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Sur(rendering) by Mario Martín Gijón Translated by Terence Dooley (Shearsman Books)

Sur(rendering) by Mario Martín Gijón  Translated by Terence Dooley (Shearsman Books)

In an attempt to show that ‘absence’ is more important than ‘presence’ the Elizabethan poet Fulke Greville suggested that ‘like dainty clouds, / On glorious bright’ absence can protect Nature’s ‘weak senses’ from ‘harming light’. However, by the end of ‘Absence and Presence’ the realisation that absence and loss cannot be discussed in these terms compels the poet to say

‘The absence which you glory,
Is that which makes you sorry,
And burn in vain:
For thought is not the weapon,
Wherewith thought’s ease men cheapen,
Absence is pain.’

Threading its path through this deeply moving sequence of lyrics by the Spanish poet Mario Martín Gijón there is what Terence Dooley, the translator, calls ‘a love lost and found’:

‘This might sound like nothing new in the history of poetry, but the poet immerses us in his story by a complex process of linguistic recreation: recreation in the sense of re-invention and recreation also as play, or playfulness.’

These poems are remarkable in the way that they offer the reader a tangible sense of the abstract. Words, fleeting sounds, do not possess the concrete presence of physical reality but in the mouth of a sophisticated poet and brought to our attention by the sympathetic and imaginative skills of the translator they convey the very presence of that which is no longer there. In an introduction provided for us by Dooley and given the title ‘Love Games’ we are offered Eduardo Moga’s words concerning the way in which Gijón works:

‘Words become lexical clay in the hands of the poet, or articulated entities into which other words may be telescoped. Words break, unscrew, crumble onto the page like sand.’

And perhaps a little like sand in an hourglass words pour from mind to page so that the reader can reflect upon what has been sifted and in an early poem in the sequence, ‘the promise of (as)saying you’, we can see the articulation at work:

‘s(u/e)rv(ey)ing you gave
me hope and strength to
cont(ai)n(yo)ue
giving my word ploughed
ground
following the furrows
of your abs(c)ent
body
sowing seed
on barren land’

The idea of casting an overall glance or survey over the barren land of loss is merged with the anger of possibly suing the lost one and eyeing her absence. Hope, as a seed that might promote future presence, is given to the mourner in terms of both containing and continuing and the scent of loss itself retains the presence of the body. This may feel like ‘sowing seed / on barren land’ but the subtle movement of the poem, brought to life in this admirable translation, allows the vividness of ‘furrows’ to retain a sense of what is lying below the surface.
That tangible sense of presence at the time of absence is presented to us with a meditative tone in the poem ‘burnt offering’:

‘terrified by terrain untrodden
by you I
wandered through the suburbs
of your name’

That inability of one person to inhabit the world of another, that awareness that the other possesses a different landscape, is subtly transfixed in the use of the word ‘suburbs’ for the Spanish word ‘afueras’. The sense of having lost someone, their movement from a centre into an outskirt, is caught with the subterranean echo of what might rest in a furrow, a ‘sub/urb’.
This short review is not an essay about this important Spanish poet but is offered as a ‘taster’ of what readers might expect within these pages. Gijón dives ever deeper into ‘the memory of your / eyes’ and concludes with the enduring reality of absence:

‘I am
as landless as possessed’

Having started these brief comments with a reference to an Elizabethan poet it will not perhaps be inappropriate to conclude with some words from another, albeit written in a play from the Jacobean age. As Leontes confronts what appears to be the irredeemable loss of his wife and child in The Winter’s Tale he vows to spend time at their grave in the hope that ‘tears shed there / Shall be my re/creation.’

Ian Brinton 8th June 2020

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