Poetry in the Dreamscape

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In Nine Coins / Nueve Monedas, Carlos Pintado’s poems are obsessed with dreams, but they are not dreamy. He refuses to fall into easy surrealism or follow the untrackable paths of dreams. His concrete poems are sometimes reminiscent of William Carlos Williams (the English translations here are by Hilary Vaughn Dobel):

We said:
love’s pardon
draws houses at the edge of the woods.
It was a silence
like that of a deer
discovering
its reflection in the water.
What loss,
we think
in that moment.

(“The Light Lingered”)

Dijimos:
la absolución del amor
dibuja casas final del bosque.
Hubo un silencio
como de un ciervo
que descubre
su reflejo en las aguas.
La pérdida,
pensamos
en ese instante.

(“La Luz Eternizaba”)

The concrete imagery of these poems sometimes elides the surprising nature of his language. In “The Light Lingered,” he switches from a plural narrative–speaking for himself and a partner, or perhaps the reader–to the startling image of a deer seeing itself. That image pulls this poem towards the story of Actaeon which is not a story of love’s pardon, but of rejection. And so there is thick tension throughout the brief poem, between we and the deer, reflection and self, pardon and loss, speech and silence.

The poems often return to the kind of tension, as “Halfway through the Poem” (“A Mitad del Poema”) puts it, “where it opens the dreaming into what is dreamed” (“que abre el sueño en lo soñado”). At times, the recursiveness of this tension makes the poems hard to follow, as in “Returning” (“Regresos”): “I wander through your dream and I / am your own dream, asleep” (“Deambulo por tu sueño y soy / tu proprio sueño, dormido”). Nevertheless, it is rare that the strong, concrete imagery  is blurred by meandering lines like these.

It is not hard to see why this collection won the Paz Prize for Poetry. Pintado seems a worthy successor to Octavio Paz, whose own poems owe so much to surrealism and the world of dreams.

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