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Alma Venus Translator's Note
Adrian West

Years ago, in a conversation about what he considered to be the dispiriting state of Spanish letters, a friend and former professor mentioned a short novel by a Catalan who wrote like Proust. Later, when I had begun to read Catalan, I asked after the book, Fortuny by Pere Gimferrer. The prose was reminiscent less of Proust than Góngora, though it is true that, with the exception of Proust, no other writer of the twentieth (and now twenty-first) century has brought such precision and attentiveness to the description of the play of light and shadow. I published a short selection from Fortuny in January of 2013 and began work on the present text six months later. Gimferrer’s writings are demanding, for the reader and particularly the translator; apart from employing a broad and refined vocabulary, they depend for effect on a system of multiple meanings and textual echoes that span not only the whole of Spanish language literature, but also references to contemporary history, art, music, film, and design. But at a time when a degree of colloquialism (representing less the quest for an authentic voice than a relinquishment of the ideal of Bildung) has reduced so much modern verse to an ineffectual monotony of unworked self-expression, Gimferrer vindicates the dialectic nature of poetry, the inalienability of its pedigree, and its freedom and duty to intervene in the historical moment of which it forms a part.

With the antipodal lights of the air,
The batting of darkness's eyes;
The sun resides amidst culverts:
The sun, of grimacing laughter,
The sun, of sulphurous sheets,
The bazaar of the redheaded clouds
By winter's wicker hands sown.
The sky, in decapitated light,
Ignites, proclaiming red syllables;
Life is not a poem about landscapes,
It is the cobra of fire of death,
The darkness's certified post.
But we live bereft of the scalpel
That lances the schwingmoor: imago mundi
In the instant, not its succession,
But hanged from the ignited flint,
On the concave cuirass of air.
Che morte tanta n'avesse disfatta
We never believe it: the villa
With the phosphorescent loggia
Is only a glimmer in our eyes,
Like the light of the wind in Compostela,
Like the garden of gargoyles and spirits,
Like the white-horned sky's disarray
In the night of ferruginous lime;
Let us pass through the burnt air to heaven,
Let us pass through yesterday's mist;
The day has reaped its tarantulas
Engulfed by the light's condescension:
Drawn up in themselves, the storm clouds
Prolong not, but gather the air,
Like life in a coffer of snowflakes,
As in the inertness of years;
We feel the wind in our groin,
A friend's voice echoed back in carved stone,
The blind cavalcade of Tiresias.
Unreal City, but city of escutcheons:
Escutcheons of pomp borne aloft,
Hothouse in eyeless combustion.
Thus the ice foresaw the bonfire, wavering:
Thus death stalked the springtime of life.

                                        —Alma Venus, 1.I

Pere Gimferrer (b. Barcelona, 1945) is the author of numerous books of poetry, criticism, and fiction, both in Spanish and in Catalan. His body of work has been awarded the National Prize of Spanish Letters (1998), the Reina Sofia Prize for Iberoamerican Poetry (2000), and the Octavio Paz International Poetry and Essay Prize (2006). His writing is notable for its visual power, the range of its references, and its extraordinary lexical refinement, as well as its profound concern with the role of the artist in his engagement with his forebears and the historical responsibility of the intellectual.

Adrian West is a writer and translator whose work has appeared in numerous publications, such as McSweeney’s, The Brooklyn Rail, Words Without Borders, and Asymptote, where he is also a contributing editor. He currently lives between Europe and the United States with the cinema critic Beatriz Leal Riesco.