Chilean poet Tomás Harris's Cipango--written in the 1980s, first published in 1992, and considered by many to be the author's best work to date--employs the metaphor of a journey. The poems collectively allude to the voyage of Columbus, who believed that he'd reached the Far East ("Cipango," or Japan), not the Americas. Building on that mistaken historical premise, Cipango comments on the oppressive legacy of colonialism in Latin America--manifested in twentieth-century Chile through the 1973 military coup by Augusto Pinochet and the brutal dictatorship there--and on the violence and degradation of contemporary urban society. The author's vision is of a decadent, apocalyptic world that nonetheless contains the possibility for regeneration.
Cipango is characterized by strange and obsessive imagery--strips of mud, will-o'-the-wisps, vacant lots, blue rats--juxtapositions of contemporary and archaic diction and of incongruous settings that range over time and place; the use of an understated irony; and a dark, incantatory voice. The speakers in various poems address personages such as Columbus, Marco Polo, and the Great Khan, and refer to a breadth of sources including Columbus's diaries, Genet's Our Lady of the Flowers, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Nerval's Aurelia, the Holocaust, Billie Holiday, and the film Goldfinger. The book's content and formal elements combine to produce a work of almost epic scope, one with universal appeal.
Click here to order Cipango from Amazon.com, look inside the book, and read a review by the Midwest Book Review!
Daniel Shapiro will contribute selected poems from Cipango, along with an introduction, to the May 2010 issue of The International Literary Quarterly.
"Shapiro's faithful translations, produced here alongside the Spanish text, do well to mirror Harris's language acrobatics - from Old Spanish to contemporary to vernacular - and choral cadence. A fine collection; recommended for libraries and bookstores with a contemporary South American poetry collection and wherever current events titles are popular." - Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Libraryjournal.com (Read the full review online.)
About the author:
Tomás Harris is the author of Cipango (1992; Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1996) and other books of poems. He received the Premio Municipal do Poesía (1993) for Cipango; the Premio Consejo Nacional del Libro y la Lectura (1993) for Los 7 náufragos; the Premio Pablo Neruda (!995); and the Casa de las Américas prize (1996) for Crónicas maravillosas. He is also the author of a short story collection, Historia personal del miedo (1995).
About the translator:
Daniel Shapiro's translations have appeared in The American Poetry Review (Tomás Harris cover feature, September/October 1997), BOMB, and Grand Street. He received a translation fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts for Cipango. A poet as well as a translator, he is Director of Literature and Editor of Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas at the Americas Society in New York.
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