Defense of the Idol by Omar Cáceres, Translated by Mónica de la Torre (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2018)
Lost Literature Series #23
Led to the buttress of your solid thirst,
(headdress of frail waves, distressed hips),
the meteorite of your body sets the seasons,
from the empty arc of its skin.
(from “Fickle Oracle”)
In the 1943 prologue to Defense of the Idol, Vincente Huidobro invites the reader into the world of, the life of, Omar Cáceres with description, representation, introduction. “Outside your windows poetry crosses the universe like a lightning bolt,” Huidobro concluded, nearly 100 years ago, before stepping away and allowing the ethereality of the poet to take shape. It is with gusto and mystery that this statement of a poetry of crossing echoes into and beyond the pages of Defense of the Idol, a book that is as brief as a stirring morning and yet as magnificent as the oncoming storm.
it barges in, appears, from this lamp, in pieces,
a nocturnal poem I’ve scribbled in blurry handwriting,
night of a bluish storm, oh incomparable righteousness.
(from “The I’s Illumination”)
The book’s presence as a mode of identification asserts a sense of recovery. That this “lost literature” has been recaptured in the contemporary is an act resounding like a signal or beacon. It is a call to history. A call to purer energy. As translation, the collection glints like a gemstone, with the young Chilean, Cáceres, brought up from the void in a ritual as Orphean as psychedelic. The words of Cáceres by way of Mónica de la Torre emanate like the aforementioned bolts of lightning. They pop and shatter and bounce. They are the emersion and emulsion of life itself. This life, what little we know of the details, was life the poet knew and described and opened the world to by way of the poems.
as if we were spinning vertiginously in the spiral of our own selves,
each one of us feels lonely, narrowly lonely,
oh, infinite friends.
(from “Opposite Anchors”)
At roughly 60 pages in length, 30 devoted to the original text and 30 to de la Torre’s careful translations to English, the pamphlet-sized collection is as impactful as dynamite, as evaporative as teardrops, and as clutching as a vortex of memory. It represents what little has been known of Cáceres previously: his relationships with the avante garde in Chile and, spiritually, his intricate political ties to the Communist Party. These worldly, almost excessive biographic details are pushed and snuffed in the writing itself and in the publication; that is, they never find thorough exploration. And yet do they need it, or is the biography a plastication of the poet and his poetry? Is mystery today as it was, perhaps, in the 1930s? As demanding our attention is to the most objective realities possible, the presentation within Defense of the Idol sits glinting, remarking upon the world it finds itself within. The bubbling open of energies and stances in the poems gives all the represented life the poet needs.
Love of a hundred women will not sate the anguish
distilling its feverish buzz into my bloodstream;
and if I found there were support for that hope,
the voice of a precipice would have mercy on me.
(from “Insomnia Near Dawn”)
What has resulted is the collection: 16 poems, slyly positioned upon the page with dimples and craters of white space, capable of standing on their own, to proclaim, to shatter, and to disappear. There is the uncanny, the magical, and the pressure for resolve. There is beauty, homage, and commitment. There is attention. With Cáceres, we have an individual whose words spruce and spice and spit across our own spaces, our own peripheries—to wake, to trip, to collide in a poetry of ultimate infusive demands.
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All reviews by Greg Bem unless marked otherwise.
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