a poetry collection from Vincent Pagé
[ Vallum Magazine / 2015 / 30 pp ]
First translated by W. S. Merwin and now collaged, cut-up and rearranged by Vincent Pagé, the poems from Pablo Neruda’s 1969 collection Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair form the backbone of this chapbook. While Neruda’s words are borrowed, it is Pagé’s voice that strikes a new nerve through them—via simplicity. Pared down and neatly packaged, the poems never go beyond a handful of lines. Some are imagist, others visual, but most are meant to invoke quiet moments of longing, admiration, and a lasting desire. I do not think a single poem in this collection draws upon feelings of animosity or frustration, all parts of love—rather, despite some sense of sadness when his lover is absent, Pagé’s narrator is at peace.
If you can recall your high school English education, you might already associate anything labeled as a love poem with sonnets or otherwise strictly structured blocks of text that bored you. Though they are all undoubtedly love poems (how could they not be, when drawing source material from Neruda), Pagé’s writing takes love to the abstract. Less explicit, more emotion—poem number VI is more imagist than romantic, in terms of its poetic nature.
smoke twisted over
you are far off.
hyacinth, leaves, a
bird house –
awe in embers
of memory. i
migrated from the
field to the hills.
Not all are so subtle in feeling. In XV, Pagé writes “I hear you in stillness – things emerge / from things; a butterfly, a dream.” In a poem about desiring to hear the voice of a distant lover, this is an image that draws direct attention to dwelling on memories, on wishing for the impossible presence of a person too far away to hear. Though Pagé’s narrator never explicitly gives name to the situation between himself and his lover, the poems instead existing as singular instances of feeling, I still felt myself searching for a story. Perhaps it was the way in which the book was arranged—in another form of rearrangment. Crossing out the title (the Spanish word for ‘twenty,’ also a part of the original and much longer title of Neruda’s collection) is a coy step towards the project of the chapbook itself. Pagé also has them arranged as a countdown—the last poem being the first. The carefully structured nature of this chapbook is a love poem in itself, at the risk of sounding sappy.
I was worried for these poems at first, if only because Neruda’s work, when translated into English, carries with it a voice that one might deem old-fashioned. Pagé’s reimagining of Neruda’s works does not reflect that potentially tiring vernacular, however; rather, his poems feel fresh. No drama, no ballads, no grand proclamations of undying love. If anything, these poems can be compared to gentle shower of rain in the evening after a particularly hot day—a reminder that there are always small moments of pleasure to make up for the times when those larger feelings are absent.
Visit Vallum Chapbook Series to purchase the book.
Reviewer / Terry Abrahams
Five Things with Trudy
1. The last thing that made you smile.
The last thing that made me smile is my new vinyl collection reaching 50 records thus far. I grew up listening to music on vinyl. Whether it was my late mother playing Mighty Clouds of Joy and other gospel music or my older brother playing Whodini and other hip hop, vinyl was always around. Saturday morning chores to gospel or reggae on vinyl is a vivid memory. So much about music has changed in my lifetime. I played with 8-track tapes as a toddler as if they were toy cars. I listened to music on vinyl in my childhood and later made my own mixtapes on cassette tapes by recording the radio, as if I were a disc jockey myself; I even got used to listening to country music on the radio as that is my father’s favorite genre. I collected over 500 CDs in my adolescence through college years in the 1990s; I still have 200 of them, many of which are exactly 20 years old this year as I graduated high school in 1997 and that was a great year of music. I witnessed the entire world of MP3s come about, with Napster as fire and iTunes as ice, as I was leaving college in 2001. I have weeks worth of music with MP3s, if I played them all in a row. I currently have several subscriptions to music streaming services. Changes in how I access music over time has also reflected changes in my own life; milestones even. Music has always been everything to me. Thus, going back to vinyl feels like a reconnection with my childhood, with my late mom and with music itself, in a new way but in ultimately an old, familiar, and comfortable way.
2. A secret.
The most comfortable thing for me to wear at home is actually a sheet. I wrap a fitted sheet around my body with the corners as my feet pockets when sitting. Since I cannot find a comfortable temperature for my home, I would rather keep my home slightly cool and walk around in an old shirt and wrapped in a sheet. It makes me comfortable at my home desk while working and in the living room while watching TV. It is weird perhaps, but a secret that I am not ashamed of.
3. The last thing you wrote.
I recently wrote ‘Beauty 101: Personal Stories’ where I talk about beauty as a personal and political topic. While it includes some daily regimen info that answers common questions I get about the topic, it also includes how being a Black woman in this world and dealing with how “beauty” is defined in rigid ways has affected my life over time. For years on my womanist blog Gradient Lair, I discussed beauty politics and how perceptions of beauty shape experiences for Black women in media and Black women in interpersonal and social spaces. This piece references that work and expands into my own experiences with “beauty” and from childhood through now.
4. Favourite city.
It is difficult for me to choose just one; both Montréal (2006) and Hong Kong (2007) are among my favorites of places that I have traveled to. Montréal felt like how an overcast day makes me feel, where I am supposed to feel melancholy, perhaps, but all I feel is calm. It was beautiful but not overbearing to me. I enjoyed photographing there and having fun with a couple of friends. Though it has been a decade since I have been there, I never forgot how it looks or how it made me feel. Hong Kong gave me a different feeling as an introvert. I honestly thought I would be a little nervous because the population is really dense and my photographs reflect that busyness and general crowdedness that a major city can have. At the same time, it had an energy about it that made me feel okay. Being surrounded by the mixture of lights, colours and textures felt like being in art but without taking away from the very real people going about their lives, working, shopping, eating, loving, living.
