Defense of the Idol. Omar Cáceres. Translated by Mónica de la Torre. Ugly Duckling Presse. Lost Literature Series #23. Brooklyn, New York.
"Outside your window poetry crosses the universe like a lightning bolt." - Vicente Huidobro
"The trees are drunk." - Omar Cáceres
Chilean poet Omar Cáceres was assassinated in Renca, Chile in 1943. He was a member of the Communist Party. Cáceres believed that his poetry was an attempt to translate the honest feelings of his soul.
When Defense of the Idol was first published Cáceres was furious. Apparently there were so many typos that the enraged Cáceres burned all but two copies of the original book. We can thank Ugly Duckling Presse for bringing his work to light and for the beautiful cover designed by Andrew Bourne - it is very faithful to the original design of Defense of the Idol which was originally published, in Spanish, as Defensa del Idolo (Santiago, Chile: Imprenta Norma, 1934).
Today's book of poetry was leery about posting poetry from so long ago. The need to stay current and all that. But when we talked to Stuart Ross, our poetry guru/editor and dear friend, he suggested that it was necessary to write about Cáceres so that an entirely new generation of readers could discover him.
Vicente Huidobro, who wrote the introduction to Defense of the Idol gives us proper serious direction, opens the door to Cáceres. Huidobro wrote "Because the poems by great poets manifest an era's inner currents better than anything else, and because the concerns of an era's highest spirits can only be glimpsed through poetry."
The trees are drunk, from nocturnal lights,
and they drag their shadows, nervous and stiff.
Their shadows, strangling the night's winds,
shelter and rattle me, as if I were a bird.
And my steps echo in their black boughs,
and the weakest hooks fill me with vertigo;
yet when I cast my eye on them from another, simpler pair,
they respond, swaying, that they remained intact...
The leaves, dilating the communal shadows,
return like ruined boats to their tree.
They cannot, oh, attain the solid banks
that the tips of heavenly bodies announce from above,
yet thick with silence they plow, quivering
through deep and frozen ponds of miracle.
And in the nocturnal trees embracing the earth,
I find oblivion and mercy, when in despair,
while the light runs down their boughs,
thin, diaphanous...LIKE WATER BETWEEN MY HANDS!
These poems, almost one hundred years old, feel entirely contemporary, modern, crisp. Omar Cáceres was crystal clear about his intentions. Defense of the Idol contains an essay of sorts as an end piece titled "I, Old and New Words." In this brief essay Omar Cáceres outlines how and why he writes. Here's a brief quote:
"Thus, I didn't write, as I said to a poet one day, "guided by the desire to WRITE LITERATURE, such a common affectation in this land, but rather following irresistible urges: the need to define, by expressing them, my inner states of being and the TRUE situation of my I in space and time...""
Stellar reprieve drunk on superior breaths,
forehead blue from weariness, from hurrying its double life;
double down on the staggering night and give me that clear strength,
streamer of your bones!
Hoisting its lung of ash, moon,
softly intertwined between the two of us;
sleep splattering from my body—wait for me:
together we will tread the solitude through which I've opened
a new way out to things.
Led to the buttress of your solid thirst,
(headdress of frail waves, distressed hips),
the meteorite of your body sets the seasons,
from the empty arc of its skin.
Our morning read was a rather spectacular spectacle. We had guests galore this week, and as usual we made them all read. K's father is visiting from Victoria, Otis showed up all smart and sleek, Kena came with Tomas and Freida and then, what do you know, Azaad walked in. Today's book of poetry gave them the spiel, if they are here, they must read - and read they did.
Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, thought it was one of the better offices reading we've ever had. Omar
Cáceres gets the blame.
And in the spirit of poetry Today's book of poetry has a few people to say hey to. Jim Wick, our Vermont poetry friend, helped to arrange the purchase of a small, but excellent poetry library. And he went way out of his way to do it. We will be grateful for ever. Pearl Pirie was visiting last week with her find husband Brian. She had some poetry books to drop off. Our offices have become that place where people take the poetry the can no longer handle. We've had to build more shelves.
Words to a Mirror
Brother, you, I will never comprehend;
I see in you such a deep and eerie fatalism,
you could as well be the eye of the Abyss,
or a tear shed by Death, already dead.
Without moving, in my hands, the world you seize
with the mute stupor of a deep outburst
and stone-faced you say: "know yourself,"
as if at some point my belief in you could cease!...
For its sky-like depth, how sweet is your sense;
nobody stops loving you, each afflicted countenance
pours its bitterness onto your clear source.
Tell me, who sleepless perpetually stays,
has some naked soul, upon its body's decay,
ever approached you, to meets its face?
Today's book of poetry was very pleased to be able to introduce you readers to Omar
Cáceres. Clearly the Chile was a hot bed of excellent poetry, Pablo Neruda was born the same year as Omar Cáceres, 1904. My favourite Chilean poet, Nicanor Parra was born ten years later, 1914.
Mónica de la Torre has opened up a new world for Today's book of poetry. Translators rarely get the attention or appreciation they deserve so we'd like to throw a big Today's book of poetry "Hey" in her direction.
ABOUT THE AUTHOROmar Cáceres (b. 1904) was a cult poet in the Chilean avant-garde. He published one book of poetry, Defense of the Idol (1934), with an introduction by Vicente Huidobro, of which only two copies survived after Cáceres tried to burn the entire print run upon publication due to the edition's numerous typos. He had ties with the Communist Party, and according to poet Jorge Teillier, played the violin in an orchestra of the blind. He was murdered by unknown assailants in 1943.
ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR
Mónica de la Torre is the author of six books of poetry, including The Happy End/All Welcome(UDP) and Feliz año nuevo, a volume of selected poetry published in Spain (Luces de Gálibo). Born and raised in Mexico City, she writes in, and translates into, Spanish and English. She teaches in the Literary Arts program at Brown University.
Mónica de la Torre
Photo: Bruce Pearson
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