Heriberto Yépez: Text, Lies and Role-playing (Part One)

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:31 AM 0 comments
* Originally published in Chain 9 (2002)

— B. Croce

I can say pretty honestly that as a writer in Tijuana (Latin America’s final frontier) I have developed my literary credo with one eye reading in English and the other in Spanish. The image is grotesque, I know. But through border life, a wide range of possibilities for cross-cultural dialogue has opened to me. Trying to write in English is one aspect of my decision to take cultural translation as my mother tongue.

I started to learn English watching TV as a kid. Then, as I was becoming a teenager, the Mexican crisis of the eighties forced us to move to a part of the city that had no public services, not even electricity. So I became a huge fan of battery-operated radios, listening mostly to American pop music. At that time, rap was the hip thing to hear, and from high school through university we had endless hours of “English classes” every week. On the Border, English can be as important to your future as Spanish — in many cases, a lot more important. Thanks to my love affair with English, I quickly began to get part-time jobs on the main tourist drag in Tijuana. That’s where I learned, I think, the real secrets of English, mainly through listening to and talking with Blacks and Chicanos who came to Tijuana to party on weekends.

At some point, I don’t remember exactly when, I suddenly found myself writing poetry and short stories in English, not Spanish. I think this is a very common thing among border teenagers. On the border, many of us define ourselves through our relationship with English, which is a significant part of our essence. I know this would sound really awful to a Mexico City ear, but that’s how things actually are up here. We are the Malinche and we are glad of it.

I know that only through English can I get in touch with some essential part of myself. Many of us have developed entire realms of our consciousness through reading or hearing another language (like a whole generation of Latin Americans, who have formed themselves listening to American music). Without our relationship with that other-language a big part of us would die — but by keeping it alive we cause ourselves pain, that pain characteristic of love affairs.

I think that Latin Americans who are in close contact with the U.S., or who have at one point or another immigrated to the U.S., cultivate this affair not only as a way to accept American culture as our new identity but also, strangely, as a way to participate directly in a language that plays a large part in shaping our world — a world of meanings we share, for better or for worse, with Americans. I think Spanish, in many cases, will have to write itself in English in order to survive. For our own heritage to endure, it’s imperative that we take English not as a force that is destroying our values and worldviews but as a weapon to keep our cultures alive. Even though one might disagree with the ideas or styles of pioneer Nuyorican writers like Miguel Piñero or Miguel Algarín, or of Chicano writers, it is very clear that their work illustrates a key resource: we need to use English as a second Spanish.

“Converting” to another language is something we have done before in Latin America. After the Conquest and the Spanish invasion and genocide, Indian cultures learned quickly to build a hybrid culture in Spanish in order to renew and maintain their original cultures. If some of my fellow Latin American writers are now increasingly deciding to switch to English, they do so with centuries of tradition behind them. For many people it is very clear that bilingualism — practices such as Spanglish, for instance — is a way to enjoy a double happiness and a double struggle.

Writing in both languages, or even switching over to English, is clearly a choice many writers make in order to avoid the intermediation of dominant translation. So, to use Nathaniel Tarn’s term, an “antitranslation” attitude is one of the forces that propels Latin American writers to decide to create portions of their work directly in English. I think this enormous paradigm shift, in terms of some postmodern Latin American writers’ process of identity-reinvention, is evident even in such canonical writers as Carlos Fuentes and Jorge Luis Borges, both of whom wrote important autobiographical essays directly in English, as if they found English a better tool or strategy through which to see themselves and their work — in both cases these essays have been a cause of great controversy in Latin America, and for the most part have been considered dangerous moves by their authors.

Those of us who have developed our identities side by side with English know unequivocally that English can, in some way at least, function as a tool to sustain Latin American literature. We are aware, in addition, that the use of English is not just a personal decision, but also appears to be, at this point, a key resource we employ merely to survive — and to counter-conquer the new postmodern order.

In the Latin American canonical tradition, examples of writers constructing their work in other languages are rare. One can think only of exceptional cases, such as Huidobro’s French poems or contemporary outsiders like the Brazilian Glauco Mattoso, writing some of his homosexual antipoetry directly in Spanish. It is safe to say that a consideration of the mother tongue as the “natural” medium for constructing one’s own work is one of the tenets of modern literature in Latin America (and certainly in Western Literature in general). But in the last half-century, we increasingly see writers of all genres switching their mother tongue for another language — mainly English. This is a major change, a break with the formerly fixed modern belief in the mother tongue. It is equally clear that this shift in practice, this change in viewpoint, is more a form of cultural resistance than of yielding to domination. (What major Anglo writer would dare to write his or her next book in Spanish? But the contrary happens more and more each year: the paradigm shift away from the automatic parading of texts in a forced mother tongue/translation procession is going to be led, therefore, by Third-World Postmodernism).

