NEIL LEADBEATER Reviews
Vuelo Subterráneo / Subterranean Flight by Mario Melendéz
(Rafaelli Editore, Rimini, Italy, 2013)
This bilingual (Spanish /English) edition with a translation by Ron Hudson is available as a PDF from www.rafaellieditore.com
Melendéz is considered one of the most important new voices in Latin-American poetry. Originally from Linares in Chile, he now resides in Italy where he lectures on Latin-American poetry at the University of Urbino. He is the author of several volumes of poetry and his work has been translated into many languages including Italian, French, Portuguese, German, Romanian, Bulgarian and Catalan. At the beginning of 2013, he received the Medal of the President of the Italian Republic, awarded by the International Foundation Don Luigi di Liegro.
Before coming to Rome, he lived for a while in Mexico City where he conducted literary workshops and headed up various cultural projects. While he was in Mexico he edited a collection of Latin-American poetry for Laberinto Editions and he also edited various anthologies of Chilean and Latin-American poetry.
The present volume gives readers in the English-speaking world an opportunity to sample at first hand the distinctive work of this poet. It is the first time that any of his work has been available in English. The translation by Ron Hudson is excellent.
The poems in Subterranean Flight, often slightly surreal, are spiced with a wry sense of humour. In several of his poems, for example, he chooses to turn his words into characters that quickly assume a life of their own. In The Messenger they are individuals who are taken out for a walk and who speak their own mind. There is something edgy here, though. This is not just a casual afternoon ramble. Their impact has a lasting consequence to the extent that they have to be suppressed to the point of being killed-off.
She took the words out for a walk
and the words bit the children
and the children told their parents
and the parents loaded their guns
and opened fire upon the words…
What at first appears to be a light-hearted piece may also be interpreted on a deeper level.
Words represented as characters make their reappearance in Scars of War. This time they take the poet home when he is drunk, but is he drunk on beer or words? There is a gentle irony at work here. Instead of taking care of him and putting him to bed, the words lambast him for writing bad poems. It is the words themselves that have the last laugh. The title of the poem raises the stakes to that of a battleground…a war of words, perhaps.
Words are once again viewed as characters in The Daughter of Rimbaud whose beguiling beauty is celebrated through the lines of the poem. Everything in nature is seen as her lover and the repetition of the “open dress” is an invitation to carnal lust.
When she opens her dress…
the sparrows flock
crazy with love
above her paper breasts.
The magic that is inherent in this poem is also to be found in One Day I Will Return to Your Eyes where a spirit is about to return to a loved one. After an absence, we are told, the spirit will return in the image of a bird more alive, more pure, more hungry than ever before.
Take Me With You is another love poem in which the lover compares the loved one to his homeland where he is the only inhabitant. In the poem, which is very much aligned to the metaphysical, the body of the loved one is described in terms of geography and landscape and conjures up a nostalgic yearning for a return to one’s roots.
In For Greater Security Melendéz's poetry is viewed as something which is at once concrete and tangible. Here, it appears in the guise of a physical building. Words are the building blocks of this habitation.
Come to see my poetry
it is not made of lightweight material
it will perfectly withstand the winter
and in summer it will refresh
minds and bodies.
The idea behind The Recipe or The Beginning of Poetry has been tried and tested many times and is by no means original but this is one of the best examples of its kind that I have come across so far. It is essentially a poem about the creative process in which the ingredients are carefully listed—inspiration and madness being proffered in equal measure. Reality and fantasy, laughter and tears all go into the mix. Careful attention is paid to aesthetic appeal—the look of the poem, the thoughts that flow from the pen and the way in which the poem is voiced so that not a word sounds out of place. Art in any form cannot be rushed. It will evolve in its own time and not before. It will often be the subject of much revision. That which appears effortless on the printed page is often the product of a lifetime’s work. And this, says Melendz, is just the beginning of poetry.
Beyond the humour of The Sinatra Clan lies the wider issue of audience response, of today’s reception towards modern poetry—a reception that in this case is based on ignorance, prejudice and misunderstanding. Sinatra does it “My Way”, the poet does it his way. Each is equally valid at the end of the day.
Jealous rivalry is light-heartedly portrayed in the poem My Cat Wants To Be A Poet. In this poem, the tables are turned and the poet, enraged that his cat can write better poetry than he can, exclaims
May God forgive me for this
but I see no other way out
tomorrow I will throw my cat out into the street
and I will publish the poem under my name.
In The Other Woman Melendéz offers us a quirky variation on the Little Red Riding Hood story and, in so doing, offers us another take on his irrepressible humour.
In Unfinished Pedagogy words are characters again. They are living entities in their own right. Words, we are told, do not grow old. They are as young as the day that they were born. They hold some secret elixir of eternal youth. After a poet dies, the words remain. This is the hope of every poet who seeks some form of immortality.
Melendéz's work is both accessible and appealing and we owe a debt of gratitude to Ron Hudson for bringing the work of this poet to our attention. His work is deserving of a wider audience and this is a welcome translation. Recommended.
I am grateful for permission from the translator to reproduce these extracts.
Neil Leadbeater is an author, essayist, poet and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, essays, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His most recent books are Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, Scotland, 2011) The Worcester Fragments (Original Plus Press, England, 2013) and The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, Bristol, England, 2014).