Saturday, 16 May 2015

Martín Gambarotta: Argentinian voice

Martín Gambarotta

Martín Gambarotta was born in Buenos Aires in 1968. The last Argentinian dictatorship (1976-1983) meant that he spent part of his youth in England. As well as being a poet, he is also political editor of the English-language Buenos Aires Herald
Gambarotta debuted in 1996 with his work Punctum, a long narrative poem which has become emblematic for Argentinian poetry of the 1990s. In thirty-nine fragments, the poem maps out the Argentina of President Carlos Menem (1989-1999); years of corruption, hyper-inflation and far-reaching privatisation, but also of a ‘pacification policy’ related to recent history, motivated by (economic) pragmatism, which in practice came down to a politics of impunity and selective historical amnesia.

The poet himself once described
 Punctum as “situational analysis in verse form” yet his poetry is impossible to see as a versified form of journalistic commentary. On the contrary, a characteristic of the poetics of the Nineties generation is actually the absence of a lyrical subject interpreting the world for the reader. In Gambarotta’s case, this leads to heterogeneous, polyphonic compositions in which frequent use is made of readymades. These are quotes from song lyrics, for example, advertising or political slogans but also, as in the case of Relapso+Angola, absurd lines taken from an automatic translation website. They are all pieces of the social mirror the poet holds up to us.

More generally, one could argue that the political meaning of Gambarotta’s work is not primarily referential in nature (it is not poetry about politics), but rather can be found in the way he uses language, the language of politics and the politics of language. One obvious example is the untitled poem from
 Seudo(2000) in which the imperative nature of the linking verb ‘is’ is problematized, as is the way language reduces us to our productive capacities:
To start with
an electrician is not an electrician
but a man who works as an electrician

This principle is a leitmotif in his work: in every line of verse both the poet and his characters appear to be forced to redefine the relationship between words and things. The exciting thing about Martín Gambarotta’s work is that this means he is also constantly searching for a poetic language with which to reconfigure that relationship. 

© Bodik Kok (Translated by Michele Hutchison)
Some of his poems

To start with
an electrician is not an electrician
but a man who works as an electrician
even if at night he thinks
that his veins are cables
that transmit the residual wattage
of his daily work.
To start with
an electrician is not an electrician
but a man who works as an electrician
even if at night he thinks
that his veins are cables
that transmit the residual wattage
of his daily work.

There isn’t, there won’t be, there wasn’t
there wasn’t, no, there isn’t, there won’t be,
nor would there’ve been if; there wasn’t,
there isn’t, there won’t be, there
wasn’t, ever, nor is there, nor can
there be, there isn’t, nor should there have
been, there isn’t, there wasn’t,
there won’t be any lines out of place
in the skull, the perfect curve
of the frontal bones,
there wasn’t, there isn’t, a better series than Kojak,
nor a more solid mask
than this solderer’s faceguard
to pass the pruning of the
neutral night, there wasn’t, a
neutral or clear night, there isn’t a hammer that’s
neutral or heavy, no, that hammers,
grabbing the handle of the hammer
to hammer with the hammer
the wood of the facts, there wasn’t,
there isn’t: Kojak sold his flat-tyred car
to some jackals, handed back his badge and gun
to the Greek Captain, the blacks threaten
to burn down a newspaper stand and don’t;
there won’t be, Cadáver, real
earthy coloured mornings
to pull the trigger, a sad trigger,
tense, that resists being triggered
at an enemy target,
there isn’t, there wasn’t, nor should there have been,
chalk to chalk round
the outline of the victim lying
face down on the hard ground;
there won’t be, charcoal
lines in the sky,
lines of a tense and inflated calibre
black lines that cross other lines, at an oblique angle
forming creepers with other lines
that grow into lines
that get lost in the distance
striped with other curved lines, there wasn’t,
there isn’t, there wasn’t no, there won’t be, there wasn’t,
nor was there to have been, there isn’t, no.
© 2011, Martín Gambarotta
Publisher: Mansalva/Vox, Buenos Aires, 2011

