Cardboard house Press

The Dream of Every Cell by Maricela Guerrero, Translated from the Spanish by Robin Myers

The-Dream-of-Every-Cell--Maricela-Guerrero

By Greg Bem

stories and forms of classification we didn’t yet realize how urgently we’d need to recover and weave new webs to protect us from subtraction. – (from “Olmedo,” page 19)

In the opening of Maricela Guerrero’s The Dream of Every Cell, before it even really opens, the poet writes: “For the people and communities who care for and defend the forests, jungles, mountains, rivers, glaciers, and oceans subjected to the extractions of empire, with admiration and profound respect” (page 6). This statement profoundly summarizes what is a collection of ecopoetic meditations and love poems to and for the preservation of the environment, our world, our future.

Guerrero’s collection, originally from 1977 in Mexico City, and first published in the Spanish language in 2018, and now here this year, in English, thanks to Robin Myers, feels as much a collection of poetry as it does a document of rebellion, a manifesto, a toolkit on how to think about connectedness and ecology. It is a book about individuals as much as it is about systems. It is a book about personal commitment as much as it is a book about relationships. As Myers concisely describes in the afterword, it is “a compendium of protest and praise” (page 133).

The poet is concerned with the world and anchors this book in a key figure of the poet’s world: a science teacher named Ms. Olmedo, whose teachings are profoundly Zenlike in their simplicity and provocation. Strewn through most of the poems are koan-like insights into how to approach the world, think about the cells of the world, and relate to them. There are poems on trees, on wolves, on biological principles, and investigations into truth.

Counter to preservation is destruction, and counter to the preservationists of this book is empire, is imperialism, is the destroyer. The first quote from Olmedo paints this picture and sets this stage: “All organisms are made of cells, except for viruses” (page 13), and from that flip of the page this book is a scythe cutting open and exposing the raw reality beneath the surface. It is a book that describes movement of life and death, of action and inaction, and of protection.

The language of empire doesn’t care about recognizing that a cell comes from another cell; it only wants to know which cell came first.

(from “The Language of Empire,” page 83)

How empire is found and described ecologically varies from poem to poem. In the prose poem “It’s Raining,” the reader stands face to face with all of Monsanto, greedy with the control of seeds (page 61). In “Data,” precursors to what is widely known as data capitalism is described: “The imperial language of our present day is encoded in statistics, in rivers of data flowing through webs of energy and silicone and salt” proclaims the poet (page 75). Again, this courageous book concerns the specific and the vague, the succinct and the massive.

The Dream of Every Cell is a cunning array of poetic explorations, and it is a book of dreams. It is a book of longing and the imagination. Guerrero writes in a prehistoric passion, thinking of the abstract boundaries that divide utopian paradise, the wastes of today, and somewhere urgently existing in between. I appreciate the poet’s bluntness despite of the poetic imagining. In “Rivers,” Guerrero asks: “Can we imagine a river of wolves lacing through the mesetas and sheltering streams and creeks and communities of life communicating in a language that isn’t the language of empire?” Later, more matter-of-factly, we are graced with a question on healing and treatment: “Are spearmint leaves in tea for stomach pain a form of love?” (from “Mentha Spicata,” page 51). Guerrero isn’t shy to ask us how we reach resolution in our grim world, filled with dynamics of contradiction, where the wisdom and its solutions stare as right in the face.

The book is a stunning 140 pages, and most of it is in prose, and yet it is a bilingual release that pairs the original Spanish next to the emerged English exquisitely. There is something to be said about a movement of language that goes beyond Guerrero’s Mexico into new corners of our webbed, shared existence.

shared breath resounding: breath
ungasped, unanguished,
a respite millions of light years away:
your eyes,
your eyelashes,
just imagine that, Ms. Olmedo would say

(from “Introductions,” page 23)

The Dream of Every Cell is a dense collection, filled with questions seeking responses, seeking empathetic connection. It offers to find meaning between the poet and the audience in a way most poetry books avoid; it finds heights that most poetry books never reach. Guerrero’s audience includes you, and her book is one that, with its wolves and streams and breathing, will offer you visions into a more respectful, supportive future.

You can find the book here: https://cardboardhousepress.org/the-dream-of-every-cell-maricela-guerrero

Greg Bem is a poet and librarian living on unceded Duwamish territory, specifically Seattle, Washington. He writes book reviews for Rain Taxi, Yellow Rabbits, and more. His current literary efforts mostly concern water and often include elements of video. Learn more at www.gregbem.com

Contra natura by Rodolfo Hinostroza Translated by Anthony Seidman

diseno de tapa echavarren paperback

By Greg Bem

And by then Reality was / an impetuous phantasmagoria

(from “King’s Gambit,” page 15)

At long last, the Peruvian poet Rodolfo Hinostroza’s majestic Contra natura is available to the English-speaking audience. This work is a crucial component of late 20th-century poetry attuned to the modernist collecting, the surrealist melting, and the complex humor that follows the community footsteps of poets throughout South America. Contra natura is not a long sequence of poetry, at roughly 60 pages, but it is packed with stunning lines, overlapping themes and symbols, and the voice of Hinostroza himself, a witty and multifaceted master of poetic ceremonies who bridges a range of tones and examinations within the heart of the book’s sequence.

