Nobel Laureate Poet Derek Walcott has died this Friday at 87 years old. Walcott’s poetry centered around his life in St. Lucia in the Caribbean, and with the complex colonialist legacy that created his world — but it contains multitudes, and it travels around the world as much as its voraciously erudite author did. By turns epic and compact, Walcott’s poetry has a dazzling musicality and lyricism. It begs to be read aloud; you can almost taste the words as you read them.
To celebrate his legacy, here is a stanza from In the Village, a poem about Walcott’s time in New York’s Greenwich Village:
Who has removed the typewriter from my desk,
so that I am a musician without his piano
with emptiness ahead as clear and grotesque
as another spring? My veins bud, and I am so
full of poems, a wastebasket of black wire.
The notes outside are visible; sparrows will
line antennae like staves, the way springs were,
but the roofs are cold and the great grey river
where a liner glides, huge as a winter hill,
moves imperceptibly like the accumulating
years. I have no reason to forgive her
for what I brought on myself. I am past hating,
past the longing for Italy where blowing snow
absolves and whitens a kneeling mountain range
outside Milan. Through glass, I am waiting
for the sound of a bird to unhinge the beginning
of spring, but my hands, my work, feel strange
without the rusty music of my machine. No words
for the Arctic liner moving down the Hudson, for the mange
of old snow moulting from the roofs. No poems. No birds.
Related Story: Derek Walcott In The New Yorker
NPR’s BOOK NEWS & FEATURES December 25, 2016.
Get A Global Perspective With 5 Of The Year’s Best Books In Translation by Juan Vidal
There’s a great quote by Haruki Murakami:
If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.
This, of course, is two-fold, because it also means that if you want to think more broadly and gain a larger understanding of the world, you will seek out lesser known books, and from different places.
In 2016, small publishers like New Directions and Coffee House Press and lauded indie powerhouses like Melville House continue to bring many deserving international voices to the forefront. And in an election year that has many Americans wondering what in the bloody hell is going on around here, books from other parts of the globe can be a welcome treat to help counterbalance the chaos. So here are five of this year’s works of literature in translation.
The Clouds, by Juan José Saer (Paperback, 160 pp)
In The Clouds, first published in Spanish in 1997 and now translated by Hilary Vaughn Dobel, Juan José Saer tells the unforgettable tale of Pinchón Garay, a man who happens upon a floppy disk containing the absurd story of Dr. Real, a nineteenth-century physician. Is Real’s book a work of fiction? Memoir? This imaginative novel traces the journey of Dr. Real and his mentor as they work treating patients at an insane asylum in Argentina. Saer’s prose, while often likened to Proust, carries a beautiful quality that is also uniquely his. Page after page, The Clouds is a poem to be savored .
Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada and Susan Bernofsky (Paperback, 252 pp)
Originally published in German, Yoko Tawada’s Memoirs of a Polar Bear, translated by Susan Bernofsky, is broken into three sections, following the lives of three generations of polar bears. The grandmother (who “accidentally” writes a best-selling book), the mother, a former ballet dancer, and her estranged son, who is raised in the zoo by a zookeeper. The stories are imbued with art and politics, philosophy and a sense of longing. Yet for all the wonderful workings of plot and structure in Memoirs of a Polar Bear, what is truly affecting is Tawada’s writing, which jumps off the page and practically sings.
Reputations by Juan Gabriel Vasquez (Hardcover, 190 pp)
Juan Gabriel Vásquez is Colombia’s most celebrated living novelist. In Reputations, translated by Anne McLean, he cements himself as one of the best doing it today in any language. It’s the story of Javier Mallarino, a respected political cartoonist who has made many enemies through his work at the influential newspaper El Independiente. Mallarino is seasoned, successful, and feared by many. But things take a dark turn when a young woman claiming to be a reporter interested in an interview enters his life. What follows is a suspenseful story about the ways in which our past can come back to haunt us, whether we like it or not.
The Happy Marriage by Tahar Ben Jelloun (Hardcover, 305 pp)
A masterful novel by Moroccan author Tahar Ben Jelloun, The Happy Marriage, translated by André Naffis-Sahely, delves into the complicated nature of one of society’s oldest institutions, marriage. Ben Jelloun tells the story through his characters’ two points of view: An embittered husband, an artist who has been paralyzed after having a stroke, and his wife, whose story is presented as a kind of counter-narrative addressing her husband’s claims – and who describes her marriage as a “certificate of my slavery, confinement and humiliation.” In this enlightening book, Jelloun brilliantly tackles issues of love, women’s rights, and the grief that inevitably comes with a deteriorating relationship.
Ema, the Captive by César Aira (Paperback, 231 pp)
With over 60 books to his name, the prolific César Aira is a creature of seemingly endless invention. His often brief — yet wonderfully bizarre — novels have long been praised for their odd twists and turns, his characters never landing anyplace you imagined they might. In Ema the Captive, translated by Chris Andrews, his words come fast and infectious. Originally published in 1981, the novel centers on a young mother, “a tiny, dark, deranged cloud,” who is held captive by soldiers. She takes many of them as lovers as she navigates a complicated life, which in turn makes her one of of Aira’s most absorbing characters. One of the Argentine master’s oldest works, Ema the Captive is also one of his most memorable.
Get a global perspective with five of the best books translated to the English published in 2016.
Juan Vidal is a writer and critic for NPR Books. He’s on Twitter @itsjuanlove.
guardian.co.uk by Rafia Zakaria
She was London’s Young Poet Laureate, becoming a voice for its marginalised people – now her work has been recited by the queen of pop
She writes of places where many Beyoncé fans rarely go, the portions of London where the faces are black and brown, where men huddle outside shop-front mosques and veiled women are trailed by long chains of children. Warsan Shire, the Somali-British poet whose words are featured in Beyoncé’s new globe-shaking Lemonade album, is a bard of these marginalised areas – she was even named the first Young Poet Laureate for London at 25.
Beyoncé reads parts of Shire’s poems, including For Women Who Are Difficult To Love, The Unbearable Weight of Staying (the End of the Relationship) and Nail Technician as Palm Reader in interludes between songs in her 12-track, hour-long video album that premiered this week. Truly, Shire was a brilliant choice for Beyoncé’s unapologetically black and female album: like the people and places from which they are woven, Shire’s poems – published in a volume titled Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth – are laden with longing for other lands and complicated by the contradictions of belonging in new ones. In Conversations about Home, she writes:
“I tore up and ate my own passport in an airport hotel. I’m bloated with language I can’t afford to forget”, and: “They ask me how did you get here? Can’t you see it on my body? The Libyan desert red with immigrant bodies, the Gulf of Aden bloated, the city of Rome with no jacket.”
There are few sounds more beautiful or powerful than Dr. Maya Angelou as she reads her poetry out loud. She expertly draws you into the poem’s setting, mood and emotions through use of timed pauses in conjunction with changes in the rhythm, tone and volume of her voice. Listeners are provided with a deep understanding of Dr. Angelou’s interpretation of the poem.
Listening to these clips made me think about Ms. Flowers, whom Dr. Angelou credits with instilling in her an abiding love of words, reading books, and the importance of education, and an interview I saw years ago wherein Dr. Angelou talks openly about painful events in her childhood and shares a lot about Ms. Flowers.
Link to YouTube video of interview of Maya Angelou after the release of her book i know why the caged bird sings.
Every time I have watched, listened, or read the words of Maya Angelou, I am acutely aware that I am in the presence of a truly great human.