This was said before (already)
was said, even, in pop songs;
that the night goes crash, it was said
before, said since before,
said that the sedated animal
wanders round the house and before
was said that there were no damaged nerves
in the anxious organism, that flesh
without nerves is annoying it was said
and also it was said that you
shouldn’t jump on the bed
and anyway this was said
and from the place where it was said
one thing is clear: I can’t read.
The paragraph I start and restart
stops, I’m blocked at the first e.
The first e is the skinhead telephone guide
delivery boy who makes me stop reading.
From the skinhead swastika tattooist
I understand everything I’ve learnt up to now
and is useless.
Before finishing off
this paragraph it’s useless,
and sterile too, in this black land,
to carry on with another paragraph
where the block to reading
would be, for example, a comma.
Words in the book mean nothing,
when read they’re charged with electricity, jump from the page
but don’t mean anything. I try to solve this
by taking something, putting drops in my eyes,
which blur my sight,
leave vision watery. With a drop
of medication in the eye
one sees colours not forms, placing
according to the instructions in the leaflet
a drop in the tear duct, that would be
the corner of the eye,
I see colours and not forms
just what I said before and formerly
must have been, I think, said many times before (already).
I blink, shut them so they dry,
so the bloodshot eyes go back to white,
waiting for the liquid movement I see,
the black stains, the white cubes
and what seems to be a big fish
swimming shadelessly in the deep of the sea,
go back to being what, in reality, they are:
an Alsatian tied to a washing machine.

The blood: pacified
more serum, in reality, than blood.
Peaceful serum times blood
equals pacified blood;
blood plus serum that annuls
the real blood. The respiratory
system: pacified;
the fish: pacified; the occipital bones,
also pacified. The hard cement,
that by definition is hard, of the state’s
buildings: pacified. Pacified, also,
the pupil dilated by
an eye drop.
Blinking in a stupor
aids the general process of
pacifying the body. The lungs:
peaceful. Water and sand to make cement:
pacified, the muscles of the face:
pacified. The steel foundations:
pacified; the Zapla Steelworks:
pacified; rest in peace the drills
with special tips for piercing rock,
the electric soldering irons, the metal polishers
and other tools.
© 2011, Martín Gambarotta
Publisher: Mansalva/Vox, Buenos Aires, 2011

 A body reacts when something infects it
the external situation rules the internal situation
book + eye = doctrine
any bed is clinical
the apron accepts blood
doctrine – mentor = soap powder
gymnastics is not grammar
the system affects language
republic – doctrine = floor mop
grammar is gymnastics
an anthem must sound stupid
rooster + machete = stew
be pneumonia
eradicate the Y
rice + steel bowl = plan
the first symptom of panic is ill-disciplined syntax
you don’t kill the plague by buying ambulances
flag = butcher’s apron
sectarianism supports any adjective
resentment is fuel
Rodríguez + oil + diamonds + iron
+ phosphates + copper + gold + uranium = Angola.
© 2004, Martín Gambarotta
Publisher: Vox, Buenos Aires, 2004

One of the most important voices of her generation(Nathalie Handal)

Nathalie Handal

Nathalie Handal
Pulitzer Prize winner Yusef Kumunyakaa writes: “This cosmopolitan voice belongs to the human family, and it luxuriates in crossing necessary borders… One of the most important voices of her generation.”

Nathalie Handal has lived in Europe, the United States, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Arab world. Her poetry collections include, The NeverField; The Lives of Rain, shortlisted for The Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize and the recipient of the Menada Literary Award; and Love and Strange Horses, winner of the 2011 Gold Medal Independent Publisher Book Award, and an Honorable Mention at the San FranciscoBook Festival and the New England Book Festival. The New York Times says it is “a book that trembles with belonging (and longing).” Her latest collection, the critically acclaimed Poet in Andalucía, is “a unique recreation, in reverse, of Federico García Lorca’s Poet in New York, considered one of the most significant books ever published about New York City.”

