Reading the prose poems of Calveyra, one feels the guiding presence of an enthusiastic genius, a soft-spoken bard, an artist of nature and deep emotional impression. With his subtle touch, the poet paints miniature landscapes of the mind and the natural world it experiences: “I came looking through loose autumn and slowed to a thistle beside the slide piled high with dead leaves. Wild! recently bloomed and gone into the raw milk.” These poems, all untitled, have a cumulative, epiphanic effect. His common tropes, such as chickens, the wind, the moon, the horizon, and the expanse of the countryside, shimmer with meaningfulness.
Calveyra’s verse pays respect and close attention to the local language of the region he grew up in, Entre Ríos. In translation, the result is occasionally clipped syntax and/or off-beat slices of language thrown into the midst of clear sentences, which leads the reader into a dreamlike state of consciousness: “Oh, the chicken’s already come in clucking with huge umbrella wings and this cheep-cheep will pass will pass and the last one will stay!” He has a talent for switching tones in a single poem. One moment the mood may be ecstatic, the next sorrowful or contemplative, the next whimsical, curious.
Elizabeth Zuba’s breezy translations do the poems justice. Perhaps the best way to absorb the book is to read the Spanish aloud first, refining a taste for Calveyra’s internal rhymes and rhythms. Next, with the originals in mind, read the English translations; the effect is often mesmerizing. During the pandemic, with all of the stress, worry, and panic that comes with it, reading Calveyra prompts one to think, as the poet opens the final piece in his collection, “Please don’t be worried, I’m not.” Calveyra, who fled Perón’s Argentina for Paris in 1961, deserves a wider audience.
Letters So That Happiness by Arnaldo Calveyra. Ugly Duckling Presse, May 2018.
Reviewer bio: Jason Gordy Walker, a student at MFA@FLA, has published poetry in Confrontation, fiction in Monkeybicycle, and criticism in Birmingham Poetry Review and Alabama Writers’ Forum. He is against American Fascism.
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