When I first spoke with Xánath Caraza she was gearing up for a residency in Spain. Having been before, she was looking forward to re-exploring Granada, “la capital mundial de la poesía,” as she put it, “la tierra de Lorca.” An awarding-winning poet and author in her own right, as well as a professor of Spanish at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Caraza was then invited to attend the Palabra en el Mundo Festival in Venice in May 2015 and spent the next several weeks touring the land of Virgil and Dante. She seems to have radiated poetry every day, even during her wanderings around Rome, Florence, Mantua and as far south as Salerno.
By July she had a collection of over 90 poems, which was published last year under the title Donde la luz es violeta (Where the Light Is Violet). As with past works, Caraza’s Spanish verses appear alongside an English translation by Sandra Kingery.
Llevo el infierno encerrado en el puño izquierdo
camino sin rumbo hasta encontrar el Adriático
un hilo de oro anuncia la noche
la soledad del mar me envuelve
silencio absoluto en el agua
sendero ámbar hasta el infinito
I carry the inferno enclosed in my left fist
walking aimlessly until I find the Adriatic
a thread of gold announces the night
the solitude of the sea envelops me
absolute silence on the water
amber trail to infinity
Caraza’s poetry is a continued rumination on the inner and outer worlds. Her poems feel like confessions scribbled on secret pages. Each is dated with the location of its composition, and the collection proceeds chronologically so that the poet becomes a guide, beckoning us as she floats along canals and climbs cobblestone streets. We can see her diligently dedicating a verse to her notebook as she gazes at a Venetian sunset, whereas in other instances she’s clearly singing songs in her head and writing them down later.
Nadie sabe que soy coleccionista de palabras
de susurros en la atmósfera, de sonidos acuáticos
de pasiones contenidos en caracolas y bivalvos de
estas mezcladas aguas de Venecia, de los secretos
más íntimos, de besos robados.
No one knows I’m a collector of words
of whispers in the air, of aquatic sounds
of passions contained in conches and mollusks of
these intermingled Venetian waters, of the most intimate
secrets, of stolen kisses.
There are echoes of Lorca — of what Spanish-speaking poet is that not true? — as well as flashes of Verlaine, Pound and, of course, Eliot, each of whom Caraza invokes as her muse, among others. (“Quasimodo summons me/ once again, he recites his lines calmly/ softly, unhurriedly, just for me.”) Former Kansas poet laureate Denise Low describes Caraza’s collection as “a moving prayer … to water,” and I would only add that Donde la luz es violeta is really a meditation on the conduit of life which, Auden noted, is more essential to us humans than love. “What color is the water of Venice?” Caraza’s asks at the start of one poem, later admitting she’s “tormented by the question”:
Verde viene a mi mente
ópalo complementa mi pensamiento
doradas olas chocan en la ventana
azules gotas escurren por los cristales
Green comes to mind
opal joins in
metallic waves crash at the window
blue drops trickle down the glass
For Caraza, poetry isn’t something that merely surrounds us or bursts from within. Poetry is a force that moves through everything, like the dark matter of astrophysics, only a mixture of dark and light and all things. The poet mustn’t simply describe what she sees; we have Instagram for that. In poets like Caraza we encounter the timeless struggle to put in words how what we see, hear, smell and touch relates to what we experience within us. Words are frustratingly inadequate, however, and oftentimes we find Caraza on the verge of speaking in tongues. Ultimately she gives in. Where at first glance Caraza appears to embody poetry, when we peer deeper we realize it is poetry that is embodying her, but only because she is open and receptive to that beautiful possession. Such is the power of poetry when we yield to it and listen. And so long as Caraza keeps exhaling “syllables of gold,” I and others will keep listening.
La poesía me salva, así lo pienso.
Llenarte con poesía, arte
y amor, nunca demasiado amor
en estas horas, en esta era.
Poetry saves me, that’s what I think.
Fill yourself with poetry, art
and love, never too much love
at this time, in this era.
Donde la luz es violeta / Where the Light Is Violet
By Xánath Caraza
(Translated by Sandra Kingery)
Mammoth Publications: 208 pages
Featured image: Pedro Szekely/Flickr