Libro de conjuros [Book of spells]. Emiliano Orlante. Buenos Aires: Buenos Aires Poetry. 2016. 72 pages.
Libro de conjuros is composed of four parts, in which the topic of the effects of time is reiterated as a neurotic symptom. The time series, the first of the book, seems to take possession of the entire collection of poems as reading progresses. The terrible thing about the temporal spell is that “amenaza siempre / con devorar / todo / para transformarlo / en nada” (22) [it always threatens / with devour / everything / to transform it / into nothing] and “hace / de un concreto momento de felicidad / una ilusión; / de todo, / nada; / de un héroe, / un fantasma” (22-23) [makes / a particular moment of happiness / an illusion; / of everything, / nothing; / of a hero, / a ghost]. The poems “As a Surfer Riding a Wave” and “tic Tac” revolve around the idea of time as a great destroyer and transformer. Transformation, a product of this macabre spell, also constitutes a recurring topic throughout the book. Time has left us in “las ruinas de una moderna civilización” (41) [the ruins of a modern civilization] and “restos de Afrodita” [remains of Aphrodite]. It’s about a time that makes footprints, marks us, transforms us, and prevents us from capturing the moment.
In poems like “El viaje” [The Journey] and “Sacrificio” [Sacrifice], the pages move and take us, on a modernist journey, to a rotten and stinking city in which the poet transforms himself into a heartless ghost. The putrid waters and the valleys of garbage constitute a landscape that opposes the exaltation of the nature of romanticism in a way that reminds us of The Waste Land (teenage wasteland, perhaps?) by T. S. Elliot. In its lines, the book of spells invokes voices and fragments of a literary past. Within this landscape, the beginning and the end are disoriented: “Todo parece el fin, / o más bien, / por qué no / el comienzo” (42) [Everything seems the end, / or rather, / why not / the beginning]. Time is no longer the same, the logical progression of the present can be “uno de los tantos reflejos del futuro” (41) [one of the many reflections of the future]. “Dicen que en el fin del mundo comienza la vida” (45) [They say that at the end of the world life begins] and, thus, at the convergence of the past, the present, and the future, the temporal symptom insists on returning to slip between the verses. Faced with a space of degradation, decay, and complete corruption by the forces of time, the possibility of an exit from linear logic is introduced.
The structures from which we rationalize the unattainable experience of time are constantly made problematic in the poems. The poem “El moment” [The Moment] begins: “La creencia en un momento propicio siempre es pretérita / el presente cruel” [The belief in an auspicious moment is always past / the cruel present]. And it ends: “El futuro, desde aquí, / sólo puede ser desolador/ Ayer / era el día / hoy / ya es tarde” (24) [The future, from here, / can only de desolate / Yesterday / was the day / today / is already too late]. The image of a degraded present as opposed to an idealized past emerges in this poem, perhaps as a new effect of time on life. However, in the Libro de conjuros, all forms of the spell of time seem hopeless. At the end of the collection of poems, we are portrayed not only as an empty present, but a “pasado / también vacuo” (62) [past / equally as hollow]. The past is the place from which fragments of memories, experiences and images come. The past is what is lost by the logic inherent in time and it seems that nothing can be done about it.
Throughout the book we find traces of something that has been lost, something that has been marked and transformed by this powerful spell; a fruit that has spoiled or a night that has come to an end. With greater or lesser force, we receive a visit from death in each of the poems. This is why, in “¿Una instantánea” [A Snapshot?], in contrast to time, we are presented with the idea of an instant association with freedom: “¡Esa es la instantánea! / ¡Detente! / efímera coincidencia / ¿Libertad puedo llamarte? / no te escurras / porque recuerdo / puede ser ahora” (26) [That’s the snapshot! / Stop! / fleeting coincidence / can I call you Freedom? / do not drain / because I remember / it can be now]. It is an instant that can contain all eternity. In “Apertura,” [Opening], the poet positions himself from the point of view of the reader and textually marks the present moment of the reading. At the start of the poem we read: “el instante / inasible / denso y fútil / como estas páginas / que ahora / se mueven” (21) [the instant / unattainable / dense and futile / like these pages / that now / move]. So that the reading also creates a moment. If writing is evidence of the effects of time, death, and loss, is reading not what can recover a lost moment?
The reflection on the past, the present, and the future that crosses the entire collection brings with it the question of the relationship between man and destiny. “¿Somos verdaderos arquitectos de nuestra existencia / o / realizamos la mejor de las opciones que se nos presentan?” (27) [Are we true architects of our existence / or / do we make the best of the options that are presented to us?], we read in ‘tic Tac’. Every spell needs someone to execute it, but who is the sorcerer? In ‘Sacrifice’ he exclaims: “¡Qué decepcionante cuando todo sucede tal cual uno lo prevé! / ¡Irremediable existencia humana!” (44) [How disappointing when everything happens as one envisions it! / Irremediable human existence!].
For Emiliano Orlante, professor and researcher at the University of Buenos Aires, Libro de conjuros is the main spell and is a colossal tyrant. Although the possibilities of escape from their network are not excessive, some offer a glimpse into the poems: the moment, the ritual, hell, poetry. A reading about spells that accompanies the movement of the pages can evoke the moment and invade the linear and destructive logic of time.
Universidad de Buenos Aires
University of New Mexico
Translated by Katelyn Lynch