Magazine article World Literature Today

Against the Current

Magazine article World Literature Today

Against the Current

Article excerpt

Featured Review Tedi López Mills. Against the Current. Trans. Wendy Burk. Los Angeles. Phoneme Media. 2016. 80 pages.

In a Drunken Boat interview by Rebecca Seiferle, Mexican poet and translator Tedi López Mills states, "I don't know if it pertains to the more 'personal' streak in American poetry or rather to concretion, to direct experience. Our tradition, which comes to us in part by way of France, is more abstract: fixed metaphor, understanding through analogies." It is true that Against the Current is metaphorical and analogical; it is also deeply informed by ecopoetics, philosophy, and critical theory. In this collection, abstractions and analogy are grounded in-arise from-strong concrete and natural imagery, with rivers serving as the guiding metaphor.

The collection, an en face edition of Mills's Spanish originals with scintillating translations by NEA translation fellowship- awardee Wendy Burk, is "baroque," as both the poet and the translator note, in the sense that it employs lush, imagistic, layered, and often-paradoxical language: "my grey post with its trifling halo, my crust of light on the street, what gnat lets slip its war within the chiaroscuro circle cracked down the middle, creeps toward the puddle of motor oil."

The poems, structured as an abecedarian sequence, are prose poems composed as cumulative, and sometimes periodic, sentences that may take inspiration from, and are reminiscent of, a combination of influences as varied and wide-ranging as European Enlightenment syntax, Whitman's multitudes, Silliman's "New Sentence," continental philosophical treatises, contemporary theories of the subject in relation to the social, and Pablo Neruda. The initiating question of the collection is perhaps found in poem "Q," where, "insists H.," the primary conundrum is "aporia or entelechy, let the lady choose." The trajectory of the collection addresses the question of who the speaker is, what does she know, and how might that knowledge be represented: "my habitual phrase: once more I don't know what I know."

Throughout the book, the poet-speaker persona defines herself against / with / in relation to her "brother," the Other, the "entity who expresses me in being." He first appears in the "C" poem as an "island" and is identified by at least fifty different adjectives by the end of the book: "invisible watcher," "senseless, reticent," "precarious, artificial," "pensive," "iconoclastic," "sensitive," and more. The brother, whom Mills has identified as her "real" brother, is also an analogical brother. …

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