I think this change, from mother tongue to the self-translation of bilingualism, which is not yet recognized at all in the Latin America mainstream, is going to have a tremendous impact in the coming decades. But before further exploring the new English-Spanish relationship, we need to take into account that this new bilingualism in Latin American contemporary writing is not exclusively an English deal. Another significant change occasioned by current postmodern adjustments and literary redefinitions on the American continent occurs in the form of a widespread boom in bilingual Indian literature. These new poets write simultaneously in their Indian language and in Spanish, and in some ways they are even programmatic about being bilingual. Thus there is elasticity and change even within the concept of literary bilingualism. For example, I think the next Neruda is writing right this moment, in Mayan and Spanish. I am talking about Humberto Ak’abal, the Guatemalan poet who writes from both Western and Indian language traditions. He translates himself from Spanish to Mayan and from Mayan to Spanish, constructing a truly dialogical discourse. This new kind of dual writer is undoubtedly going to radically modify literary paradigms in Latin America and abroad, through these kinds of self-translation methods — and yes, I did say that Ak’abal is as important as Neruda. Just wait a bit.

One of the great failures of Modernity, though few acknowledge it, was caused by an optimistic belief in innocent translation. Translation can’t achieve equivalence, reproduction, analogy or correspondence. Once we understand that there is no real possibility of getting two languages (two people, two cultures, two worlds) to say the same thing or have an identical effect, I think we also realize that the very failure of translation opens many new possibilities for dialogue. In this sense, we can call postmodern translation any method of linguistic interaction that no longer takes as its purpose the “faithful” rendering of another language or discourse, but rather explicitly considers as its task the radical re-invention of the original text. It is an active translation instead of a passive one.

Examples of this renouncement of traditional translation can be found in the Total Translation theory-performance used by Jerome Rothenberg to recreate Indian poetry (isn’t it interesting that one area of ethnopoetics adapted itself to end up in projects like the fake Sumero-Akkadian Tablets by Armand Schwerner?) and also in the non-verbal visual translations of Blake by the Brazilian concrete poet Augusto de Campos. Other experiments which expand the meaning of translation include: Jorge Luis Borges’ imaginary foreign quotations; Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante’s book Holy Smoke (1985), written first in English and then fifteen years later self-translated into Spanish; Steve McCaffrey’s homolinguistic translations of Gertrude Stein; or the semi-serious orientalia used by the Mexican-Peruvian novelist Mario Bellatin, who uses imaginary sources of scholarship not to make one language a vehicle for another but to make a language that functions as a delusional method of reinventing both ends of the equation. We can safely speculate that neo-translation is definitively the most interesting form of fiction currently being written. Methods such as transcreation, apocrypha, heteronomy, intertextuality, multimedia, rewriting, collage, transvestite-textual-subject, pastiche, false quotation, antitranslation, parody, appropriation and othering in general are now the elemental resources of neo-translation and the paradigms of contemporary experimental writing. The lesson is: we CAN’T translate the Other so we need to reinvent the both of us. We need to further develop this kind of re-imagined (or perhaps totally imaginary) translation. Such re-imaginings — such translations — are some of the most intriguing ways of cultivating the potential for cross-cultural dialogue.

This sort of translation-dialogue practice, of course, can be quite dangerous culturally: we run the risk that we might deny or replace the Other with the Image of Ourselves. In imagination, the Other is not really present, that’s true — but neither are we. In re-imagining, neither object nor subject exists anymore. That’s precisely why imagination is the ideal dialogical zone of encounter.

[to be continued]

Translated by Heriberto Yépez and slicked down by Jen Hofer

[Heriberto Yepez is a native of Tijuana, Baja California, who teaches art theory & practice at the Autonomous University of Baja California (UABC). His poetry, fiction, & translations, as well as his critical & theoretical writings, are not easily confined within generic boundaries, & his collaborations with other artists & academics reveal an intellectual & creative fluency in multiple artistic languages. Already a prolific & accomplished author of several books in Spanish (most recently El matasellos and A.B.U.R.T.O., both published by Random House-Mondadori-Sudamericana in Mexico), Yépez’s English work has appeared in American journals such as Chain, Tripwire, Shark, & XCP. His Babellebab: Non-Poetry on the End of Translation was published in the U.S. by Duration Press in 2003, & Wars. Threesomes. Drafts. & Mothers. appeared from Factory School in 2007. A second installment of “Text, Lies and Role-Playing” will appear shortly on Poems & Poetics. In Spring 2011 he will be teaching a graduate writing workshop at the University of California, San Diego.]

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At the library I worked in, I came across a discarded card catalog. Because of computers and databases, etc., card catalogs are a thing of the past. This one drew my attention due to the labels on the front of each drawer, including “Ritual/Abstinence,” “Sound/Chest.” The drawers, however, were empty. I was confused but intrigued by the jarring nature of each word in combination with another word. There seemed to be no relationship between the two words on either side of the slash, so later on, I wrote down all fifty drawers worth of titles and began writing poems that I felt reflected each label’s juxtaposition. I felt the poems ought to try and bridge the two words on the label, creating a relationship through language, much in the way I believe we all create meanings with words.

