De la metáfora, fluida. Verónica Jaffé. Visor/Fundación para la Cultura Urbana, 2019. 171 pages.
Verónica Jaffé’s De la metáfora, fluida [On metaphor, fluid] is a collection of her poems, written and arranged chronologically from 2009 to 2014. In contrast to her previous book, Himnos hespéricos-cantos patrióticos [Hesperian hymns–patriotic chants] (2015), the verbal élan departs here from that hymnal tone—the result of her dialogue with/constant translation of Hölderlin’s poetry—to return to a more intimate, more concentrated, at times even minimalist register that reassumes the tone of her book Sobre traducciones. Poemas 2000-2008 [On translations: poems 2000–2008], published in 2010. Still, we feel the presence of Hölderlin, a sort of “beacon” (as Baudelaire would say) for Jaffé’s reflection and writing: he is constantly alluded to as the poet, the master, the master poet, and he is even quoted. Strictly speaking, though, from the perspective of diction, another figure of inspiration for Jaffé seems to take precedence: Emily Dickinson. Not only is she quoted and translated in two of the poems; Jaffé also embraces her fixed verse distribution in uniform stanzas to organize the majority of the book’s poems. Further aspects of this influence could be identified in these verses: irregular syntax, the use of natural motifs to match interior states (Stimmungen), a certain enigmatic impulse in the diction.
But in any case, it’s not just about influences. Jaffé appears to have assimilated Dickinson’s poetry to the point of making it her own, so that, as she would say, she can “translate herself.” And if you consider her work in its totality, this reflexivized verb “to translate oneself” seems to be one of the keys that define it. Not only does translation constitute one of the recurring dilemmas in Jaffé’s work, thematically speaking, but along with “fluid metaphor,” the notion of translation forms and shapes her conception of life and writing. Thus, writing itself, poetry, is not only the result of verbal translations, but it is also the result of a process in which the writer—in a problematic and even at times hopeless way—seeks to translate herself¸ to make herself tangible through words, to turn complex, unfathomable, fugitive past interior states (Stimmungen) dyed with memory and forgetting into tangible words. This is therefore a poetry that insists on exploring (itself), showing, time and again, “the something/the little something/the little nothing” that manages to become evident, to express itself in words. There is also no doubt that this exploration is rooted in a concrete, familial and cultural past. Jaffé’s German roots (and the language) are found in constant counterpoint to her Venezuelan roots, the landscape of her childhood, and her early life in Venezuela. In fact, it could be hypothesized that certain written constructions (association of nouns, dependent adjective clauses placed before the nouns they qualify, for example) contain echoes of the German language. But there are also words and turns of phrase that arise from Venezuelan ways of speaking, associated inevitably with memories, places, landscapes and moments. And just as in this writing we see these double roots, it is no less true that these roots branch out into other textualities (and even other textures if we think of her visual work), in the constant dialogue that her writing engages in with Western poetry (besides Hölderlin and Dickinson, there is Celan, Mandelstam, Milosz, Darío) and with Venezuelan poetry (Gerbasi, Sánchez Peláez, Montejo). A real tapestry of writings and experiences are translated/transposed in these poems.
The core essence of this poetry, as I said, is found in translation, and translation is understood here in its two facets: mediation and impossibility; but the difficulty of it—its laboriousness—does not emerge as a simple limitation of language; rather it roots itself in the reflexive proposition of the book. Jaffé postulates a space of authenticity preceding language, an “animal” space, understood as a realm that in a certain way coexisted (the past tense seems unavoidable from this perspective) with the gods and was still close to a certain fullness—one of “not knowing”—a fullness that is separate from consciousness, and the key to which we seem to have lost. This reflection of an almost metaphysical order is nonetheless associated with another of the book’s themes: the loss of roots, in this case of the entire country of Venezuela, living under terrible social and political conditions for the past two decades. This kind of postulation of a state of harmony with the world—the subject of several of her poems—becomes a sort of foundation, the violation of which is evidenced in processes like revolutions and their inevitable consequences: exile, uprooting, persecution and destruction. Nevertheless, in contrast to other Venezuelan writers, Jaffé does not choose denunciation in her book, much less the exhibition of complex, terrible situations; rather, she seeks an elegiac tone of loss, and in this sense she chooses not so much to make a spectacle of the national debacle, as to display the less immediately visible, but possibly more profound, more intimate, more permanent effects.
These poems, intimate, nostalgic, short, harsh, hesitant at times, confront us with a poetry that turns reflection on limitations and difficulties (verbal, expressive, of translation, existential, political) into the raw material for its expression, and through this it achieves a rare authenticity—without over-gesticulation.
Luis Miguel Isava
Berlin, January 2020
Translated by Slava Faybysh
Luis Miguel Isava holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature (Emory University, Atlanta, USA), and is a professor of the Department of Language and Literature of the Universidad Simón Bolívar. His areas of specialization are contemporary poetry and poetics, relations between literature and philosophy, theory, aesthetics, and film studies. He has written a book on the poetry of Rafael Cadenas (Voz de amante. Caracas: Academia Nacional de la Historia, 1990) and a book on poetic theory: Wittgenstein, Kraus, and Valéry. A Paradigm for Poetic Rhyme and Reason (New York: Peter Lang, 2002). He has developed an important body of work as a translator (from French, English, Italian, and German), and he has published several articles in various journals and collective books, in Venezuela and internationally.