Men and Women Alone is the first of Argentinian poet Tamara Kamenszain’s collections to be translated into English. It marks yet another accomplishment in the diverse life of this poet. Her career ranges from the study of philosophy, working as a journalist, to the collection of numerous poetry prizes. Originally from Argentina, Kamenzain has published over eight collections in her own language since 1973.
This collection was translated by Cecilia Rossi, who has also recently been working on another of Kamenszain’s collections – The Echo of My Mother. Rossi is both a poet in her own right, and an academic, highly regarded for her knowledge of the intricacies of translation. Notably, Rossi has been awarded first place in the John Dryden Translation competition.
It is encouraging to see that Rossi’s translation has allowed Kamenszain’s work to become available to a whole new readership. The prevailing quality of Kamenszain’s work is its relevance. The poetry in Men and Women Alone revolves around the fluctuating relationships between couples in different stages of life and love. These poems are versatile and timeless. The relationships which develop in the poems are neither forced nor contrived; there is throughout a certain delicacy and vulnerability. that adds a level of reality to the poems, making it almost impossible for the reader to disconnect. Kamenszain’s principal message surrounds the empty symbolism of the wedding band: “what do I see when I see something in the name of gold?” Instead, she offers the intricacies of fleeting relationships and one night stands.
The collection is organised into three sections, of which only the third is given a title (“The Binding”). This structure may suggest a specific theme within each division; however, whilst the first section consists solely of one stanza poems, and the final of much longer poems, the whole book is concerned with the same questions and ideals. Throughout, the barriers around love, and what it means to be in a relationship, are tested. Whilst the first section deals with scenarios familiar to most women, and the third deals with family relationships, all three probe the intrinsic value of relationships in general.
Each poem in the middle section is untitled and begins with the line “when I see you for the first time.” We are drawn into the musing ‘what if?’ She has the potential to draw in a diverse readership by personalising a universal issue showing the power of Kamenszain’s writing as her work remains easily accessible. The lines “I can hear my voice ask you about myself” stands almost as a code for her poetry. “Men and Women Alone” deals with the relationships between the narrator and an unknown partner or partners, but inevitably, the reader must ask more, and wonder how autobiographical and personal they are in truth.
Although I believe that this particular collection would perhaps find itself more receptive amongst a female readership, I’d recommend Kamenszain’s work to anyone with an interest in poetry. I believe she balances the reality of love in her own personal experience with a more universal perception of relationships. And that is admirable. It is worthwhile to read in Men and Women Alone questions about the value of love that so many of us ponder , written by a woman with such a strong command of her art.