Paradoxically, while conjuring up ghosts and staring them down, this mystic poetry-prose, for which she has become known, has become Agosin’s way of trying to lay those ghosts to rest, of comprehending the incomprehensible, in this case, the horror of the Holocaust. In addition to the Holocaust, Jewish identity, man’s inhumanity to man, migrationparticularly to Latin Americaand the conditions of exile are among her central themes. These are overlaid with a sense of displacement and loss. In “Cartographies of Love,” written from Helena Broder’s point of view, she writes: …The map rests on a well worn table, far away in the lost dominions of exile. I search for my rivers disfigured and yellow in this fragile geography of exile. I cannot find my beloved Andes, scattered and blue. I find cities I loved and where I was loved. Others remain absent. These I left as lfI were a fugitive. I trace places where I read my first poem, when I kissed, furtive and trembling… …Confused, I find myself in a borrowed geography. I receive postcards at an address where I think I live and where nobody visits me. Not yet 50, Agosin has edited and written more than two dozen books, among them collections of poetry, essays, and fiction on subjects ranging from Jewish Latina poets to Vincent Van Gogh to the nature of writing. She writes stories and biographies about family membersher mother, her father, her grandmothersand the distinctions between family, friends, and total strangers blur. Her “family circle” widens to include the Argentinean mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the young people murdered by the Chilean militarytheir bodies Marjorie Agosin Wings Press dumped in the Atacama desert, Jewish women immigrants in America, concentration camp victims, and the Chilean apillera In a voice which is not afraid to say the obvious, to utter truths many of us would recoil from, she writes spontaneously, exuberantly, and with a great outpouring of emotion. Her critics have accused her unfairly, I believeof repetition, wordiness, and over-sentimentality. Perhaps this perception is directly related to the challenge of transforming the sound of the original Spanish with its cadence and musicality into an equally melodic English equivalent, and to the problem of “translating” the Latin temperament for Anglo-Saxon readers. The first limitation is related to the structural diversity of the two languages; the second to the opposing nature of the two cultures. English tends to be precise, crisp, terse, and incisive. I think this economy of words is harder to achieve in Spanish and, for those accustomed to Englishlanguage poetry, this might be considered a defect. \(Even the original Spanish here occupies more space than its assonance, interior rhyme, and beauty in the sound of Spanish are also lost. The second limitation relates to the challenge of interpreting the Latin temperament. What in English may sound trite or cliched, in Spanish, a language more comfortable with the expression of strong emotion, can sound fresh, original, and sincere. In referring to her great-grandmother, for example, Agosin uses the Spanish phrase: “En el corazon salvaje de la noche, eres una rapsodia abandonada.” The Spanish language reader would be unlikely to object. However, the literal translation \(“You are a rhapsody abandoned in the wild heart of the readers of English, more accustomed to subtlety and understatement. Both shortcomings are unavoidable, however. Certainly, in the case of The Angel of Memory, they do not reflect on the translation, which is more than adequate. While Agosin’s intensely personal poetry may be less conducive to translation into English than her essays, it is well worth readingin any language. Her candor, her faith in the power of words to wreak change, her capacity to express both anguish and joy in rare and moving ways are unique qualities in an age marked by skepticism and despair. Above all, it is her generous spirit that sets her and her work apart. In mining her personal life for material, Agosin writes with such intensity it is difficult to know where her life stops and where her writing begins. Some 150 years ago another writer, idealist, and human rights advocate, Henry David Thoreau, wrote: “My life has been the poem I would have writ./ But I could not both live and utter it.” Agosin has managed to do both. Diana Anhalt is a poet and writer in Mexico City. She is the author of A Gathering of Fugitives: American Political Expatriates in Mexico 19481965 7/19/02 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23
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