Poet's Sampler: Melcion Mateu
June 3, 2015
Jun 3, 2015
Translation muddles the idea of emergence, especially in the isolated realms of the American poetry scene where other languages can seem as far away as lights in other galaxies. We tend to circulate in our own cosmos, happy with the bits of translation that come our way. Consequently, we are often latecomers to work in other languages; sometimes we miss it altogether. Translation is a stay against such belatedness.
Catalan poet Melcion Mateu’s emergence here and now is simply the time when his ship comes to our port. His first book, Vida Evident (“Evident Life”), won the Premio Poesia de Octavio Paz in 1999. His fourth and most recent book, Illes Lligades (“Bound Islands,” from which these selection appear) won the highly coveted Premi Jocs Florals de Barcelona in 2014. His work has been translated into Spanish, Russian, Slovenian, and Portuguese.
Mateu was born in Barcelona to Majorcan parents and his poems have the “here and elsewhere” feel of a tongue divided between the cosmopolitan barbarisms of the city and the more hermetic phrasings and wisdom of island culture. His move to New York City (to earn a PhD in Spanish and Portuguese Literature) further accentuated the multiple options for voice and tone, the vibrant possibilities of doing everything (and absolutely nothing) in a place that doesn’t stop for you. Instead of trying to slow the city down, he took to capturing its pulses with an estranged lens: Catalan, but spoken by one already displaced from the island of his family’s cultural origins. The result is a stunning double exposure of culture, full of brilliance, shadow, and at times an intriguing emotional complexity that states itself with deceptively crystalline simplicity. He is an impossible mix of O’Hara and Pound.
The disconnect between the contemporary world and the world of the troubadours—who wrote in a language so close to his own—resonate deeply (and darkly) in his lines. Mateu has mastered the art of ruthless self-examination in miniature. Neither confessional nor post-confessional, Mateu’s poetry feels like something that has arrived to us from both the dark side of the moon and The Dark Side of the Moon. American poetry hasn’t quite felt the same to me since I started to read the poetry of Mateu.
—Rowan Ricardo Phillips (trans.)
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June 03, 2015