Only the Road

With the long-standing ubiquity of hip-hop culture and its many offshoots, poetry must surely be as popular as it’s ever been in the English-speaking world; but literary poetry, as one might term it, has become (in those same territories) something of a special interest: a dusty niche visited by a relative few. Of those few, a smaller minority seek out poetry in translation. And how many of that minor minority are merely readers: that is, not academics, not other poets nor would-be academics or poets? I don’t know, but I get the feeling it’s a sparsely-populated sub-subset of the reading public in which I find myself.

A distinction for me between poems and stories is their re-readability. A poem is like a song in that I can revisit it dozens or even hundreds of times with little or no diminution of pleasure. Whereas it’s not often that I can read a story even a second time without a measure of restless impatience; without a sense that it’s lessened by the remembering of it. With that in mind, looking at all the novels on my shelves that I’m unlikely to read again in any forseeable future, I embarked on a project to reallocate some of that limited space for poetry.

The Goodreads list “Your Obscure Poetry in Translation Anthologies” has been one helpful guide in my recent efforts in filling what has become the dedicated poetry bookcase. I already knew and loved a number of the titles on the list (for instance The Poetry of Survival, Ice Around Our Lips and Modern Arabic Poetry) and have been acquiring some more: Reversible Monuments, Language for a New Century; and, the latest addition, Only the Road / Solo el Camino: Eight Decades of Cuban Poetry.

Editor/translator Margaret Randall has done a more than admirable job of casting a hundred or more heterogenous poems into English, and in presenting them and their authors to an Anglophone audience. Large anthologies are often necessarily the work of many hands, but here we have labour of love with a solo pilot at the controls. I’d be thrilled to find more volumes of this quality to further flesh out my poetry collection.