“Where did you grow up?” is typically one of the earlier and easier questions to ask in an interview.
But it took Nathalie Handal, an award-winning poet and English professor at Columbia University, a good 10 minutes to explain.
And when she finished I was hardly more enlightened than when we started.
Part of the confusion was her fault because, as a lover of Irish literature, she suggested we meet at Donovan’s Pub, not far from her apartment in the Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights.
The remainder of the blame was on me because I foolishly took a swig of Scotch before I interrogated her.
I wasn’t drunk—or even tipsy—but alcohol, for all its merits, doesn’t encourage the kind of rigorous cross-examination that goes to the heart of high-quality journalism.
However, in my own defense, Ms. Handal’s biography is more peripatetic than most.
“It’s complicated,” she acknowledged.
Returning now to my notes—single malt Scotch also doesn’t foster excellent penmanship—Ms. Handal was born in Haiti.
“And my parents immediately left,” she reported. “My parents immediately went to Switzerland.”
Ms. Handal described them as “leftist students.”
“My mother traveled the entire nine months of her pregnancy. Before I even came into the world, I was traveling.”
When Ms. Handal was 3 or 4, she moved from Lausanne to Boston.
“That’s why I write in English,” she explained.
I believe the scholar-writer may have been drinking Guinness. However, it in no way impaired her narrative powers.
Ms. Handal returned to Haiti by the age of 7 or 8. And there were visits to the Holy Land: Her parents were of Palestinian descent and her grandfather was from Bethlehem.
Europe was also home for a while. She has French and American citizenships and graduated from the University of London.
Ms. Handal earned a master of fine arts from Bennington College in Vermont, although she said she spent little time enjoying the state’s great outdoors; she mostly commuted from Manhattan.
“I love James Baldwin,” she told me, of the American essayist and social critic who settled in France, “because James Baldwin never allowed anyone to box him. We live in a world where we need to be identified. What’s great about Jackson Heights is that La Guardia is eight minutes away. It suits my lifestyle.”
Ms. Handal is the author of four books of poetry—five if you include her latest collection, “The Republics,” loosely based on stories she heard while visiting Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the aftermath of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. She describes the work as “somewhere between prose poetry and flash fiction.”
“…I ask him about his family, but why intrude upon a man’s grief,” she writes in one section. “He hums again and says: My wife was crushed when the wall fell on her, and our first child still in her womb. The house is gone. The street gone. The entire neighborhood gone. He stares at me. I imagine he means to ask me if I am satisfied for having disturbed his loss. But then he says, the city is mine, and music is a version of god behind those mountains…”
I suggested we order dinner, feeling a sudden urge for protein.
When she moved to the U.S., or rather moved back to the U.S. in the 1990s, Ms. Handal lived on the Upper West Side. The neighborhood’s bodegas and international flavor appealed to her personality, as does Jackson Heights today.
“It’s like entering the world of that country,” she explained. “Literally where every block is a world.”
She put her neighborhood to poetry in “Life on the Seven”: “…The deaf man on 75th asks for a Samosa, says Namaste to the bride shopping for a sari, turns to me: There are secrets hiding between Jackson Diner and the Patel Brothers. Silence is like listening—you have to master its voice…. The train passes. Exile understands motion…”
Ms. Handal said when she moved to Queens, “I felt sort of in exile. Everyone I knew was in Brooklyn and Manhattan.”
She doesn’t anymore. The neighborhood allows her to travel without boarding a plane, even though she still does a lot of that, too—lecturing from Los Angeles, to Germany, to Africa.
“I go to Astoria and I’m with the Greeks. Walk a little more and you’re in South Asia. Walk a little more and you’re in South America.
“I have produced a lot since I’ve been in Queens,” said the writer, whose book “Poet in Andalucia” was described by Alice Walker as “poems of depth and weight and the sorrowing song of longing and resolve.”
Ms. Handal also edited the prizewinning anthology “The Poetry of Arab Women” and is a playwright whose work has been produced by the John F. Kennedy Theater for the Performing Arts.
“I also think I’m less distracted here,” she added of Queens. “You have the whole city, but you also have your private writer’s residency in your apartment. I have trees in front of my house.”
After dinner, Ms. Handal walked me to the 7 train. I wouldn’t have contemplated getting home any other way.