Goodbye fucked dreams, goodbye your pulse,
brilliant carver

(from “King’s Gambit,” page 17)

The text was originally published in 1970, having been acknowledged and awarded by Octavio Paz via the Maldoror Prize in Barcelona. The storied history of the poet and his work is worth examining in the book’s extensive introduction, graciously provided by the book’s translator, US-based Anthony Seidman. One might find elements of Paz’s distillation in the text, just as one might find the devouring essence of Lautreamont himself, but more prominently we have a book of wholly original and undeniably impenetrable poetry that both fits and stands unencumbered without comparison.

In many moments, this incomparable core matches the poet’s consciousness and intentions, flighty and sturdy and beckoning: “the world for which I fancied myself mediator / never existed,” he writes in “Imitation of Propertius,” page 31. It is awesome indeed to see the poet call forth the style and concerns of Sextus Propertius in this example, though one needn’t dive deeply into the history of Latin poetry to understand the calm binding to history within the Peruvian’s lines. The layers between word and reference remind me of exploring Olson or Pound at length, wondering and wandering, exploring how deep each reference might go.

The uniqueness and brevity of this book fits well within a relatively straightforward translation; straightforward in the sense that the poetry makes sense, is digestible, and tends to match the Spanish succinctly in a masterful though playful way. Seidman has done a marvelous job at capturing Hinostroza’s energy and making it feel freshly contemporary, arriving today, and yet it maintains a touch of the late modernist period as well, moving around the essence of culture and community through which the book was originally written.

A wave of migratory birds flew over your forehead
you were the girl of the orange trees

(from “Problems of Brabantio,” page 55)

Visually stunning, the poems often read like a descent taken down a magnificent staircase toward some destination of rest. (The poet himself remarks, in another section of “Imitation of Propertius,” “there is only one singer for the ascent / and a thousand for the descent” (page 43). So true in the application of style and form from poem to poem.

Often stanzas last dozens of lines, only cut off by way of subsections within each poem, or new poems entirely. I was taken by lines like: “and that summer we stretched out on the beaches of Spain / incandescence of eyes,” which open and shut an image in a single breath (from “Celebration of Lysistrata,” page 47). Later in the book, where the poet begins to bring in visual symbols and explore limits of the written word, we see Hinostroza’s internal comments fulfill and instill a density to the image: “it was not the vibration of the protoplasm / not a shapeless thing not a swamp / confused libraries yellowing beneath the sun” (from “Hommage à Vasaraely,” page 65). The splicing cluster comes as quickly as it goes, powerfully incising like a haiku, relieving, and confounding, all the same.

Images often make up natural divisions in theme and structure, though they are not kept to a line, a couplet, or other traditional boundaries. The poems read with a sense of ecstasy or exasperation, reflecting the energy of Hinostroza and his peers. The attractiveness seems to logically connect with the poet’s fame in younger and current generations of poets in Peru.

Still, the book is no cakewalk and is as difficult as it is accessible. For each image that feels astounding, there results a sequence of questions over the image’s placement and inclusion, a puzzlement muddying the overall trajectory of each poem. This messiness, a beautiful, organized chaos, is what Charles Bernstein describes in the book’s opening review quotes as a “a gift to English.” Even Paz once remarked to Hinostroza that the book would change Hinostroza’s life. The whole book is a treasure, but often the value, I think, is within its mysteries, its complexities, its nuances, similar to the work of Uruguayan poet Marosa di Giorgio.

A desert, no doubt, something sun-scorched. The sun. Remember it?
There’s a sun outside!

(from “Dialogue Between a Prisoner and Deaf Man,” page 25)

It is impossible to succinctly describe the folds that go into the content, both of scope and meaning, in Contra natura, so instead I invite you, reader, to find this book and explore on your own. Like Blaser, like Spicer, like Waldman, like Baraka, there will explode within the confines of the page lines pluming and spinning and expanding. It may or may not feel as of or against the natural, but it will catch your focus all the same. It is an optimistic book, one that captures attention and imposes drive, imposes will. Moments of chaos are often closed with a vibrance or slow fade into harmony (if not a forlorn form of it), as we see in the book’s title poem: “the peace and beauty of this world have spread over me / our bodies / successive timeless hommages to the daybreak of life” (page 111). It is in these moments, inclusive of all the emotion bound to history and compilation, that we can read a permanence in Hinostroza’s work.

You can find the book here: https://cardboardhousepress.org/Contra-Natura-Rodolfo-Hinostroza

Greg Bem is a poet and librarian living on unceded Duwamish territory, specifically Seattle, Washington. He writes book reviews for Rain Taxi, Yellow Rabbits, and more. His current literary efforts mostly concern water and often include elements of video. Learn more at gregbem.com.