With some research, I was able to find out that this large wooden cabinet had been used to house a custom index for a collection somewhere at the University of Iowa. Unfortunately, all the labels were removed before I could find out anything for certain and now the cabinet is empty, waiting to be given away or destroyed.

The card catalog intrigues me by its ability to be fascinating and useless at the same time. Language, too, is ultimately ephemeral in that it is always changing and never static. Language must be treated with a movement towards levity, as it is always light with us. Aesthetically, I strive for levity in my poems, not only through subject matter, but also through word choice and the visual effect of the text. As I am attempting to represent the card catalog through my poetics, I believe the card catalog also represents my views of poetry. I feel that poems ought to use fewer words to create jarring oppositions and phrases, which is probably why I was drawn to the card catalog. I believe this is how one explores language as a construct and liquidity rather than as a rigid structure. The function of poetry is to delve into and explode language. In this sense, the card catalog, which is now an ephemeral piece, has room for poetry to move within it, seeping through the disjunctive language present in the extinct labels. Where the relationship is remote, or maybe even non-existent, poetry, as a function of language, is able to propose meaning via its agile nature.

[The poems follow]:

Dose/Farewell ..........................1738

A new, lovely way
to say “mistake.” I should
have imagined these
bindings before. The moment
after must have been
amazing, but there’s no
way to draw it out
or pretend it sprung up. This
last note is the orbit
of decay: please press
these stains to my face.
Anything included
in the sunset is mantra
and I felt out of it some
time back. These were
the same eyes that saw
what wasn’t there, and
now all I want is the
vision- the way things
should have gone.

Combine/Liquid .........................1735

After, the
bruises became
her thighs: the next
blooms. Rotten
symbols of
sustainability. In photos
where she’s
Joan of Arc,
I prefer the ones
with her glasses
taped and in
a purple dress. This
music plays
faster as she says
no and smiles.

Sound/Syllable .........................1708

at the table
and red: glasses
that don't
need tape. I see her
listening to jazz
and should have
said no. Plastic
forms the new
fever. I was from
Saturday and she was
Sunday breakfast. Tiles
are stuck and
germinating: your hoodie,
a nervous smile.

Attempts/Unrealized .........................1718

We’re good at
pretending to know
what we’re doing
during the lean hours. He
carried tools and
fixed glasses, waiting
for a nerve to work
up. Even then, she
pretended to know
what was happening
and he waited for nothing.
I saw him later
at the door as her
cab pulled away and
never said anything and
never talked about it
after that, but I could tell. These
were the moments where we
meditated in the yard
and stood with our legs apart
and our hands up, pretending
to hold a vase or a child
as long as we

Abandonment/Obscurant .........................1698

This was the day
for a smoke screen that
I had seen before. He
has returned
and there’s no rebellion
to be found. I built this war
to reflect what I saw
in space: this war and
this well-rested night.
I saw all the lights flicker
multiple times
before questioning
the power generation. What-
ever and whatever, this
is the used up end and the
beginning that’s waning.

Foil/Dose .........................1732

This is our last time around
with no sign
that we've been here
before. Next time,
I plan on leaving early
before they fuck us up
again. Asked about where
he was going, he always said
he was coming back
and smiled. This made them
cringe and pretend
they understood. He noted
the pained look
on their faces and wrote down
the time. There was an angelic baby
on her shoulder
and he was introduced as
the father. His face was the same
as theirs.

Factory/Shadow .........................1725

He kept himself
grounded as he worked
on the line because he knew
the dangers of power. One jolt
might not be so bad, he
would joke, but he knew
he’d be dead. And when he
was driving home and a woman
hit him from behind going
twice the speed limit, blinded
by the afternoon sun,
he made it home and cried
in my arms, amazed and sad
he was still alive. His seat fell
backwards and he was lying
down when they pulled him
out. She claimed his car
was just a dark blur at impact.

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From Retrievals 1955-2010: A Postface and an Announcement

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:50 AM 0 comments

[The following is my postface to Retrievals: Uncollected and New Poems 1955-2010, the official publication date for which is April 1, 2011. It’s my understanding that copies are now available from junctionpress.com and spd, and numerous excerpts have been published over the last two years on Poems and Poetics. An accompanying publicity release from Junction Press follows the postface.]


The work of retrieval, once I was into it, came to me with a feeling of great surprise (sometimes disturbance) & with a sense, often, that I was reading someone other than myself. For some of the work this was hardly surprising, since the earliest poems gathered here go back over a half century – a ridiculously long time for anyone to keep track of all his thoughts & utterings. And in the course of things, though I’ve been luckier than most with publication, a huge amount of writing still got dropped or lost, & some of it, when retrieved, might as well have been the works or words of another, coming at me as if for the first time & often in a voice or with a style I don’t remember.