 Alice Walker lauds Handal’s work as “poems of depth and weight and the sorrowing song of longing and resolve.” The collection was translated into Spanish and published by Visor, España, 2013. She is a Lannan Foundation Fellow, a Fundación Araguaney Fellow, recipient of the 2011 Alejo Zuloaga Order in Literature, the AE Ventures Fellowship, an Honored Finalist for the 2009 Gift of Freedom Award, and was shortlisted for New London Writers Awards and The Arts Council of England Writers Awards. 

“If there is such a thing as a Renaissance figure among younger poets writing, that person is Nathalie Handal.”

Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, such as, The Nation, The Guardian, Vanity Fair, Guernica Magazine, Virginia Quarterly Review, Poetrywales, Ploughshares, Poetry New Zealand, Crab Orchard Review, and The Literary Review; and has been translated into more than fifteen languages. She has read her poetry worldwide, and has been featured on PBS The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, NPR Radio as well as The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, Reuters, Mail & Guardian, The Jordan Times and Il Piccolo. She has been involved either as a writer, director or producer in over twenty theatrical or film productions worldwide, most recently her work was produced at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Bush Theatre, and Westminster Abbey in London. Ed Ochester writes, “If there is such a thing as a Renaissance figure among younger poets writing, that person is Nathalie Handal.”

A specialist in contemporary international poetry, she has promoted world literature through translation, research, and edited two Academy of American Poets bestselling anthologies: the groundbreaking classic The Poetry of Arab Women: A Contemporary Anthology, winner of the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Book Award, and the W.W. Norton landmark anthology Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia & Beyond. Nobel Laureate, Nadine Gordimer writes: “Assembled here not the Tower of Babel, but the astonishment and subtlety inherent in many languages and their experimental modes to expand the power of words. The editors have boldly envisaged and compiled a beautiful achievement for world literature.”


Handal received an MFA in Poetry from Bennington College, a post-graduate degree in English and Drama from the University of London, and has studied contemporary literature in Russia, France, Spain, Latin America and the Middle East. She teaches and lectures nationally and internationally, most recently at Cave Canem, Canto Mundo, in Africa, and as Picador Guest Professor, Leipzig University, Germany. She is Books Review Editor and Tutor for Sable Literary Magazine and Forum, United Kingdom; an Executive Board Member for Palfest; a Member of the Laboratory of Frontiers Studies at the Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil; and an Advisory Board Member for The Center for Literary Translation, and The Levantine Center, Los Angeles. She is currently a professor at Columbia University and part of the Low-Residency MFAFaculty at Sierra Nevada College. Handal writes the literary travel column “The City and the Writer” for Words without.
More lights onNathalie Handal 
She is a Palestinian poet, writer and playwright and a cultural and literary activist. She has lived in the Europe, the United States, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Arab world. She finished her postgraduate studies in English and Drama at University of London, United Kingdom, her MFA in Creative Writing and Literature at Bennington College, Vermont, her Master of Arts in English and her Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and Communications at Simmons College, Boston. Handal studied play writing, fiction writing and poetry with many distinguished authors, namely, Edward Allan Baker, Arthur Giron, Wole Soyinka, Derek Walcott, Lucille Clifton and Howard Norman. She has read/performed, lectured and taught theatre and creative writing workshops worldwide, namely at La Sorbonne, University of London, McGill University, City University of New York, Yarmouk University, University of Jordan, Lewis and Clark, Arvon Foundation, UK and at numerous other universities, festivals and conferences. She was one of the Chairs at the Pushkin Club, London (Russian Literary Center) and the Program Director of Summer Literary Seminars in the Dominican Republic
Her work has appeared in numerous magazines/literary reviews and she has been featured on NPR, KPFK, and PBS Radio. Handal's plays have had readings and have been produced in numerous venues throughout the United States and England, and she has also directed several plays, most recently, Grenade by Yussef El Guindi. She is the author ofTraveling Rooms (Poetry CD-improvisational music by Russian musicians, Vladimir Miller and Alexandr Alexandrov, ASC Records, UK), The NeverField (poetry book), and The Lives of Rainwhich was Shortlisted for The Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize/The Pitt Poetry Series; and she is the editor of The Poetry of Arab Women: A Contemporary Anthology, an Academy of American Poets Bestseller and Winner of the Pen Oakland/Josephine Miles Award. Handal is presently working on two major theatrical projects, finishing another book of poetry, editing two anthologies, Dominican Literature and Arab-American and Arab Anglophone Literature (forthcoming 2006), and co-editing along with Tina Chang and Ravi Shankar,Contemporary Poetry of the Eastern World. She is Poetry Books Review Editor for Sable (UK), a member of Nibras Theatre Collective and Associate Artist and Development Executive for the production company, The Kazbah Project (currently working on the feature film, Gibran,written by Rana Kazkaz and a Tribeca Film Festival Screenplay Winner). She teaches at Columbia University.

