A bilingual collection of poetry celebrating the natural world.
In the first book-length English translation of her work, Cuban poet López Amaya (La vela y el náufrago, 2016, etc.) opens with “We Were Flocks,” a numbered poem with 10 stanzas that explores the costs and benefits of conforming to the group dynamic. The poet alternates points of view from the broad “we” to the specific “I” to the detached “it.” The second poem, “Bus Stop,” is a meditation on different interpretations of freedom: “Freedom is the air that slaps us in the face each time / we venture out to see what we are lacking.” Nature scenes abound, mentioning a yellow-green bird, a cottonwood tree, the sea. These touchstones sometimes evolve into quasi-political statements: “My garden / will not be the power of one thing over another.” López Amaya also circles around intellectual self-examination, such as in “The Painting”: “It’s good to know no one is listening to you. Thinking / is like solitude.” Loneliness, reverence, and confusion are the predominant emotions throughout. This is an often evocative collection that celebrates nature’s everyday details; the poet describes a pastoral landscape in a tactile way: “We will see our faces, fixed against the wind, / taut and lifeless from so much walking, skin withered / from the sun.” However, some of the author’s ideas aren’t entirely new (“A rock is on the path, and we pick it up / and claim it. But the rock does not belong to us. It / belongs to the path”) and others border on cliché (“The freedom of this body that refuses to bend is / unbreakable”). The excessive use of alliteration (“Something seeps through my smiling sheep lips”) and the ubiquitous descriptor “naked” also become tiresome. Barnett’s translation occasionally isn’t exact; for example, in “The Seat of Power,” “Tuve una silla que daba vueltas” literally means “I had a chair that spun around,” but it’s translated here as “I had a chair that swiveled.” It’s a minor discrepancy, but one that might annoy bilingual readers, even though the translation maintains the sentence’s essence.
An often delightful, if somewhat repetitive, collection for the casual poetry lover.