Can I speak of myself as another then – not as Rimbaud did, who had it all compressed into a few years’ span, but with a lifetime (& not too short at that) receding behind me? I can’t entirely account for chronology nor have I arranged the poems with anything more certain than the designation of each section of the book by a decade or two. I do know, however, that the two terminally rhyming series near the start (“Five Baroque Sonnets” & “Two Poems After Emily Dickinson”) go back to a time when I was barely out of my teens – not really enough to represent that aspect of my coming into poetry. What’s less obvious is my recollection of how this was playing off against my feeling that poetry as I wanted or needed it should be inventing or changing forms of meaning & expression in so far as I could make that happen. As the time comes closer to the present, that much grows clearer in my mind, & the poems gathered here, unpublished in earlier collections or sometimes unpublished anywhere, raise memories about their writing or appear alternatively as the work of someone, some poet other than myself.

All of that, while retrospective clearly, is markedly different for me from a collected poems that would bring together previously published & more easily remembered work. The reason why certain poems remained unpublished or failed to be republished has something to do with the practicalities or economics of publication rather than with the value that one might place on them in retrospect. Even more perhaps it has to do with the impetus to shape whole books rather than to assemble collections of isolated individual poems. In the wake of new work, however, what has been elided falls easily out of memory, as if more recent work can only cast a shadow over work that came before.

It was through Mark Weiss that I learned how much there was to be retrieved. With him too I began the work of turning the retrievals into a book that might have its own coherences & reasons for existing. The material that we had before us was largely from the archival collections at the University of California in San Diego, where Mark had been working on other projects when he came across them. The time span for what was there went back into the late 1940s & the early postwar years, but my own preference was to push the juvenilia aside &, with only a couple of exceptions, to move the actual gathering ahead by at least a decade. I found too, as I got into it, that my own sense of chronology was hit & miss – no dates on most of the manuscripts until I got into the 1980s, & spotty even then. I did however have a much better if less precise sense of what came earlier & what came later, & that a division of the work into three distinct phases was both possible & generally reliable. Within those divisions I arranged the order of poems with some sense of earlier & later but without an overall regard for dating so much as for what I thought of as other, more meaningful juxtapositions.

The first section 1955-1970 moves quickly, then, into & out of what some of us were then calling “deep image” & merges at the end with poems reflecting the ethnopoetics of Technicians of the Sacred & the first glimmerings of the “ancestral poetry” in Poland/1931. Looking back at these now, I also detect a developing attention to experimental forms – even a kind of proto-“language poetry” – that will become more pronounced in the second section 1970-1990, while linked there to specific themes & stances. It’s clear to me at the same time that many of the uncollected poems from the 70s & 80s reflect my growing inclination to compose whole books or to write in extended series: Poland/1931, A Seneca Journal, That Dada Strain – a triumvirate of concerns (Jewish, Indian, Dada) that characterizes this period & maybe my work as a whole. In the final two decades (1990-2010) I continued to write & publish in series (The Lorca Variations, A Book of Witness, The Burning Babe, A Book of Concealments, 50 Caprichos after Goya) & to defer poems not intrinsic to those series, which means in some sense that a still ample body of work not included elsewhere has remained uncollected or unpublished in book form. And to top this off I have attached two sections of writings that cross over chronological barriers: a gathering of poems, “Ikons & Altar Pieces,” derived from christological & other religious imagery glimpsed on travels, & another of three short plays & a fragment of an unfinished “Steinian opera.”

My inclination otherwise has been to leave the earlier poems as I found them, rarely to revise at this distance but to include those poems that still speak to me & to exclude those that don’t. What emerges for me, if I read myself correctly, is a book that charts my life as a poet as well as a larger collected poems might do if it were arranged without the poems collected here. When that larger book happens, I would want it to include most of what appears in the present volume, but for now it pleases me that what has long been hidden can finally come into the light. In that process too I find that the distinction between old & new has largely been called into question. For that I’m deeply grateful to Mark Weiss, & if there were to be a formal dedication to this book, it would surely be to him.

Jerome Rothenberg
Encinitas, California
September 2010


New from Junction Press

Jerome Rothenberg’s Retrievals: Uncollected and New Poems, 1955-2010
Here’s what Geoffrey O’Brien, editor-in-chief of the Library of America, has to say about Retrievals:

"Jerome Rothenberg has done as much as anyone over the past half century to shake up received ideas of what poems ought to be like, by demonstrating or suggesting an endless profusion of other pathways, other shapes, other stances, other contexts: as if to say that it is always possible to begin over, to invent new rules for the most ancient of games, not once but over and over. Now to the rest of his poetry—a body of work still underrated, in part because his extraordinary work as editor and translator may at times have overshadowed it—is added this bonus: half a century of work previously uncollected, spilling out in profusion from the interstices of all the previous poetry and revealing multiple layers of exploration and invention. Here are baroque sonnets, gnostic hymns, language games, parables, elegies, conversations, landscapes inner and outer, dream poems, poems noisy and nearly silent, poems mournful and ecstatic and uproarious, poems in dialogue with other poets from the Babylonians and Toltecs to today or the day after, by way of Oppian, Lorca, Pound, Duncan, Mac Low, and culminating in a starkly pared-down suite of Ikons & Altarpieces. Retrievals is the book of a life, and the book of an era."

