Pedro Serrano is an exquisite poet, and this is a collection that sings with virtuosic touches – Serrano’s verse itself, the work of the translator and the scope of the Arc Visible Poets series, which profiles both poet and translator. Parallel text editions are such a pleasure, even if one does not read the original language – to gain a sense of the interplay between Anna Crowe’s sensitive translations and Serrano’s Spanish originals adds a vitality and intellectual excitement to the reading of the collection. Arc are to be congratulated.
In “Dry Rain/ La LLuvia Seca” Serrano refigures the creative act of writing poetry into a destructive, unpleasant act, an act that depletes:
At times the poem is a collapse
a slow and painful landslide
a dark and scandalous rockfall.
Throughout the collection, Serrano is interested in uttering what should not be uttered, looking at the unseeable, communicating what is painful. Here, poetry is the natural disaster that reveals something underneath – landslides both eviscerate what exists and reveal new layers. If poetry is “the scab/ the image finally broken in pieces” then it can release the blood beneath, and can reach behind the image.
As the title of the collection suggests, Serrano is a keen observer of natural phenomena. In this area, his tastes err toward the Romantic and sublime: he favours the storm, the gale, the wind in the trees. In “The Wind’s Trust/ Confianza Del Viento”, love and death are figures as movements equivalent to seasons, which are represented by extreme weather. The four part poem begins:
I heard her afar off, like a blue sword of midnight
like an edge that grew from the frozen point of her lips
like a knife made of water that in its stridency could not be heard.
Is this the wind or a lover? The coldness of the wind and the fear of the tempestuous female form approaching meld, as do the senses – hearing swords and hearing the water. Serrano’s poetry is not ordered and logical, and it does on occasional run the risk of throwing off lucid imagery in favour of atmospherics and the accretion of feeling. As a poetic technique this tends to be divisive, but in Serrano’s hands it is wielded masterfully and unforced.
If it is lucidity and clear-cut images that the reader is after, however, Serrano is more than capable of delivering. In “Peat”, there is no reliance on Romantic imagery: the poetry is pared back and striking.
There is no
of this world
The beech loses
from the crown down.
The beech tree decays like an old man balds, the world unravels like a ball of yarn: Serrano has an uncomfortable ability to link to domestic to the vast, undifferentiated spheres of time and being, to make small things seem suddenly lonely. “The world/denies itself/and falls apart” – there is a Lear-esque feel to Serrano’s poetic voice, as if the world is a blasted heath and he its sole and final resident.
Some lightness and relief come in his love poetry, however. He is a Nerudian love poet, moving from the metaphysical to the physical with simplicity and grace. In “Rosary”, Serrano draws on small images and bodily sensations, but pans out, giving these images the potential for global resonance:
In the shoulder the creeper and the root.
On the head a heavy slab
In the sex the dense crowd, thick thirst, speech.
Verbiage is associated with the genitals – writing is a kind of fucking or, at the very least, a process that engages the physical over the intellectual – the head remains “a heavy slab”.
Serrano’s gutsy, bodily poetry is a dark joy, and Crowe’s translation is the polish that makes it shine. This is a fascinating collection and an excellent advert for the broader series.