Friday, March 14, 2008

the she-deep you

A bilingual edition of books two and three of Dolores Dorantes
by Dolores Dorantes
translated by Jen Hofer

Kenning Editions and Counterpath Press

I have been thinking about the quality of the “you” in Dolores Dorantes’ sexoPUROsexoVELOZ and SEPTIEMBRE (translated by Jen Hofer) in relation to a question posed to me by Bhanu Kapil when she read at SPT. I am not quite sure I remember the exact wording of the question but I believe it was “What has desire to do with the new creature?” (Also, and at the last minute, I want to bring in a possibly related poem by Jack Spicer.)

In my introduction to Bhanu’s reading that night I claimed that she was constructing a new creature in her writing in a way that has something to so with that same project in my own writing, particularly in nude memoir. (It is also something that I am working on now and that I can see in Ultravioleta.) The way desire works in those two books of mine has something to do with danger and the violence that can result when a woman displays or acts on her own desire. The imagined creature does it anyway, whatever it is and, in my version, she prevails. There were a number of instances of violence and death associated with desire, beauty and femininity in nude memoir (James Ellroys’s story of his mother’s murder, the movie Vertigo, Duchamp’s final installation, Princess Diana’s death, even Louise Nevelson’s legendary loneliness are among the many figures in NM where desire is compromising). I would assert that in other books I treat the same subject differently and I could go on about this forever but I have already written those books and am more interested here in exploring the trajectory of desire in Dolores Dorantes’ work. I find it, as I began by pointing out, in her use of “you” or perhaps I should say I find it in her address to the beloved – of her expression of openness to that being, that creature, you, who seems to exist in her work in a particularly convincing context of love and sex.

Of course the word “you” in the book appears only in the English version written by Jen Hofer. In Spanish the pronoun is often subsumed into the verb form or is otherwise hidden and “tú” or “ti” appear in fewer places than the ubiquitous “you” does in English -- to, I think, a different effect, though I can’t quite figure out how it is different or what it means. (Madness of translation, but again, not my subject here.) Being able to read the Spanish pretty well but focusing more on the English (the two versions of each poem are very nicely presented on the same page in this book) my sense is that the “you” in Dorantes’ poems is not threatening or threatened except ultimately with the death that produces the inevitable separateness of one being from the other. There is in her address to the beloved a passion that doesn’t seem ironic. I want to say that there is a softness to it or that it is soft and hard at the same time or maybe I should say pure and swift. I find it hopeful and that’s where it has to do with the new creature for me.

una locura
en ti la tú profunda

Bajo vestido
blandirás la hoz

ancla que mi marea comerá

a madness
inside you the she-deep you

Beneath a dress
you’ll brandish the sickle

anchor my tide will devour

You can see there is a lot to do in this piece – many levels, dictions, intimations, myths, addresses, an actual dress, madness, a sickle. The line or phrase from the poem with which I started is one of those just plain good lines that you get to read every once in a while and Jen’s translation of it into English is stupendous. Why I find the presence of a sickle under a dress hopeful I don’t quite know but in this context I do. I think it has something to do with openness.

I have a page of notes listing the “you’s” in the book but I will mention just one more.

Mi boca
es el único
refugio de
tu boca

My mouth
is the only
refuge for
your mouth

This last stanza, with its intriguing oral concentricity, echoes a line in Jack Spicer’s poem “Surrealism” that Brent & I happened to discuss recently in our Martian Poetics class.


Whatever belongs in the circle is in the circle
Raise hands.
Death-defying trapeze artists on one zodiac, the Queen of
Spades, the Ace of Hearts, the nine of Diamonds, the whole
deck of cards
Promise to whatever is promised
Love to whatever is loved
Ghosts to whatever is ghosts
In our mouths
Their mouths
There is


Poe predicted the whole Civil War.

What are we predicting with this new recombinatrix?

I haven’t figured anything out with this argument probably because I haven’t argued but asserted, claimed, compared, seen one thing as the other, read into and suggested. I don’t have one answer to Bhanu Kapil’s question but many. The many you’s in Dolores Dorantes’ book suggest to me a future for desire and a context where the new you can survive.

More on this.


(Note: "tu boca" & "your mouth" are indented, as are some of the lines in the Spicer, but I couldn't make it happen.)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008