Extraído de La Piccioletta Barca 2021 | Issue 36 | October, 2021

This novel by Jay Parini, while displaying true events that occurred fifty years ago, can work from various places. First of all, as an autobiographical document, written with a spume similar to the dramatic and amusing stories by John Fante, possible outcome of the mixture of Italian-American blood that unites them. It can also be read as the record of the training of a poet, the difference that lies between the sterile academic world and the real one, that in which the frustrated professors and true writers such as Robert Graves and George Mackay Brown inhabit.

As if the story of the young Parini in the North of Scotland was not enough, escaping from the Vietnam War and shaping his literary career with the excuse of a doctorate in literature, less believable will be the irruption of Borges (the real one, at his seventy years of age) in these pages. And we are not talking about the Borges we know from his literature, his lectures or his interviews. Never the disseminated Borges, magnified or reduced to ideological ashes. Possibly the Borges more similar to the one from Adrogué, the one who by day refuted Frank Raymond Leavis and the theories on Keats by Amy Lowell, and by night lost himself in the limited multitude of the province.

The plausibility of this encounter is Alastair Reid, at that moment translator of Borges and tutor of the young Parini, who entrusts him for a week the care and protection of the Argentine given a familiar emergency in London.

Parini had not read Borges, although the latter was already renowned and had been translated into almost every tongue. To that encounter between two strangers, a car trip to the Scottish Highlands followed (Cairngorm, Aviemore, Inverness), which the Argentine insisted on knowing. Parini’s job was not very encouraging: to describe to a blind poet the landscapes and the results, detail by detail, impression by impression: “He would pay for our expenses, but this naming aloud would be my contribution to the trip. ‘Nothing exists,’ he said, ‘until it has found its way into the language.’”.  

In Borges his systematic alterations persist: everything that exists is literature, and everything has been eternally fixed. It only remains to wait for the angels to land on certain people’s shoulders. This way, a Highland landscape is a verse by Stevenson, the Stirling Bridge is a poem by Blind Harry.

This book, crucial to some extent, reformulates the symbol and myth of Borges, who with his own words, reminds the young apprentice: “Myth is a tear in the fabric of reality, and immense energies pour through these holy fissures. Our stories, our poems, are rips in this fabric as well, however slight”.

Despite all the metaliterature that exists in relation to Borges, few texts remember this fabric of reality, its immense energy.

Two anecdotes by Parini are memorable. The first, Borges’s encounter with the North Sea, since, as a child, he already longed for its presence: “Borges stopped on the brink of a sweeping dune, listening to the water or perhaps the gods.  He lifted his arms with his cane in the air and whirled around, but when he stopped, he was facing us and the Old Course, not the sea.  In a thundering manner, he began to recite The Seafarer in its original Anglo-Saxon: Mæg ic be me sylfum / soðgied wrecan, / siþas secgan”.

But there exists another real fabric, the Loch Ness and its mythologies: Borges facing Grendel, the monster from avernus, reciting the Song of Creation, falling from a boat.

Nothing of this, as well as Parini’s story, seems to be forged in a supernatural manner: the humility is infinite.

And Borges’ path becomes clearer, day after day: “The battle between good and evil persists, and the writer’s work is constantly to reframe the argument”.

Borges and Me: An encounter by Jay Parini is published by Canongate.

This text was originally published in Spanish in Revista Ñ. It is written and translated by Ignacio Oliden


From Bulmenia, to be published in 2022

(translated by Ignacio Oliden)

Yo trabajo de noche, desertando al ogro insaciable
que desfigura a los jóvenes y los deja acéfalos
sin cambiar una bolsa de manzanas por mi cabeza

Trabajo como el mar, como una sombra,
donde unos gorriones saltan sobre las migas del día
y las golondrinas hacen un escándalo por un pedazo de cielo

Bebo cianuro y venenos desconocidos,
           porque esta sed no tiene lámparas
y su cáscara se multiplica como la pobreza

Trabajo como todos trabajan,
sin lograr una estrella, sin saciar una pluma
            perdiendo todos los rumbos
dando pequeñas muertes en partes desiguales sobre mi cuerpo

           Sin alcanzar tan solo uno de mis sueños
dejo embriagar a unos pocos desamparados, restos esclavizados
que han sido y que por siempre serán difamados
           secados en el aire del crimen


I work at night, forsaking the insatiable ogre
that leaves the young men disfigured and acephalous,
not trading a sack of apples for my head.

