Poetry News

Alexis Almeida Gets at the Unheimlich

By Harriet Staff
Roberta Iannamico, Tendal, cover

At Essay Daily, Alexis Almeida shares some fragments about her translating of Argentine poet Roberta Iannamico’s Tendal. "I’m sitting on a bed surrounded by papers. Within a week of first reading Tendal I’ve drafted a very rough translation of the book. Though I wouldn’t necessarily call the poems straight narrative, each one describes a scene from a world imagined, lived in, and authored alternately by a mother and daughter," writes Almeida. More:

...The book itself is peopled by strange, inscrutable figures – Tomato Face, The Panda Bear, a despondent horse, La Reina Batata, a Cow with glowing nipples – but also written in a way that feels intimate, quiet, serene. However it’s the moments when something sinister, something uncanny breaks through in the poems without necessarily compromising this tone – uncanny in the sense of unhomely, in its literal translation from the German, as Cathy Park Hong points out recently in her essay “Against Witness,” – that seem to define them for me. When this happens, the poems are able to not only juxtapose the supposedly “natural” with the artificial, but also the at-hand and the unapproachable --– what the poem can and cannot do. For example, in the poem “Shells,” here in my translation, the speaker – in this case the mother – wants to protect her daughter from some unnamed, encroaching danger:
In a pocket the shells from the sand
she goes on picking
the ocean doesn’t impress her much
she prefers to find these kind of treasures
like mature fruits
the sand leaving her hand
the water leaving hands
in turn the shells
you can keep them in a box
like lesser moons
that you spread across a table
as decoration
Later, when the speaker starts thinking about the ocean – “you can’t keep it in a box / the same with blood,” a new, darker feeling enters the poem. Suddenly the shells are not soft comforting objects, but living, reacting creatures, both aware and symptomatic of these shifts: “everyone laughs…because they don’t know / shells are sad / they’re sick.” In this, we see the way the speaker’s desire consolidates in brief enunciations of self, or desires for the wholeness of self, but also the poem being unable to fully concretize these desires, protect them against the passage of time, or create enclosures of safety. That the world of the poem is not invulnerable to the world outside it seems obvious, but the speaker’s will to pause, or linger at these thresholds becomes something beautiful, something that edges against the sublime sense of danger, exorbitance, awe; also something imperfectly calibrated against what is humanly possible and what is not. 
Find the whole piece at Essay Daily.
Originally Published: January 18th, 2018