritual state that transcends the physical and empirical and is only realized through the individual's intuition, rather than through the doctrines of established religions. Intuition, supernatural and the mystical form the basic ideas of the transcendental artist or poet. Veronica Volkow says 'the uttermost reality is totally spiritual' and this 'transcendental spiritual' takes form in her poems:

                  The Magician

                  Who listened to the voice of the wind,
                   the word that speaks,    
                   its unceasing  shout in the mountain,
                   and deciphered the language of noises    

Wind is deciphering the language of noises. The wind is personified and working as the cognition: it is concerned with the communication of 'noises'. And who is listening to the voice of the wind: is it the poet or the unceasing shouts in the mountains. Here we have the mystical element of the transcendental. The poet is listening to her intuition and this intuition sees her higher power as the wind. It isn't God or a more 'tangible' being that is speaking rather a more a transcendental one.
 Another example:

                     The High Priestess

                    
Night is not observed
                      it is dreamt
                      and dreams
                      like the moon are reflections -
                      they float here and are elsewhere.

Are you seeing the painting of Dali. The moon is a reflection, just as dreams are. I love this: that a dream is a reflection. This idea registers not only in my intuition but again in the transcendental intuition. A wonderful observation that dreams are reflections of experience and all that goes with it. And as regards to reality: we are not really 'here' as 'Night is not observed / it is dreamt'. The dreams continue:

                           The Lovers

                          Your eyes are nights
                          in which the day lives,
                          your eyes are stones
                                       that dream
                          and in a dream world
                                        that's not present /


Forget transcendentalism: here we have beautiful lines of poetry. 'Your eyes are nights / in which the day lives'. And there is also the exotic and more:

                 
                           
 Garden
  
                            There are roses in my garden that unleaf
                             a gaping heart in the open air.
                             Thus is the flower,
                             its nakedness is magic

and:

                          Farewell

                        
Let my love be as mute
                                                  as God
                         Let it be           invisible to you
                         and almost as unsuspected

Love is mute as God. For the poet God cannot speak, it is mute: perhaps deformed, its tongue ripped out by the wind. For it is the wind and aspects of the physical world that are able to think and decipher. And unlike God's love - which is to be demonstrated in miracles and words - love here is to be silent 'to you' and 'invisible'. At this point I'm beginning to feel a little uncomfortable at where my mind is being taken. Perhaps there is an element of indoctrination but maybe not.
Lost in translation is a euphemism for so much. And its asking too much for a mirror image of an art form that rests on intimate inclination of the familiar 'intuitions' of native languages. But what we do get is a clear insight and understanding of another world of words. That we get much more than just a flavour of that world, that we come close to the original visions and images. Images might be more worked - less repetitive, and some lines and titles are uninspiring. The reader is too 'spoon fed' - which is a personal taste, I'd like the reader to think a bit more - though he does think. I'd like the occasional spanner in the spokes, if not a roadside bomb. The translators have done a good job; and as a purely English reader and speaker I'm not really equipped fully to do justice to these poems. In this part of the netted globe poetry is now a fashion victim and my ear is attuned to this - and I'm always looking for another designer product. Yet set in its own language and fashion sense I feel this translation is incredible. Volkow acknowledges the difference between Mexican and English poetry. The personal is put to one side and is not central ( the English way) and this can be a culture shock. There are fantastic metaphor combinations and breath taking observations and internalisations. Subject matter is the world that lies out with normal understandings and this is where we are taken.

              James McLaughlin 2010