Bilingual edition, translated by Honora Spicer. Phoenix, Arizona: Cardboard House Press, 2023.
And Suddenly I Was Just Dancing is a title in media res that keeps—or, rather, surpasses—its promise to drop us right in the middle of a scene in progress. Something was going on, or many things were going on; things that had the poetic subject going one way and another, things that moved or move that subject’s body. Every poem brings a unique thematic material and beat. They are all, nonetheless, vibratile. They all awaken the audience’s curiosity with the rhythm, the dance floor, and the improvised, exciting choreography of Peruvian poet and artist Tilsa Otta (Lima, 1982).
The title’s “And” is powerful: we don’t know what came before, but here we are. The title places before us a body whose arms flap, whose legs buckle, whose head is thrown back as its eyes close. Or none of this. Maybe it takes other steps that have nothing to do with moving forward or with painting evocative figures of anything, but rather just with dancing. With being in movement.
In her writing, Otta suggests we imagine the poetic fate toward which all occurrences are moving. There is a new sky, there is hormonal darkness, a sunset, yesterdays, tomorrows, moons, and the Caribbean. A whole universe of pleasures and becomings that might take place out of the pure impulse of desire: “Si tu órgano sexual gira / como un satélite del tiempo / orbita a través del espacio / da vueltas sin sentido / tarde o temprano se estrellará contra el mío” [If your sex organ revolves / like a time satellite / orbits through space / spins without sense / sooner or later it will crash into mine]. Like in dance, Otta’s words remind us it is possible to dream of the coincidences and correspondences that help us keep faith in such slippery, misshapen things as happiness and love.
“THIS BOOK POINTS TO THE BODY’S SURRENDER TO THE VASTNESS OF THE WORLD AND ITS RHYTHMS: RULES, ICONS, ANIMALITY, BODIES, AND THE POSSIBILITIES THAT EXIST BETWEEN ALL THESE THINGS”
I would recommend Otta’s poems to those who accept there is stability in instability, to those who find peace in contradiction: to those who often find themselves floating in the figurative vacuum of the duty-beings and the power-beings that the rules of this world switch up with frantic speed. To those who choose to launch themselves into imagined orbits, clinging to nothing but movement, acceleration, or a fleeting sensation in some pore of the skin or in some depth beneath the sternum. This book is for those who understand the beauty of disorder.
The translation by Honora Spicer, as she explains herself in the translator’s note, comprehends the bodily flow of Otta’s poetry, a flow that does not mean softness or silkiness, as the word might suggest. Spicer understands that, in order to transport the Peruvian author’s movement to a new code—to English—she has to couple up, like you would in a dance, and that doesn’t mean mirroring her moves, but rather following her double rhythm: that of Otta’s poetic subject and that of the world in which this subject moves.
Since Tilsa uses the “x” as an indicator of nonbinary gender (“Gente que cree en unx y por eso somos posibles”), Honora is sure to include this marker in the same fashion, such that it accomplishes its original mission of intervening in the words, of destabilizing and rendering unfamiliar the pages with an attitude of transgression: “Folx who believe in you and that’s why we’re possible.”
Honora’s translation pays heed to Tilsa’s movements—the perreo, the sway, the flying jumps, the slides—and follows them, embodying the author’s energy—unique and unrepeatable in time, space, and character—while unfurling a story of love or a tale of the creation of the world, like in the poem “The New Sky,” where she builds with words a space of redemption detached from any convoluted philosophy, thus putting forward her own ethics of what must be eternal: pleasure. She says: “Aquí conocerán a sus bisabuelos / celebrarán reencuentro con todos sus perros” [Here you’ll meet your great grandparents / you’ll celebrate reunion with all your dogs].
Spicer intelligently replicates the tone of the lengths and forms of the original verses; she understands the lack of rigorousness and ceremoniousness of Otta’s Spanish, which is more interested in playing and surprising the reader with its breakneck shifts in speed and tone, in producing a stroboscopic literary environment in place of poetic regularity. And this is, in and of itself, poetic: this arbitrariness that is made for our delight and desire. Such that we might follow it from one side to the other, open-mouthed, feeling it all somewhere in our body.
When Tilsa Otta says, “Renuncié a un gran momento de amor una vez más e / inicié una secuencia sin sentido” [I gave up a great moment of love once again and / kicked off a senseless sequence], she declares it was her own choice of abandon that put an end to something. This speaks to the agency of all those who uncover the forms around them. This book points to the body’s surrender to the vastness of the world and its rhythms: rules, icons, animality, bodies, and the possibilities that exist between all these things. A surrender that, it must be said, is not a defeat, but rather a strategy for life.