By Neil Leadbeater
Author: Luis BenÌtez
Translated by Elizabeth Auster with versions by Beatriz Olga Allocati
Publisher: Littoral Press, Suffolk, England.
Trade Paperback £9.99, July 2013
Luis BenÌtez is a poet, essayist and novelist living in Argentina. He is a member of the Iberoamerican Academy of Poetry, New York, USA, the International Society of Writers, USA, the World Poets Society, Greece, and the Advisory Board of Poets Press, India. His work has brought him international recognition and he has been the recipient of many prestigious awards including the La Porte des PoÈtes International Award (Paris, 1991), the Primo Premio Tusculorum di Poesia (Italy, 1996) and the International Award for Published Work “Macedonio Palomino”, (Mexico, 2008). He is the author of some 36 books (poetry, essays and narrative) published in Argentina, Chile, Italy, Mexico, Romania, Spain, Sweden, USA, Venezuela and Uruguay.
Over the years, many of his poems have appeared in small press magazines and journals in the USA and the UK but this is the first time that a selection of his work, (46 poems taken from nine separate books), has been published in the United Kingdom.
BenÌtez belongs to the so-called Argentinian generation of 1980, the generation that meant in part to disassociate itself from the immediate influences of writers such as Pablo Neruda and CÈsar Vallejo in order to search out new possibilities including influences from outwith their native countries. In the case of BenÌtez, whose poetry may be said to be truly cosmopolitan, it was a question of carving out a new identity variously composed of many different facets. His poetry is rooted in European literature, classical mythology, history, philosophy and geography. His unique handling of this material is what makes him such an original voice. In particular, the persona of the author is never to the fore, it is as if the poet takes a back seat and lets his universal themes take centre stage.
In This Morning I Wrote Two Poems Benitez concerns himself with the craft of writing - where does the Muse come from and why is it that the finished object is more than the sum of its component parts? Always modest about his own achievements and wise enough to know that the perfect poem is in all probability an impossible thing (but worth pursuing), he wonders
About the men who have said it better
and are now dead
The poem hints at the length of time that it can take for a work of art to come to full maturity, and how, at the last, it can have a transformational effect which can be out of all proportion to its existence on the page.
Several writers are celebrated in this volume. There are poems addressed to Vallejo, Pound, Lao-Tse, Keats, Schwob and Rimbaud. The title of his poem To Deprive Death of It’s Arrogance carries an echo of Dylan Thomas’s poem And Death Shall Have No Dominion. The reference is no accident. Dylan Thomas was, and continues to be, a great influence on BenÌtez. Benitez has said of him, “he was my master”.
In KustendjÈ, By The Black Sea the whole poem, which is a meditation on change, revolves around the central figure of another writer from the past, this time Ovid, and his work Metamorphoses. The reference is to the time when the Roman Emperor Augustus banished Ovid from his native Rome to a period of exile in Constanza. Again, as with so many of the poems in this collection, there are several layers of meaning working their way into the reader’s conscience at the same time. In this case it is the skilful interplay between past and present: the ever-changing events of history.
For me, it is the poem The Astonishing Lives that provides the key to the whole collection. These are the men and women who have travelled the huge country of distance to show us their many-coloured fabrics, their words - they are the quiet influences from the past that people our creative spirit and are the source of this poet’s own original work.
Translation is never an easy task, especially in relation to poetry. Unfortunately, the translation in this book is at times uneven and in need of some fine-tuning in order to enable the reader to gain a proper comprehension of the text but this should not detract from the opportunity that this publication brings to enable speakers of English to gain an appreciation of a selection of very fine poems that would not otherwise be available in the United Kingdom.