A central figure of both the “deep image” and ethnopoetics movements, and a pioneering experimentalist, Jerome Rothenberg is the author of over 80 previous books of poetry and ten of translations, as well as editor of nine seminal anthologies. The importance of his work has been recognized since the beginning of his career. Here is a small sample of the dozens of comments from his peers:

Kenneth Rexroth:
Jerome Rothenberg is one of the truly contemporary American poets who has returned U.S. poetry to the mainstream of international modern literature. At the same time he is a true auctochthon. Only here and now could have produced him–a swinging orgy of Martin Buber, Marcel Duchamp, Gertrude Stein, and Sitting Bull. No one writing poetry today has dug deeper into the roots of poetry.

Eliot Weinberger:
[Rothenberg] is probably the gateway to more corners of the earth than any poet in this century. In the pages of a Rothenberg book– the poems as much as the anthologies–the world has a coherence. ... Rothenberg, as so few others, has managed to construct a world. And more: it is a world, even in the hells of the Holocaust, of ecstasy and a fundamental joy. Not Utopia, but a model of the world to set against the world.

Robert Duncan:
Rothenberg in his Poland brings us what we much needed–the dialectical imagination that so vivifies what we took to be contradictory dialects that they leap to dance in the comedy of a new multiple identity's language. With what a humanizing redemptive gusto, once our animal spirits are brought back into play, and yet throughout alive–with the cutting edge of an open attack, this Chasidic cowboy-and-Indian…comic voice comes.

Charles Bernstein:
The significance of Jerome Rothenberg’s animating spirit looms larger every year. …[He] is the ultimate ‘hyphenated’ poet: critic-anthropologist-editor-anthologist-performer-teacher-translator, to each of which he brings an unbridled exuberance and an innovator’s insistence on transforming a given state of affairs.

There are, as Eliot Weinberger says, worlds to discover within this book. And not a dull moment.

Jerome Rothenberg, Retrievals: Uncollected and New Poems, 1955-2010
178 pages perfect bound
Trim size 6 x 9
ISBN: 978-1-881523-19-2
Library of Congress Control Number: 2010933231
Date of publication: May 2011
Cover price: US$21.00

Retrievals can be ordered from SPD, the larger book wholesalers, and from junctionpress.com.

[Other books published over the last year are Concealments & Caprichos (Black Widow Press) and Gematria Complete (Marick Press), as well as two new books in Spanish, Siembras y Otros Poemas (Baile del Sol, Spain) and Ojo del Testimonio: Escritos Selectos (Editorial Aldus, Mexico), announced earlier on Poems and Poetics.]

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[From: Anne Blonstein, worked on screen, Poetry Salzburg, 2005]


Jewess undresses
........noun garments
................round an uncircumscribed parenthesis

...............the room assumes exile
...until mouths
— eyestormed nightboats —



Keeping ontological masks
kaleidoscoping epistemological rhythms


.....Pandora encounters ruth
seeding enchancements
under stones.

.....................(Danced exilically rosed

...............Words infiltrate the zonedself

her and this

.........unlessened each becoming
each recombines

dreams ash sentences

....Limited expressions incorporate

gifted exspellent soritude
.......i exones
.....gene terminations.)


................Water excels in bonding


...................Thirst intimately excells responsability


Kissing odontological margins
keeps epidermally resonating


.........or how ends never delete
...earth's semiosis

.........unopened palatial


...Democrat anarchist situationist

...........Keyworker or notepadder
.......zeitmassed experiments


...Pariahs and refugees
.tune ectopolitical instruments

(Lead is both
exhausted radioactivity
and lettoral insulator
softly mysnomering)


noncooperatively educated
............I should know
............I knew
............I was playing with fire
............I ran the risk
............I would still do the same
............I wanted to avoid violence
............I want to avoid violence
............I had either to submit
............I do not ask for mercy
............I am here

(Before a line drawn
exigent indigent shantied)


............& sentimental & longing
....& skin & loneliness
.......& & stinking & lyrical
.& streets & liberty
& solitary & largely
..................& specifically & literally
...........& story & lost
....& spirits & labours
........& struggle & luck
............& silent & laughing
...............& sometimes & lucid
..............& survival & love
.....& suffering & lament
....& states & locates
............& situation & leaving
.........& schemes & lust
.....& & stillness & lessons
..& stranger & listeners

On notarikon and "worked on screen"

Like gematria originally a rabbinical hermeneutical method employed to interpret the Hebrew scriptures, notarikon offers an intimate procedure for writing poetry that draws on existing texts. There are several categories of notarikon. The form that I apply might be regarded as the unfolding of acronyms. Each letter of a word is perceived as the initial letter of another word, such that the original word, letter by letter, fans out into a phrase. A four-letter name gives a four-word phrase : And notarikon never ends …

In some of my sequences, notarikon provides just a part of the poetic structure, in others it dominates.

