Ricardo Pau-Llosa, The Turning
(Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2018)
Ricardo Pau-Llosa’s The Turning
continues and enhances the strengths he has shown in his prior seven volumes; it is the achievement of a poet confident in his voice and his imaginative powers. The poems unabashedly dwell in the echo chamber of Western art and culture, the twin pillars of which are signalled by the book’s two epigraphs: one from the gospels, one from Ovid. The myths, whether directly invoked or filtered through a work of art, are from Ovid: Ariadne, Narcissus, Andromeda, Actaeon, Orpheus. The reader needs to be at home in this chamber, or now (happily) willing to search online for image and text, to appreciate Pau-Llosa’s many nuances and surprises. In ‘Rembrandt’s Andromeda’, Ovid’s story comes first – via the hero and the monster that Rembrandt does not paint. The poem then turns:
But let us backtrack a bit, to the scene before us,
the girl pale as marble, no doubt the painter’s
joke on goddesses stiff and cold. Any fainter
and she’d collapse bloodless as on a cross,
presaging a story the artist knows, so distant
is the teller from what is told.
Here the pagan story turns into a Christian image. Metamorphosis.
While his work frequently reflects his interest in and encyclopaedic knowledge of the culture of Cuba and the tenacities of exile, its tenor here is complexly cosmopolitan and not nostalgic. ‘Cuba, Where Art Thou?’ begins with ‘What if it were not such a tragedy to ...
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