Selected Writings of César Vallejo, ed. Joseph Mulligan, various trans. (Wesleyan University Press, 2015) is a badly formulated publication, in contrast, for example, to the same publisher’s magnificent handling of Victor Segalen’s Stèles (2007). It has to be said that it is not infrequent that seemingly all-embracing selected volumes make uncomfortable reading. The Selected Poetry and Prose of Andrea Zanzotto (University of Chicago Press, 2007) is another case in point. This is not to say that one should not buy this Vallejo. Probably one should because some eighty percent of its contents have never been translated into English before. The problem is that the wonderful wealth of decently translated and annotated prose, extracted from a great deal more: articles, chronicles, stories, plays, letters, has, interspersed among it, selections from Vallejo’s poetry, some in previously published translations, all anyway previously translated many times. This makes for irritating intrusion, not the helpful context the editor or publisher presumably intended. And that space could have been taken up with more of the prose. Two other points, just for example. Firstly, the earliest Vallejo prose includes quotations from poems by two other poets, which are not translated. Why? This book is offered as a translation. Doubtless many of its readers will be unable to read Spanish well or at all. So why is it assumed that these quotations do not also need to be translated? Secondly, that part of the bibliography, while described as selected, devoted to “Works by Vallejo in English Translation”, is nevertheless grossly negligent in important omissions, including Shearsman’s The Complete Poems, Allardyce Book’s The Black Heralds, and others.
Anthony Barnett 15th July 2015