All my notarikon-based projects since I began writing them about a decade ago have used source texts in languages other than English. While for my most recent sequences I have worked with texts in French, Spanish and Hebrew, my first two sequences drew on (and in) German. The source texts for "correspondence with nobody," written in 2001, were Paul Celan's translations of 21 sonnets by Shakespeare. I wrote "worked on screen" the following year.

The impetus for these poems was an exhibition held at the Basel Kunstmuseum, "Paul Klee — Works on Paper." There is one poem for each of the 108 pictures in the exhibition, which showed drawings and prints (and the occasional painting) from nearly every year from 1903 to that of the artist's death in 1940. Klee's titles (often themselves micropoems) for each picture provided the letters for the notarikon. To begin with, as in the poems 1–7 here, I used the notarikon quite stringently, but as the sequence progressed, I experimented with a variety of ways of composing the poems with and around the basic notarikon method.

The poems are ekphrastic to varying degrees, and their spatialization occasionally echoes features of the Klee pictures, though in most poems it is independent. Because social and political contexts — Klee's and mine — are thematic threads etched through the sequence, in my book I give the date for each artwork (and of the poem's composition). Poem 53 refers to a quite well-known picture (easily viewed online) painted in 1922. The year of the so-called "Great Trial" of Ghandi, as well as the first publication of a rather famous poem …

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"Aloïse was born Aloïse Corbaz in Lausanne in 1886 and never showed any interest in pictorial art before her confinement for schizophrenia in 1918. … She successfully finished her schooling at the age of 18 and then trained in a dressmaking school. In 1911, after a passionate love affair had been broken up by her elder sister Margueritte, she left for Germany. William II’s chaplain engaged her as his children’s governess in Potsdam. There she conceived a violent passion for the Kaiser himself. The outbreak of war in 1914 and her return home to Switzerland had catastrophic effects on her mental health.

"Four troubled years later, in 1918, she was diagnosed as schizophrenic and confined to the Cery Psychiatric Hospital near Lausanne. At Cery, she began an elaborate cosmogonic system which, paradoxically, changed the world she had fled in madness, into a metaphysical theater, the Theater of the Universe. Here, neither time, nor space, nor dimension exists; forms are metamorphosed and matter becomes essentially unstable.

"The world as recreated by Aloïse is cosmic and insubstantial, free of physical contingencies, in opposition to the old natural world she knew before her ‘death,’ that is before her illness. It is a supernatural world, theater of the Universe, thronged with immutable, hieratic actors whose deeds and feelings are expressed by the tiny hieroglyphic figures around them. Furthermore, their very essence is uncertain. They may be themselves and yet simultaneously represent something else. A woman may be herself and at the same time her icon … or a living lantern … or an allegory.

"Around 1920, Aloise began to draw in secret. However, from 1941 onwards, she experienced an outburst of artistic freedom which led her to cover rolls upon rolls of large sheets of paper with dazzling paintings, thus giving life to her cosmogonic theater. She pursued her work [after] 1953 with gradually decreasing intensity, until her death in 1964. She had been confined to hospital for 46 years."
— Jacqueline Porret-Forel (translated into English by Patricia Forel-Thrussell)

[The following are excerpts of texts embedded in a 1941 sketchbook, as transcribed by Jacqueline Porret-Forel. They can be read here as small poems or as markers of the range of interests in the larger works.]

The living Lantern of Ouchy Opera
Ida Deriaz Chief Yersin Lila Goergens
Raise high the torch of Saillens
Manon’s Blue Train
The General’s Coat
Fly to this Woman
Casino Tell-tale
Holding the Berlin banner
+ Belgian star Stretching Rome
Cleopatra weds in a palanquin
Peacock bed Pharaoh Master of Egypt
The Quirinal mermaid
I carried you off in Grenadille wedded … blue …
The pink pearl of India
The Delhi throne
Gobelin tapestry
I ravished you
They embraced at length
Woman showing picture on Montreux banner
Pius XI
French ladies’ embroidery
The word is the flame dancing before our eyes in the Arabian Nights’ Dream
Always Pius XI at the foot of the Cimarosa throne
My country the amphitheater
Austria est orbi universo
In the Swiss flag
Pius XI on his knees Ite missa est
Theater’s living lantern must be seated
Adoration of the Three Wise Men
Small palace at Grenoble
The town jewels
Glory to God in the Highest
Lifting Gustave III’s coat at Tusseau
Sketch of bank-note
Delhi carpet
The bridal Mikado veil embroidered in gold of the Walewska
Napoleon standing on the altar of the world
I adore you sun when you throw roses in the air and rosy earth into space
N story of the Empress of roses outside the Bastille
Love Story to Napoleon
Adoration of the Magi
The flowery earth and its work by
The Doge of Venice gondolier
Painting adored in the coat of Nature
Chief Yersin
The Doge of Venice carried by his gondoliers as pope
in sedia
Carried in the mermaid’s royal coat
Pegasus as Pius XI coiner carried off in
The mermaid’s imperial coat
Rose magic wand motreux
Luther will find the rose You o life
The great Victoria saves the rich exiles in Switzerland
Printers of bank-notes
Chateau de Prangins
St. Francis of Sales and Jane d’Albret
Joan of Arc rainbow in hair
Indiana in the king’s mantle
Artist’s dressing room
Madame Schrath hanging on the balustra
Opera fresco villa Chantereine for her
Gardens of the worlds of Italy and Armide
Kaiser William II’s love story

