Mausoleum

Mausoleo y áreas colindante (a chapbook of poems by Eduardo Padilla)
Reviewed by Gary Gautier

As a second-language reader of Spanish, this chapbook of poems by Mexican poet, Eduardo Padilla, was more difficult for me than his narrative verse chapbook, Hotel Hastings. If you are upper intermediate in Spanish, I’d recommend Hotel Hastings, where you can follow the throughline even if you miss some of the language. If you are native or advanced, try Mausoleo. Both collections are admirably weird, as Padilla always is, but Mausoleo is less narrative, more purely poetic, a sculpted universe with a lot more pressure on the language itself. Both are available at https://poesiamexa.wordpress.com/2016/03/16/eduardo-padilla/.

The content in Mausoleo ranges from sweeping and cosmic (“todos los objetos imaginables por todas las civilizaciones de la galaxia” [75]) to elemental* to archetypal (“Saturno devoró a sus hijos” [25]) to “escuálido” [33] (urine and flies buzzing a dirty street). There are no rules in Padilla. No, I take that back. There is one rule. Repetition to keep us grounded. Consecutive stanzas might start with the same phrase, or might each start with a phrase picked up from the previous stanza, or might just follow an easy pattern (“A mi primera esposa … A mi segunda esposa … A mi tercera esposa …” [49-50]). The form swings from long, Whitmanesque lines to a kind of choppy folk meter:

*El sol quema,
el agua fluye,
el viento corre,
la Tierra gira. Ninguno …
(p. 13)

And then this verse enjambs into more open free verse swings. But you get the idea. Padilla can orient us with simplicity as well as disorient us with complexity. And that’s just with the form.

The overall structure too captivates – the organization into spaces reminiscent of Gaston Bachelard’s fascinating philosophical opus, The Poetics of Space. In the case of Padilla’s chapbook, the universe is carved into spaces that are domestic but not quite domestic, semi-public but in a brooding and intimate way. Sections of the chapbook have titles like Pórtico, Dormitorio, Comedor, Salón Heráldico, Capilla, Ático, and of course Mausoleo (Portico, Dorm, Dining Room, Heraldic Hall, Chapel, Attic, Mausoleum) – domestic but layered with social and existential significance, spaces in the liminal zone between public and private, as perhaps a cloistered monastery might be for the devotees who live within it. Maybe that’s where Padilla wants us to feel ourselves. Or maybe not. But either way, it’s a space charged with meaning and emotion.

Throw in a few captivating images – “mujeres como picaduras de abeja” [33], “en cada escena del crimen una catedral azul” [69] – and you have a nice neat package of a poetic chapbook. Well, not exactly neat. Luckily for us, it’s something more interesting than neat.

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(Click covers for links)

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Hotel Hastings

Hotel Hastings (a poem in 49 cantos)
by Eduardo Padilla (in Spanish)

Free pdf of the complete 75-page poem here, with permission of the author.
Publisher: Cinosargo ediciones  

Reviewed by Gary Gautier

As a second-language speaker of Spanish, I may have got it all wrong, but if you want to know what I thought and what I like, I will tell you and you can listen.

Hotel Hastings reads more like a novella, less “poetic” in rhythm and form than Padilla’s other poetry that I’ve read. It has the easy flow of narrative, but with little Pound-like hooks in imagery and free associations across the page that remind you – it is related by, and you, the reader, are locking consciousness with, a poet.

The first part is masterful in its integrated vision of street-level grit and Kafkaesque surrealism.

“En el norte me dicen Ed y acabo de enterarme de que los cartógrafos le dicen Ed a las islas de Existencia Dudosa,” reads the epigraph (in my amateur translation, “In the north they call me Ed, and I just found out that cartographers call islands of doubtful existence ‘Ed’”).

Is he the island of doubtful existence, or is it his shadowy gray setting, Vancouver, whose existence is dubious? Either way, the epigraph sets me up for a surrealistic journey. This is supported in the first line of the first canto, when Ed leaves school (presumably from Mexico) to go live in East Hastings “con los demás fantasmas” (“with the rest of the ghosts”) in a mausoleum-like hotel above a butcher shop where flies dance on the floating heads of bodiless pigs. The characters who populate his floor have a symbolic, dreamlike aura, despite their grit – the pimp’s apprentice, the drug dealer, and at the end of the hall, the drug dealer’s only client, “vive y muere” (“living or dying,” depending on how you choose to look at it). Also, the pickpocket, “with hands more beautiful than those of a mannerist saint,” and the Invisible Man, a “human hieroglyph,” who walks only in straight lines, turns only in 90-degree angles, and looks, if you can catch a glance when he takes off his glasses, like a Dustin Hoffman lookalike. Here, among this range of low-life archetypes, the narrator, though a foreigner, finds for the first time in his life his own element 😊

Thus begins our hero’s tale, scrounging for jobs, or better yet unemployment checks, trying to sell the CDs he’s been carrying around for five years, one eye forever on the next cheap beer. The surreality persists (e.g. in Canto 12, where “tourists pass through my room and around my bed, taking pictures of me,” although this may have been presented as a dream – don’t ask me, my Spanish isn’t good enough to get all the context). But gradually it becomes clear that this is not a bizarre alternative world being recorded in the simplest terms possible, as in Kafka, but a gritty real world of Vancouver streets being recorded by a batshit crazy poet, a poet who ponders how he fits into his 2-story hotel and concludes, “I am the 13th floor,” a poet who “was born [with an unfulfilled desire] to see Eraserhead,” a poet who at one point admits his memory is shattered and asks the reader to step in and help him sort out the pieces.

I like the first half of the book better, where the language has me flying in Kafka space rather than walking the grungier streets of the actual city of Vancouver, but the second half, which smacks more of William Burroughs’s Junky than of Kafka, brings me closer to the poet, to the human element underneath it all. Maybe you need both halves, the yin and the yang, the id and the ego, the world of make-believe and the world that hits you in the face. Maybe the batshit crazy poet knew what he was doing.

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Affair before dawn

Thousands of years ago, when we first met, when gods and goddesses laughed and roamed fields of giant clover to the monotonous throb of primeval honeybees, we sat by a secret pond at night. The stars were the same then as they are now, but the constellations were different. You dipped your hand in the water as if to study an undersea plant or fish, and I dove in to do something but then I couldn’t remember what. And when I came up, the constellations had changed into Virgo and Scorpio and big and little dippers. The old cosmos was gone. That quickly a new age had begun, a human age of quiet hunger and missed connections. Dark and silent, we retreated into the ferns and mosses and heavy branches, the moon more lovely and distant than ever, and I felt your hand still wet with the possibilities of that lost moment.

(Click images below for links)

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I have a bird to whistle

Review of Robert Okaji’s chapbook of poems, I Have a Bird to Whistle (Luminous Press, 2019, 27 pages), by Gary Gautier

Beautifully crafted, each poem is an uneasy marriage of image and concept, of fullness and emptiness. Each is suggestive without yielding a fixed meaning. Meaning, like the sense-rich images, follows geometric curves through space to the vanishing point. The logic moving through each poem is like an extended haiku concatenation, jumping from one discrete image or cluster to another sometimes unrelated one. So far, so good. But the discontinuity, suggestive as it is, is sometimes too much, and I wish Okaji had given us a more stable throughline to hang onto as we move across the flow of language. When I set these prose-poem paragraphs against Okaji’s pre-existing work (see his blog here), for my taste he flourishes better with the more traditional poetic line structure. Still, those who revel in the sheer beauty of poetic language, in the compression of image and concept, in this case coming in bite-sized, one-paragraph chunks, will be pleased with this short collection.

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