I work like the sea, like a shadow,
where sparrows jump on the crumbs of the day,
and the swallows make a fuss for a bite of sky.

I drink cyanide and poisons unknown,
           for this thirst has no lamps
and its crust is multiplied like dearth.

I work as everybody works,
not achieving a star, not satiating a quill
           losing the ways
giving slight uneven deaths on my body.

           Not reaching at least one of my dreams,
I let some helpless drunks proceed, enslaved remains
that have been and forever will be defamed
          dried in the air of the crime.


Puis, quand j’ai ravalé mes rêves avec soin,
Je me tourne, ayant bu trente ou quarante chopes,
Et me recueille, pour lâcher l’âcre besoin

RIMBAUD: “Oraison du Soir”

Arabia is configured in this monological song through the trade that has fallen to him, the craft that leads him to a perpetual activity, as the present tense of the intransitive verb “to work” depicts. At his desk, Arabia contours his own work: this is his clay which continually spins in its wheel, and to which he adds “cyanide and poisons unknown” to maintain its plasticity. Arabia “drinks” the cyanide, and its present tense in this case, accounts for the undeath, (maybe the unwanted undeath). We find what Harold Bloom calls “the suicidal version of Whitmanianism”, present in certain poems such as “Walking Around”, by Neruda:

Yo paseo con calma, con ojos, con zapatos,
con furia, con olvido,
paso, cruzo oficinas y tiendas de ortopedia,
y patios donde hay ropas colgadas de un alambre:
calzoncillos, toallas y camisas que lloran
lentas lágrimas sucias.
[I stride along with calm, with eyes, with shoes,
with fury, with forgetfulness,
I pass, I cross offices and stores full of orthopaedic appliances,
and courtyards hung with clothes hanging from a wire:
underpants, towels and shirts which weep
slow dirty tears.] (W.S. Merwin’s translation)

Certainly, it is Neruda with whom Arabia writes. More particularly, the Neruda of “Entierro en el Este”:

Yo trabajo de noche, rodeado de ciudad,
de pescadores, de alfareros, de difuntos quemados
con azafrán y frutas, envueltos en muselina escarlata (…)
[I work at night, surrounded by city
of fishermen, of potters, of the burned dead
with saffron and fruit, wrapped in scarlet muslin]

But neither Neruda nor Arabia work in the real night, nor the dead are the real dead (in “Entierro en el este” a burial is described), but both inhabit the other night, the night of the conscience of the crowds, the one which is image of death. Arabia hands in his poetry, hands in his tears and his razzle, dirty with cyanide and ink and the corruptive germ of the city of man, and lets them be drank by someone else, a fellow poet perhaps, but indeed a fellow sleepless “drunk”, alienated, freed from the daily order. It is a sacrifice through which, first Arabia, and then his fellow drunks, consume the “poisons unknown”, and experience and cope with language.

It is to work under the light of a lamp, in a room that is an old yellow stamp as seen from a street in Buenos Aires, but that hardly contradicts the darkness of the alley; to obey the basic daily chore to justify one’s existence. Arabia must drink cyanide in order to produce, and must produce poetry in order to exist. I think now of Rimbaud, who works at night too, like Neruda and Arabia; Rimbaud, who begins his “Oraison du Soir” by saying: Je vis assis [I live sitting down], and who, like Arabia, drinks his “fuel” in order to work, and works “holding his chop filled with strong flutes”.

And what about the poet’s clay? What about Arabia’s work which has been nourishing and will continue being continually unsatisfied? The quill is not satiated, the “thirst has no lamps”, just like Rimbaud’s. The poet continues to model it in its perpetual spinning, and with it, he shapes himself. Here, Arabia and Rimbaud remind me of Stephen Crane’s creature in the desert:

Who, squatting upon the ground,
He held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter–bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
Because it’s bitter
And because it is my heart.

Juan Arabia & Abhay K. | Buenos Aires, 2019


by Juan Arabia

Nos alejamos de la ciudad,
infortunio, infortunio, etcétera.
En la que ya no hacemos
más canciones.

Nuestra flauta quedó encerrada
en la raíz de un sauce:
destruyendo el suelo,
levantando calles y baldosas.