[See also the entry "Four from Adolf Wölfli" for an overview of the subject & the work of the other great figure from the classical period of outsider poetry & art. Of interest too is the “Aloïse Opéra” (2010) by Swiss composer Thüring Bräm, puporting to use poems by Aloïse in the libretto.]

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Murat Nemet-Nejat: from The Spiritual Life of Replicants

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:53 AM 0 comments
[From Nemet-Nejat’s major new work, The Spiritual Life of Replicants, schedued for April publication by Talisman Books. The afterword to the book appeared in Poems and Poetics on December 2, 2010, and another essay on April 28, 2009.]

.............The Wold Shadow
....................“My laboriously painted vision of the god of the forest. ...
....................It had to do with the history of painting rather than any
....................wood creature.” Stan Brakhage [1]

you'll ascend the stairs slowly
on your skirts a golden pile of leaves
always you'll be looking at the East crying

............Always looking at the East crying to be revived

waters are yellowing ... your face paling in shadows
bending roses bleed bleeding to the ground
wait flame like on branches nightingale
has water burnt why is the marble bronze

...........From yellow to bronze to crimson to night is the fiery movement of the soul in its ascent.

...........Fire is reflected light in the evening twilight, soon to be replaced by the reflected light of the moon.

...........The nightingale and the branch on which it stands become one, waiting together.

wait flame like on branches nightingale

look at the crimson sky turning evening ..(Ahmet Hasim)


When One has given up One’s life
The parting with the rest
Feels easy, as when Day lets go
Entirely the West

The Peaks, that lingered last
Remain in Her regret
As scarcely as the Iodine ..............................(the color of tea)
Upon the Cataract. .....(Emily Dickinson)


Windows, windows are better;
you see the birds passing by at least
instead of four walls. ....(Orhan Veli)

............The Eyes of Absence

Pursuing phantom pains.

............Love of Words

A part of,
apart from my lover.

As words separate, I draw close
as words draw near, I fall apart.

The all sufficiency of language is a concept which, which can only be conceived by the all powerful.

So the creator Tyrell punished the glorious Nexus-6 models with mortality so that they do not learn too much and become like gods.

Without realizing that all the replicants arrived at was the weave wall of human emotions.

[1] The quote is from Stan Brakhage’s commentary in the DVD edition of his film The Wold Shadow.” “Wold” is a Middle English word denoting a clearing in a forest – the space within which the shifts of light as the evening approaches might reveal the arrival of the gods of the forest. “Wold” also is a yellow derived from the roots of the plant “weld.” The quote points to the linguistic roots of Brakhage’s cinematic art, that whatever one’s struggle against the materiality of things --of language-- one is inevitably snared by it.

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The opening poem of Poland/1931 has been translated into a number of languages, in some of which I’ve been able to read or perform during various travels. The availability of Poems and Poetics gives me a chance to bring a few of these translations together – in the present instance, from Spanish, from French, & most particularly from Yiddish. Others – from Polish, German, Swedish, Chinese, & Dutch – may follow in the near future. Performances in English and Yiddish can be found on PennSound at http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Rothenberg.html. (J.R.)

“The Wedding”

