Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Juan Gelman, the renowned Argentine poet and left-wing activist who was awarded the prestigious Cervantes Prize died in Mexico on 15th January. He was 83.

Juan Gelman was one of the most brilliant writers in Spanish of the 20th century.  "Gelman worked with words like they were plastic, he modeled them," says writer Vicente Muleiro. Gelman has poetry "tattooed in his bones”,  echoed by the Culture Minister César Antonio Molina  when he was awarded the Cervantes prize.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1930 to Jewish Ukrainian emigrants – his father took part in the 1905 Russian Revolution – Gelman fell in love with poetry at the age of seven on hearing his brother Boris recite verses by Pushkin in Russian, even though he could not speak the language. His first verses were as a love-struck nine-year-old: "she was called Ana", he would later recall. He passed off and sent her poems by another author as his own, then wrote his own. Neither tactic conquered Ana, but his vocation was found.

His mother initially opposed Gelman's plan to become a poet, but combined with journalism it was a decision that proved to be the right one. From 1956 onwards he published more than 20 books of poetry, translated into 14 languages, winning the Cervantes Prize, the most prestigious literary award for work in Spanish, in 2007, along with the Juan Rulfo, Pablo Neruda and Queen Sofia poetry prizes. As for his journalism's relation to his poetry, he said, "they're like good neighbours who live on different floors in the same block of flats."

By March 1976, when Isabel Peron was deposed by a military coup, some 5,000 of the Montoneros were in jail. Gelman narrowly avoided arrest that July, but in his absence the police arrested his daughter Nora Eva, his son Marcelo and pregnant daughter-in-law Maria – 20 and 18 respectively at the time – and took them to a clandestine detention centre.

Nora Eva was released after three days, but the other two were not so lucky. Repeatedly tortured over four months, Marcelo was the first to die, shot in the head and his remains dumped in an oil drum filled with cement and thrown in a river. Maria gave birth, and lived for another two months before she was also killed – Gelman suspected in a barracks in Uruguay as part of the Operation Condor agreement between South American military dictatorships for wiping out left-wing "subversive" activity. Her child Macarena, meanwhile, was handed over to foster parents, a Uruguayan police chief and his wife, and a new birth certificate created for her bearing their name.

After tracking down the remains of his son in 1990, Gelman began a search for Macarena and in 1999 she was located. In 2000 he and his granddaughter were reunited, and in 2005 a Uruguayan judge granted Macarena the right to regain her real parents' surnames. "In this way," as Gelman said at the time, "my son and my daughter-in-law continue in her and in some way, we all continue."

"I died many times, and with each report of a murdered or disappeared friend, the pain of those lost became greater," he said during his acceptance speech of the Cervantes prize in 2008.

In one of his last interviews, with the Spanish paper El Pais, Gelman uttered dire warnings of "the development of a whole system to shred our very own spirit: the worst thing that can happen to the human being is a kind of docile acceptance: of terrorism, of genocide through hunger, of the lack of education in the world." He added, "Something will change, but I won't be alive to see it."

I loved the below poem for its honesty. It is amazing to see how the reordering of the lines of the first stanza  in the last one  gives an assertion to the profession of poetry. 


By Juan Gelman

Translated by Joan Lindgren

he sits down at the table and writes
“with this poem you won’t take power” he says
“with these verses you won’t make the Revolution” he says
“nor with thousands of verses will you make the revolution” he says

what’s more: those verses won’t make
peons teachers wood cutters live better
eat better or him himself eat live better
nor will make a girl fall in love with him 

they won’t earn him money
they won’t get him into the movies free
he can’t buy clothes with them
or trade them for wine or tobacco

no scrarves no parrots no boats
no bulls no umbrellas can he get for them
they will not keep him dry in the rain
nor get him grace or forgiveness

“with this poem you won’t take power” he says
“with these verses you won’t make the Revolution” he says
“nor with thousands of verses will you make the revolution” he says
he sits down at the table and writes

Ref: Unthinkable Tenderness: Selected Poems: Juan Gelman, Eduardo Galeano, Joan Lindgren

Friday, January 17, 2014




(trans Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk)

The snow is knee-deep in the courtyard
and still coming down hard:
it hasn't let up all morning.
We're in the kitchen.
On the table, on the oilcloth, spring —
on the table there's a very tender young cucumber,
pebbly and fresh as a daisy.