Some of her poems


Secrets live in the space between our footsteps.
The words of my grandfather echoed in my dreams,
as the years kept his beads and town.
I saw Bethlehem, all in dust, an empty town
with a torn piece of newspaper lost in its narrow streets.
Where could everyone be? Graffiti and stones answered.
And where was the real Bethlehem--the one my grandfather came from?
Handkerchiefs dried the pain from my hands. Olive trees and tears continued to remember.
I walked the town until I reached an old Arab man dressed in a white robe. 
I stopped him and asked, "Aren't you the man I saw in my grandfather's stories?"
He looked at me and left. I followed him--asked him why he left? He continued walking.
I stopped, turned around and realized he had left me the secrets 
in the space between his footsteps.
Nothing is even, even this line 
I am writing, even this line I am waiting in,
waiting for permission to enter 
the country, the house, the room.
Nothing is even, even now 
that laws have been drawn and peace 
is discussed on high tables,
and even if all was said to be even
I would not believe for even I know 
that nothing is even—not the trees,
the flowers, not the mountains or the shadows…
our nature is not even so why even try to get even 
instead let us find an even better place
and call it even.


A night without a blanket, a blanket
belonging to someone else, someone
else living in our homes.
All I want is the quietness of blame to leave,
the words from dying tongues to fall,
all I want is to see a row of olive trees, 
a field of tulips, to forget 
the maze of intestines, the dried corners 
of a soldier’s mouth, all I want is for
the small black eyed child to stop
wondering when the fever will stop
the noise will stop, all I want is
a loaf of bread, some water 
and help for the stranger’s torn arm,
all I want is what we have inherited
from the doves, a perfect line of white,
but a question still haunts me at night:
where are the bodies?

Gaza City

I sit in a gray room on a bed with a gray blanket
and wait for the muezzin to stand up.
The chants enter my window and I think of all 
those men and women bowing in prayer, fear escaping
them at every stroke, a new sadness entering
their spirit as their children line up in the streets
like prisoners in a death camp.
I walk towards the broken window 
my head slightly slanted and try to catch a glimpse 
of the city of spirits—those killed
who pass through the narrow opening of their tombs. 
My hands and the side of my right face 
against the cold wall, I hide like a slut, ashamed. 
I pull the collar of my light blue robe so hard
it tears, one side hanging as everyone’s lives hang here.
My fingers sink deep into my flesh,
I scratch myself, three lines scar my chests,
three faiths pound in my head and I wonder
if God is buried in the rubble. Every house is a prison, 
every room a dog cage. Debke is no longer part of life, 
only funerals are. Gaza is pregnant 
with people and no one helps with the labor. 
There are no streets, no hospitals, no schools,
no airport, no air to breathe. 
And here I am in a room behind a window, 
helpless, useless.
In America, I would be watching television
listening to CNN saying the Israelis demand,
terrorism must stop. Here all I see is inflicted terror,
children who no longer know they are children.
Milosevic is put on trail, but what about Sharon? 
I finally get dressed, stand directly in front of the window
and choke on my spit as the gun shots start, 
the F-16 fighter jets pass in their daily routine.


