monica de la torre: writing with the elements

Monica de la Torre’s selected experiments in translation in Angels of the Americlypse represent what de la Torre refers to in her aesthetic statement as “poetics of incompleteness” where “the possibility of not appropriating is nil, since voice necessarily ventriloquizes, necessarily voices” (268). Her work “Poem in Spanish” demonstrates de la Torre’s particular attention to the relationship between power and language.

According to its footnotes, “Poem in Spanish” is a “rendition” of poems written in English by another poet “as if they were being written by a Spanish language poet” (258). De la Torre then rendered the piece using lines from “diverse Latin American authors” translated into English resulting in “more literal Spanish” poems in English (258). A Mexican national, de La Torre seems to be exploring what it means for a poem to be a “Spanish language” poem besides the language in which it was supposedly written, if it remains a “Spanish language” poem even after it is translated into English. Is a Spanish poem one with particular aesthetic tendencies? Must it be written by an author whose first language is Spanish? Must it explore particular subjects or ideas? Interestingly, de la Torre re-creates the poem using the work exclusively of poets from Latin America, a region whose relationship to Spanish is also fraught. In Latin America, Spanish is the language of the colonizer. Further, the Spanish brought over by colonial Spain has been transformed and changed utterly, sometimes unrecognizably, due to the language’s inability to fully contain its subjects. Can poems written in Latin American Spanish, then, be said to be “Spanish poems”?

In the poems first stanza, de la Torre writes, “Why don’t I respond when I’m being offended?/… Mountains pass camels pass/ like the history of wars in antiquity” (257). Here de la Torre explores the notion of offense, aggressions both small and large. As a Latin American woman, perhaps de la Torre has been conditioned not to “respond” when offended. Perhaps these offenses feel dwarfed by offenses against Latin American women on a much larger, historical scale—that of “wars in antiquity.” However, these historical offenses resonate with and inform later, smaller ones that “pass” and “pass” with every poem or miscommunication.

The offenses continue with de la Torre, who speaks English and Spanish, both languages of power whose power she perpetuates when she uses them. Power is invasive, “Of all the men I am, I can’t find any of them/ without the control of the intruding eye,” she writes in the fourth stanza (258). Through language, she can’t escape, name, discover or “find” any of the agents of power that “control” and inform her. Therefore she must move post-language, claiming in the fifth stanza, “I speak a tongue/ that fills hearts with the law of communicating clouds,” and in the sixth stanza, “true poems are fires./ When something cherished burns,” (258). De la Torre asserts that the only poems that are “truly” free from the influence of power are ones that have burned themselves down, been deconstructed, and re-written themselves using only the elements.

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