Nos vamos lejos, amigos:
donde las vacas beben,
donde la savia fluye.

Nuestros versos necesitan
ser juzgados,
pero en tierras más salvajes…


We leave the city behind,
misfortunes, miss for tunes, etcetera;
where we no longer sow
any songs.

Our flute became trapped
inside a willow’s root —
punishing the ground,
upheaving streets and sidewalk slabs.

We set afar, among friends —
where cows sip,
where sap flows.

Our verses must
soar for judgement,
but in wild, wilder lands…

Coming to Poetry as a Verb:
          On Juan Arabia’s ‘Juicio’

‘Juicio’ [Judgement]: first a noun, an act of assessment. Granted. But when we say judgement in poetry today, ­­do we know what we are judging? Do we know whom? Is it the social function of the verses, utilitarian value, timeliness? How much heed do we pay to poetic diction, to versecraft? What about imagination and authorship? Answers will inevitably vary—from era to era, from ear to ear. Tell me what your perspective is and I will tell you how you judge. A holistic approach, however, sh*ould lead the reader to an awareness that neither poet nor poem operates in isolation, independent of language and tradition, detached from the array of linguistic symbols and established aesthetic practices… Octavio Paz tells us:’Ningún texto es enteramente original, porque el lenguaje mismo, en su esencia, es ya una traducción: primero, del mundo no verbal y, después, porque cada signo y cada frase es la traducción de otro signo y de otra frase’.1

[No text is entirely original because language itself, in its essence, is already a translation; first from the non verbal world, and then, because each sign and each phrase is a translation of another sign and another phrase.]

Juan Arabia’s ‘Juicio’ reminds us of this, of a poem born from the shelves of poetry: the sonnet, a fourteen-line construct with a distinctive volta on the 9th line (We set afar, among friends —). And, to some extent, it carries the lineage of other poems: Baudelaire’s ‘Le Voyage’, Pound’s opening of The Cantos, Pessoa’s ‘Viajar! Perder paizes!’ [To travel! Leave countries behind!], to mention but a few.  In this sense ‘Juicio’ is a translation—of a motif in the world of letters harkening back through the centuries, namely the experience of poetry as departure, as wandering and wonderment, as quest. And, naturally, it isn’t one.My intention is not to reduce ‘Jucio’ to an intertextual web, or even to approach it through a geographical lens, getting caught up between ‘sauce’ [willow] and ‘flauta’ [flute]––the tree widely spread in Argentina and the flute, metonymy for poetry here, a traditional Argentinian instrument. But to ignore them altogether would be as shortsighted as to turn a deaf ear to an essential matter in the translation of poetry: poetic rhythm.2 As Pessoa noted early on in his own practice: ‘In the translation of a poem […] the first element to settle on is its rhythm’.3

Settling on rhythm is a two-fold process: (1) scanning the source poem; (2) mimicking the rhythm as much as possible in the new version. The task becomes all the more challenging when performed across prosodic systems, as the case, for example, in a poem from Spanish (syllable-timed language) to English (stress-timed language).Now, the reader may wonder about, and justly question, some of my translation choices. One could be line 9, where the preposition ‘among’ is not required for a semantic reason. Below I offer a scansion of the original and two possible English renderings that should answer the query (where the accented monosyllabic prosodic words are highlighted and prosodic words with more than one syllable are underlined and highlighted; the numbers on the right, inside brackets, indicate the accented metrical positions in the Spanish original and the positions that take a beat in the English version).4

[line 9]                                         Nos vamos lejos, amigos:                    [2-4-7]

[literal translation]               We’re leaving far, friends:                    [2-4-5]

[rhythmic translation]       We set afar, among friends—                 [2-4-7]

I will spare the full scansion of ‘Jucio’ (30+ accented syllables) as well as of ‘Judgement’ (30+ beats). A few other lines from each poem should suffice to shed light on the driving principle underlying my translation.  