There you stand 
between the dream of two gazelles,
questioning the poem
dressed in olive branches and cracked happiness,
surrounded by seasons of sleepless nights staring
at the dusty walls of cities we have lost
that loses its address or that the address 
loses, both, in either case awaiting
the return of those returning not today not ever

that wishes it could remember if the clouds split in half 
the day the soldiers marched in their villages, towns,
houses, dreams and future, remember the crumbling of prayers
remember the gap between hands which held all
that the Poem was too weak to hold, remember when the horses’ 
secrets surrendered, when we trespassed ourselves?

I ask you—why—
does the street have a name I can’t pronounce
does our vocabulary invent us, our accents
resent us—must we come to a halt
and try saying our name without feeling strange
try praising our poets without feeling afraid
every wish can be found in his name

is exile
a guest made of stones
a thin line between our voice and heaven’s throat?

are our memories filled with pale notebooks, fading paint, falling walls
to understand this place must we understand its howls, to understand
its howls must we understand its verses, to understand its verses
must we understand agony? 

the murmur of rivers in your curved chest, the dancing of leaves 
in your swaying arms, the sundering roof on your back
the fields of wings in your feet, the dagger and the storm
everywhere inside of you, lead me to my stillness

when will your words made of earth, your dreams of clouds,
your grotto of milk, your wheat fields, monasteries, synagogues,
crosses and coffins stop stitching miles of bones, stop
broadcasting itself on the radio

you stand between the dream of two questions
awaiting the day you will unfold yourself
like prayers unfold themselves from our tongues
you continue to stand, I weep and we celebrate
the poem as if it were written 

Ephratha is Palestine’s Canaanite name, meaning ‘the fruitful.’

Yesterday Hours

I traveled nowhere where I could not be found.
I knocked on every neighbors’ door, stole every pillow,
wiped away the ants on my kitchen table, leaned against 
the hollow cold wall for hours, looked at the dirty curtains,
the stale jam, the rusty stove, the broken chimney, 
the burnt lampshade, the faded map, the covered mirror,
the unmade bed, opened my arms to those never coming back, 
listened to the licking water drops from the roof, 
the crickets and the absent voices arguing
—a house grieving.

I was dead then, then the cisterns were empty, no water
just the fallen screams of mothers holding their dead children,
then I realized I would never know the difference
between yesterday and the hours that would came
than again, what is the difference. 

The Phone Call

The phone line is on fire, 
my cousin’s spirit in flames
as she tells me
about Dar Al-Kalima
an occupied school, pre-K to 10th grade:
24 bullets on the English classroom door
not 1 door standing, 
all crosses destroyed in this Lutheran school
and little Ibrahim, 10 years old,
now sleeps on his stomach
his back dark blue, beaten by soldiers-
knocked down as he rode his bike… 
I listen, my breaths stuck
between my limping words,
how I wish I could end this call
and dial 911.


A cup of empty messages in a room of light, 
light that blinds & blinded men lined up 
the young are unable to die peacefully, I hear a man say.

All is gone: the messy hair of boys, their smile,
the pictures of ancestors, the stories of spirits,
the misty hour before sunrise 
when the fig trees await the small hands of a child.

Now the candles have melted 
and the bells of the church 
no longer ring in Bethlehem.

A continued past of blood,
of jailed cities
confiscated lives
and goodbyes.

How can we bear the images that flood our eyes 
and bleed our veins: a dead man, perhaps thirty,
with a tight fist, holding some sugar for morning coffee.

Coffee cups full 
left on the table 
in a radio station 
beside three corpses.

Corpses follow gunmen in their sleep, remind them
that today they have killed a tiny child,
a woman trying to say, “Stop, please.” 

Please stop the tears, the suitcases, the silence, 
the single man holding on to his prayer rug,
holding on to whatever is left of memory 
as he grows insane with every passing day… 

listen, how many should die before we start counting,
listen, who is listening, there is no one here, there is nothing left,

there is nothing left after war, only other wars.