We're sitting around the table staring at it.
It softly lights up our faces,
and the very air smells fresh.
We're sitting around the table staring at it,

We're as if in a dream.
On the table, on the oilcloth, hope —
on the table, beautiful days,
a cloud seeded with a green sun,
an emerald crowd impatient and on its way,
loves blooming openly —
on the table, there on the oilcloth, a very tender young cucumber,
pebbly and fresh as a daisy.

The snow is knee-deep in the courtyard
and coming down hard.
It hasn't let up all morning.

The greatest modern Turkish poet of twentieth century, NazimHikmet (1902-1963) once wrote from prison, ``In the twentieth century / grief lasts / at most a year.'' First jailed in 1924 at the age of 22 for working on a leftist magazine, he spent 18 years incarcerated. Hikmet was awarded the World Peace Prize in 1950, the same year as he gained his release from jail, only to be exiled from Turkey in 1951 for the last 13 years of his life. 

The poet evidently never lost his faith in social justice. His love of life apparently didn't weaken, and his poems resonate with its power: ``Shot through ten years of bondage like a bullet, / . . . my heart is still the same heart, my head still the same head.'' But to consider Hikmet a political poet only is to miss his gift, and a temperament infected with joy. In  "Occupation'' he writes, ``In the afternoon heat I pick olives, / the leaves the loveliest of greens: / I'm light from head to toe.'' The translations by Blasing and Mutlu Konak convey the power and originality of the work. As Hikmet grew, he delivered a richness and humanity unparalleled in its freedom from bitterness in poems like ``Things I Didn't Know I Loved,'' ``After Getting Out of Prison'' and ``The Last Bus.''

The  poet  beautifully captures a hopeful and dreamy atmosphere in this quiet poem when a family sits around a table and watches a tender cucumber. The admiration of the cucumber because of its smell, its freshness and color leads him to much more tender and rapturous feelings . It evokes a million memories of the salad days of  his life. How beautifully the poet ruminates on the emerald cucumber (with its teeming seeds) and hopes it to become the green sun in his life too. How wondrously the poet has used 'repetition' as a way to enhance the poetic message .This poem itself is worth an emerald.

Friday, January 10, 2014



by Jorge Guillen

Translated by Cola Franzen

When love is extinguished little by little,
without the jolt of a rupture,
it is difficult to recount vicissitudes,
to carry the story to its pathetic
to stop the instant when love
turns into not love
beneath a summer's light,
a slow slow summer across skies
still glowing though the sun's now hidden,
when a barely perceptible negligence
gives the late step of the strollers
a calm of neutral peace,
and while the attention
wander among intimate fogs,
sketches of abandonment
dissolve in the dusk,
and though inspiring to the soul
those hours deeply branded
by that love remain extinct.

Jorge Guillen, one of the greatest Spanish Poets of last century, was a poet of luminous intelligence and possessed a metaphysical passion for reality. He was a poet of spacial and temporal essences, which he delineates in his passionately smart poems. " I am decidedly in favor of compound, complex poetry," the poet said in 1926, "of the poem made of poetry and other human things." 
His  ideal has always been to create pure poetry. Much of Guillén's work explores the relationship of form to matter while delighting in sensuality and clarity of perception. 

This is a lovely poem . The slow atrophy, sometimes unknowingly, of a noble emotion like love can sometimes be more catastrophic than a sudden rupture in relationship. The poet then turns his eyes into the nature with lines that speaks of summer with the Sun hidden. The poem has a meditative quality, which is a hallmark of many of his poems. He is  always concerned about the underlying essence of the cosmos.

Source : Horses in the Air and other Poems by Jorge Guillen. Translated by Cola Franzen. Publisher City Light Books