Review of Algaravias Echo Chamber Waly Salomão, translated by Maryam Monalisa Gharavi

by Allison Grimaldi-Donahue

The initial reason I sought out Algaravias Echo Chamber by Waly Salomão and translated by Maryam Monalisa Gharavi was for the music. I’d only heard Salomão’s name when linked to tropicalia music–I had had no idea he was an acclaimed poet. During his lifetime he was considered the breakthrough writer, the savior of post-concrete poetry in the 1970s and winner of Brazil’s most prestigious literary awards.

What has always drawn me to tropicalia is the movement’s unabashed enthusiasm towards all forms and movements and traditions. In their avant-gardism they weren’t unwilling to keep certain elements of tradition that they felt were working or vital or exciting. This true avant-garde attitude is present throughout Waly Salomão’s poetry.

These are poems of oppositions that rest peacefully together and, like Salomão himself, the poems create an ongoing dynamic balance. Salomão was the son of two worlds, east and west; he brings this tension into his work. In the poems, east and west are not necessarily in a battle–but like the physical world and the metaphysical world, chaos and harmony, language and sound, Salomão proves to readers that the tension can actually create something new: a third realm. Considering Waly Salomão’s central role in the tropicalismo movement, all of this makes perfect sense. He embodied what the artistic movement was putting forth: he blended disparate source, he put high and low, east and west, traditional and avant-garde together–not only in his work, but in himself.

Recently I reread a passage in Plato’s Republic that seems all too fitting to describe the energy and form in this book of poems:

“…musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is so rightly educated graceful…”

In this poem there is something musical in the not only the language but in the content, the longing for harmony:

ECHO CHAMBER

I grew up under a peaceful lair,
My dream was just a little dream of mine.
I was trained in the science of care.

Now, between my being and the other being,
The border line has disappeared.

These poems call for delirium and restraint. Only in restraint can true delirium be found. In effect, it is the true calling of the avant-garde: experiment, but with reason and motive, not simply for the sake of calling itself experimental.

from OPEN LETTER TO JOHN ASHBERRY

Memory is an editing deck— a nameless
passerby says, in a nonchalant manner,
and immediately hits delete and also
the meaning of what he wanted to say.

[…]

Life is not a screen and never acquires
the rigid meaning
that one wishes to imprint on it.

Salomão takes traditional tropes from lyric poetry and turns them over into a post-modern message. If memory is an editing deck, what are poems?

There must be something special about translating a great lyricist; knowing that sound, something important to all poets, takes on a heightened relevance in each line. Translating these poems and the rhythms and sounds they produce must have been an extremely challenging task. American English feels so square when compared to a romance language, but somehow Maryam Monalisa Gharavi manages to bring the roundness, the openness of Brazilian Portuguese to these poems in English. This is particularly true in the clear choices she has made to retain consonance in certain passages. Not only that, but Gharavi makes up words, something which, when done as well as it is here, is quite admirable. She doesn’t do this frivolously but makes new language in order to sound similar to the patterns found in the Portuguese and to convey the same meanings; she keeps symmetry and content.

MEIA-ESTAÇÃO
                                       para SUSANA DE MORAES

Presságios nas flores abertas dos junquilhos;
                                        abertas, justamente, hoje de manhã.
O arco-íris e seu sortilégio,
                                        justamente, hoje de manhã.
Folhas de figueiras levitantes, aéreas.
O mar hermafrodito e sua baba epiléptica:
                                       macho lambendo a areia da praia
                                                                               arreganhada;
                                       fêmea singrada por navios duros,
                                                                              de ferros e aços,
                                       e seu mostruário-monstruário de
                                                                              mastros.

HALF-SEASON
                                         for SUSANA DE MORAES

Omens in the open flowers of jonquils;
                         open, just this morning.
The rainbow and its spell,
                         just this morning.
Leaves of levitating fig tree, hovering.
The hermaphrodite sea and its dribbling saliva:
                                           male licking the sand of the grinning
                                                                                   beach;
                                           female sailing by hard ships,
                                                                                   of iron and steel,
                                           and its showcase-savagecase of
                                                                                   masts.

This making of words is clear in her word for “monstruário,” “savagecase.” It creates a new image, a new concept, in the English reader’s mind. This word making lends itself well to these poems that are natural and spiritual and seem like a fitting place for new names to be given.

Waly Salomão and Maryam Monalisa Gharavi have given us a book that reveals itself in repeat readings, readings in different contexts and moments. In the poem “My Happiness” Salomão writes:

my happiness remains underground for eternities
and only rises to the surface
through alchemic tubes
and not from natural causality.

These poems do the same, they creep into your everyday thoughts and eventually soul, granting something both mystical and musical to readers and the English language itself.

Allison Grimaldi-Donahue is a writer and translator originally from Connecticut.  Her fiction, essays and translations have appeared in The American Reader, The New Inquiry,addddddOmega Metatron, and tNYpress Eeel.  She was awarded an NEA Translation grant to the Vermont Studio Center for her translation work on Davide Orecchio’s novel Città distrutte. Sei biografie infedeli. In summer 2015 she was a Katherine Bakeless Fellow at the Bread Loaf Translators’ Conference.  Allison is contributing fiction editor at Queen Mob’s Teahouse, an online literary and arts journal.  She earned her BA from St. Michael’s College, an MA from Middlebury College in Italian, and an MA from the University of Toronto in Comparative literature. Allison is also pursuing her MFA in fiction and translation in the low-residency program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives and works in Bologna, Italy.

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