5. What you’d place in a time capsule.
I would place printouts of tweets in a time capsule. The funniest ones. The smartest ones. Tweets about love. About friendship. Not necessarily my own tweets, but those from people who have influenced my life in some way. I know some people would place books, or essays, or newspapers in a time capsule. But to be honest, even with my critiques for Twitter as a platform itself, especially regarding safety, some of what I have read there means as much to me as some of my favorite old poems, essays and books have. I would want the future world to know that even amidst the absolute worst times in life, ordinary people have extraordinary thoughts and contain multitudes of both real pain and true beauty.
Trudy is an artist who works as an indie creator, author, writer, photographer, curator, and social critic. Trudy is the creator of Gradient Lair, about Black women and art, media, social media, sociopolitics and culture. Gradient Lair is one of the largest specifically womanist spaces online, and in the future, Trudy will publish anthologies of key subjects from Gradient Lair when it was live. Trudy is the creator of Cinemacked which engages the entertainment, aesthetics and sociopolitics of good film and television. Trudy reviews films, TV shows and discusses interesting media with cool people. Trudy is also a professional photographer who focuses on colour, cuisine and culture with Drift Sojourn. You can follow Trudy’s daily musings on Twitter at @thetrudz.
a poem from Leila Chatti
“however you choose to say it,
she was tired, she entered the summer night”
I have been thinking about how we say things. How certain phrases and euphemisms become ingrained in our languages. I do not have the answers and cannot tell you how to describe them. Perhaps we need to look at Leila Chatti’s new poem ‘Semantics’ and see how we can approach the turning of life intangible. The two lines per stanza create silence and space, letting each action and description inhale and exhale naturally (see: “like a coat in winter, but / it was August when she stole // her life”). This is a poem that refracts light into several shards, and every time you see something different and new.
Visit The Collapsar to read the poem.
Contributing Editor / Hannah Cohen
a short story from Bonnie Etherington
Bonnie Etherington’s story, ‘Mango Season,’ takes us to Darwin, Australia, to a camping trip, and a gathering of girls. The landscape is beautifully wrought, evoking memories of summers spent outdoors playing in nature. Just as beautifully wrought is the dark current running beneath the surface—undercutting the seemingly sweet summer adventure. The young women in the story are not as safe or naïve as children should be, and their pending adulthood shimmers through. Threatens to break. And while we don’t get to see that transformation we get to see the girls’ power building, and the price it takes for them to gain it.
Visit Guernica to read the short story.
Contributing Editor / Reneé Bibby
poems from Helli Fang
“Because in the dark, what matters most
is how the shutter of a throat closes & not
how empty it is.”
Carefully crafted language and recurring themes define today’s poems on the Wilds. The ways in which two individual poems can overlap in atmosphere and imagery but differ in tone and intention. What struck me the most about these poems was the inventiveness of imagery, how one idea ties to the next with such unexpected movements and transitions. In these poems there are the faintest traces of yearning, distance, and isolation. Extracting the reader from the whole of the truth only amplifies that effect.
“I will never know what it means
to be afraid. As in compressing
a body into a bruise & praying
it will never be unclenched.”
There is the sensation of a feeling or an emotion, but no clear, discernible reason. In this way, poetry replicates reality, where things are at times uncertain and free from our compulsion to categorize everything as cause and effect. Sometimes it’s only meant to be felt; to know it for what it is.
Visit The Adroit Journal to read the poems.
Contributing Editor / Joyce Chong
poems from Sophia Tempest Parsons
Sometimes, small poems stick the bigger landings. Just a couple of words and a few lines breaks can destroy. It’s wonderful. I first read these two poems by Sophia Tempest Parsons last week, but they’re still sitting with me, particularly the lines “everything you do is a ritual” and “there’s a lime tree where you should be.” That everything one does is a ritual, be it a one-off act or an everyday occurrence, is a powerful idea. And the more I mull it over the more power it holds over me. Ritual is purpose, is intention. Apply that to everything one does, and you have a framework for patience, for letting go, for going forward.
Visit Metatron to read the poems.
Contributing Editor / Andrew Sargus Klein
Ode to Lithium #75: Mind over Matter
a poem from Shira Erlichman
The Ode to Lithium series doesn’t just address the medication itself, but the entire trajectory that’s helped it arrive at the side of the speaker. In #75: Mind Over Matter, we tackle the voices trying to keep it out of the speaker’s hands and say it’s unnecessary. We begin with “someone’s professional opinion / was to “relax” over matter. To sandcastle over / wave.” The interplay of “matter” here is well-wrought. It’s powerful to acknowledge that you’re composed of certain elements that can’t be transformed at will. Even the most fortified sandcastle will somewhat wash away in an impending wave, but “relaxing” won’t stop the sediment from rushing back to the sea.
Likewise, “as if I could possess the firegrief that possessed me” is chilling because I can imagine the speaker burning up from the inside. Why are they being asked to control the fire when it’s already turned them into its container? They’re constantly being asked to be two steps ahead of their condition instead of tackling it in the present. These assumptions uproot their sense of reality to leave them with what they should have done, aka not exist in any complexity. These voices say, “if you’re not composed correctly, don’t pull us into your universe. Don’t ask us to help you map it. Stop feeling the wound.”
But my favorite irreverent moment of the poem pushes back against them: “will you relax / the coffin into the soil?” It implies that asking someone to “relax” can be a form of burying them alive because you’re really asking them to be overtaken by quiet, to unname their hurts. There should be no casual way to bury someone. It’s one of the few acts that has to be done intentionally in order to give any real honor to a life. How can you ignore the coffin’s weight? How can you drop a body as if it’s air? Stigma is the slip, the hand over your mouth that asks if you’re worthy of breath. But you’re already here and you already matter. Don’t let them take your air or the ground beneath you.
Visit BOAAT to read the poem (and look for the rest of the series!).
Contributing Editor / Nix Thérèse