‘Looks like we made it. Look how far we’ve come, my baby.’ Note the clever use of the half-rhyme, one of the salient features of Shania Twain’s style. Admittedly, ‘made it/baby’ falls some way short of Muldoonesque ‘English/language’ or ‘word/sword’ brilliance, but this little couplet is at least an adequate way of saying that we’ve negotiated the first round of the Poetry World Cup and we’re ready for more. Whether or not the Bush administration had anything to do with the failed coup against Chavez, it seems fair to characterise relations between the US and Venezuela as… a little bit tense. Now it’s up to you, Missing Slate readers, to decide which of the two countries wields the soft power when it comes to poetry.
MEET THE POETS
Ravi Shankar, representing the US, is the founding editor of Drunken Boat and won the National Poetry Review Prize in 2011 for his collection ‘Deepening Grove’. His other awards include a Pushcart Prize and a fellowship from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts. His poetic style is notable for combining elements from various places on the poetry spectrum: Djellal Marbrook has praised Ravi Shankar’s ‘love of symmetry and classical sensibility’, as well as his ‘refusal to disdain experimental verse.’
Our Venezuelan representative is Rafael Ayala Páez, a young poet whose work is already beginning to be noticed around the world. His poems have been translated from Spanish into English, French, German and Hebrew, and we’re presenting his work in Roger Hickin’s English translation. Rafael Ayala Páez draws on a number of traditions, and a ‘spiritual connection to the culture of India’ lies behind poems such as ‘Vaisvanara/Agni’.
Venezuela caused a minor shock when they overcame Bangladesh in the opening game of the tournament. After trailing for most of the day, a strong surge of support overnight saw them finish 10 votes ahead and become the first country to book a place in the second round.
The US, too, trailed for long periods of their match against Barbados, but eventually won by the just-about-comfortable margin of 7 votes. They were tipped to do well in our pre-tournament podcast, but they’ll need to pick up a few extra supporters if they want to get past Venezuela today.
Memory is in the fingertips
Colors are in the eyes
Infancy is contained in the backbone
Worlds are born in broken shells
There will always be a sign in every object
made vague in the horizon
An infinite omen in the night
A sparkle suspended on the forehead
An old smell beneath the pebbles
A red sun behind the hills
Sunrises on the eyelids
Balloons floating in the sky…
~ Rafael Ayala Páez, trans. Roger Hickin
The sweat that pooled in the rubber lining of the goggles was the worst, worse than tang of leather and cut of bit in my mouth from the face restraint, worse than the ear muffs that clamped my head in hundred degree heat, worse even than being forced to pee in a bucket in front of the guards and other inmates to slurs about my wormy prick. Something about the seeping, itchy moisture that couldn’t be scratched drove me craziest as I waited, kneeling on a strip of gravel, hands restrained behind me, for my dinner…
~ Ravi Shankar
RESULT: Venezuela won by 4 votes
Editor’s note: If, for any reason, you’re unable to vote in the poll, please leave the name of the poem/country you’d like to vote for in the comments.
Agave Magazine‘s interview with Rafael Ayala Páez.
An English translation of Rafael Ayala Páez’s ‘This is the house’, in Ink Sweat and Tears.
Gregory Zambrano’s review of Rafael Ayala Páez’s work (Spanish).
An interview with Rafael Ayala Páez (Spanish).
Words Without Borders‘ March 2014 issue on contemporary Venezuelan writing.
Ravi Shankar’s Poetry Foundation page.
Nin Andrews interviews Ravi Shankar on the ‘Best American Poetry’ blog.
Ravi Shankar interviewed by H.L. Nix.
Ram Devineni talks to Ravi Shankar about editing Drunken Boat.
Ravi Shankar reviews the work of two contemporary Indian poets, Rukmini Bhaya Nair and Keki N. Daruwalla.