More than an invitation or beckoning, ‘Juicio’ calls for a departure; a calling that becomes phonically intensified through three rhythmic patterns throughout the poem, as we can observe here:

[lines 3-6]
En la queya no hacemos                            [4-6]
en la raíz de un sauce:                                  [4-6]

[lines 10-11]
de las vacas beben,                            [1-4-6]
de la savia fluye.                                [1-4-6] 

[lines 4-13]
más canciones.                                                 [1-3]
ser juzgados,                                                     [1-3]

In the English translation, therefore, I sought to (1) reproduce three rhythmic patterns, preferably the same set of lines as the original (i.e., lines 3-6, 10-11, 4-13); (2) mimic the rhythm of each pair. While I succeeded in the former, in the latter I managed to replicate the rhythm of lines 4-13 [metrical positions 1-3] and (partially) of lines 3-6 [metrical positions 4-6].  

[lines 3-6]
where we no longer sow                         [2-4-6]
inside willow’s root —                        [2-4-6] 

[lines 10-11]
where cows sip,                                             [3]
where sap flows.                                            [3]

[lines 4-13]
ny songs.                                                         [1-3]    
soar for judgement,                                       [1-3]

Based on the aforementioned, it should not be surprising that my English version semantically departs from the source poem in at least two instances (lines 2 and 13), both partly resulting from homophonic renderings. Content over sound represents a utilitarian stance. But a translation must aspire to be more than just functional.

As readers (and readers-translators), we need to come to poetry as a verb, insofar as we ought to engage with the how of the poem; that is, with how the poems does what it says it does, with how the poem poems. While ‘Juicio’ urges for a departure (whether physical and/or spiritual), it also enacts it by breaking away from the sonnet tradition (absence of rhyme scheme and endecasílabo, traditionally the poetic meter for this poetic form). Much like the original, a translation must depart from, transfigure, open toward — paradoxically seeking to become self-sufficient, autonomous.

1. Octavio Paz. Traducción: literatura y literalidad, Barcelona, Tusquets, 1971.

2. The term poetic rhythm (which I employ to distinguish from linguistic rhythm) is equivalent to Pessoa’s usage of ‘rhythm’. In the rest of this note, for the sake of abbreviation, I will use the word ‘rhythm’ instead.
3. ‘Na traducção de um poema, portanto, o primeiro elemento a fixar é o rhythmo’. For details on Pessoa’s translation theory and practice, see ‘”A Rhythm of Another Speech”. Pessoa’s Theory and Practice of Poetry Translation’. Fernando Pessoa as Translator. Paulo de Medeiros & Jerónimo Pizarro, guest eds. The Translator, Loredana Polezzi and Rita Wilson, eds. Vol. 27, Number 2, 2021. (In collaboration with Claudia J. Fischer). 
4. My English translation (version or rendering, which I use interchangeably) is scanned in terms of ictic verse, based on the counting of prominence peaks, or beats, in Derek Attridge’s terms. In this meter, the beat is the dominant feature and remains constant, falling at rhythmically equivalent intervals, usually between 0 and 3 poetic syllables (so positions where beats occur are easily identifiable), while the number of syllables in the verse instance may vary. The term ‘beat’ is not to be confused with ‘stress’, for not all stressable syllables in a given line represent beats. Generally, stressed and unstressed syllables coincide with beats and off beats. Now, beats are provided by peaks in stress and less often by atonic grammatical monosyllables (e.g., articles and prepositions) with unstressed adjacent neighbors (a phenomenon known as ictus promotion in the Attridgian terminology). There are cases in which a stressed syllable takes an off beat (ictus demotion), as in the case of ‘among’  placed before the prosodic word ‘friends’.

Other translations by Patricio Ferrari include:

The Galloping Hour: French Poems by Alejandra Pizarnik (co-translated with Forrest Gander; New Directions, 2018).
The Complete Works of Alberto Caeiro by Fernando Pessoa (co-translated with Margaret Jull-Costa; New Directions, 2020).

More of his work can be found in AsymptoteBuenos Aires PoetryLit HubThe Paris ReviewWords Without Borders, among others.Patricio Ferrari

Patricio Ferrari is a polyglot poet, editor, and literary translator. Recent editions and translations include The Galloping Hour: French Poems by Alejandra Pizarnik (co-translated with Forrest Gander; New Directions, 2018) and The Complete Works of Alberto Caeiro by Fernando Pessoa (co-translated with Margaret Jull-Costa; New Directions, 2020). His work appears in Asymptote, Buenos Aires Poetry, Lit Hub, The Paris Review, Words Without Borders, among others.