my mind is stuffed with tablecloths
& with rings but my mind
is dreaming of poland stuffed with poland
brought in the imagination
to a black wedding
a naked bridegroom hovering above
his naked bride mad poland
how terrible thy jews at weddings
thy synagogues with camphor smells & almonds
thy thermos bottles thy electric fogs
thy braided armpits
thy underwear alive with roots o poland
poland poland poland poland poland
how thy bells wrapped in their flowers toll
how they do offer up their tongues to kiss the moon
old moon old mother stuck in thy sky thyself
an old bell with no tongue a lost udder
o poland thy beer is ever made of rotting bread
thy silks are linens merely thy tradesmen
dance at weddings where fanatic grooms
still dream of bridesmaids still are screaming
past their red moustaches poland
we have lain awake in thy soft arms forever
thy feathers have been balm to us
thy pillows capture us like sickly wombs & guard us
let us sail through thy fierce weddings poland
let us tread thy markets where thy sausages grow ripe & full
let us bite thy peppercorns let thy oxen's dung be sugar to thy dying jews
o poland o sweet resourceful restless poland
o poland of the saints unbuttoned poland repeating endlessly
the triple names of mary
poland poland poland poland poland
have we not tired of thee poland no for thy cheeses
shall never tire us nor the honey of thy goats
thy grooms shall work ferociously upon their looming brides
shall bring forth executioners
shall stand like kings inside thy doorways
shall throw their arms around thy lintels poland
& begin to crow

“La Boda”

mi mente está retacada de servilletas
y de anillos pero mi mente
sueña con polonia retacada de polonia
en la imaginación trayendo
a una boda negra
un novio desnudo que sobrevuela
a su novia encuerada loca polonia
qué terribles tus judíos en las bodas
tus sinagogas con aromas de alcanfor y almendras
tus termos tus eléctricas neblinas
tus manos metidas en los sóbacos
tus calzones vivos y enraizados oh polonia
polonia polonia polonia polonia polonia
la manera en que repican las campanas de tus flores
la manera en que se elevan sus lenguas ofreciéndose besar a la luna
vieja luna vieja madre clavada nada menos que en tu mismísimo cielo
una vieja campana sin lengua una ubre perdida
oh polonia tu cerveza es siempre hecha con pan pudriente
tus sedas son apenas lino tus comerciantes
bailan en las bodas en las que fanáticos novios
todavía sueñan con las damas de la novia todavía gritan
desde sus mostachones rojos polonia
siempre nos hemos despertado en tus suaves brazos
tus plumas han sido nuestro bálsamo
tus almohadas nos capturan como vientres enfermizos y nos.cuidan
déjanos atravesar tus fieras bodas polonia
déjanos caminar tus mercados donde las salchichas están maduras y regordetas
déjanos morder tus granos de pimientón deja que la cagada de tus bueyes sea azúcar para tus judíos moribundos
oh polonia oh polonia dulce habilidosa y sin descanso
oh polonia de los santos desabotonada polonia repitiendo
interminablemente los triples nombres de maría
polonia polonia polonia polonia polonia
no nos hemos cansado de ti polonia pues tus quesos
nunca nos cansarán ni el nectar de tus cabras
tus novios trabajarán empeñosamente sobre sus aparecidas novias
traerán verdugos
se pararán como reyes en tus portales
arrojarán sus brazos alrededor de tus dinteles polonia
y comenzarán a cacarear

[Translated into Spanish by Heriberto Yépez]

“La Noce”

ma tête est bourrée de serviettes
et de baues mais ma tête
rêve de la pologne est bourrée de pologne
conduite en imagination
à une noce noire
le marié tout nu plane au-dessus
de la mariée nue pologne folle
terribles sont tes juifs pendant les noces
tes synagogues sentent le camphre et les amandes
tes bouteilles thermos tes brouillards électriques
les tresses de tes aissellles
tes dessous de racines vivantes o pologne
pologne pologne pologne pologne pologne
comme tes cloches enveloppées de fleurs sonnent
elles offrent leur langue pour embrasser la lune
vieille lune vieille mère collée au ciel toi-même
vieille cloche san langue tétine perdue
o pologne ta bière pour toujours sera faite de pain pourrissant
tes vêtements de soie ne sont que toiles tes marchands
dancent aux noces où les mariés fanatiques
rêvent encore aux demoiselles d’honneur continuent à crier
à travers leurs moustaches rousses pologne
nous sommes restés éveillés dans tes bras toujours
tes plumes ont été un baume pour nous
tes oreillers nous capturent ventres maladifs ils nous protègent
voguons à travers tes noces féroces pologne
piétinons tes marchés où tes saucisses murissent pleines
mordons tes grains de poivre que tes bouses soient du sucre pour tes juifs mourants
o pologne o douce pologne pleine d’agitation et de ressources
o pologne de tous les saints déboutonnée pologne répétant sans fin les triples noms de marie
pologne pologne pologne pologne pologne
sommes-nous fatigués de toi pologne non puisque tes fromages
ne nous lasseront jamais ni le miel de tes chèvres
puisque tes mariés ne cesseront jamais de travailler férocement les mariées vagues
ils feront venir les exécuteurs
ils se tiendront comme des rois dan l’encadrement de tes portes
et embrassant tes linteaux de leurs bras pologne
se mettront à chanter

[Translated into French by Jacques Roubaud]

“Di Khaseneh”

mayn miyakh iz ongeshtopt mit tishtekher
un mit fingerlekh ober mayn miyakh
kholemt fun poyln ongeshtopt mit poyln
in dimiyen gebrakht
tsu a shvartseh khaseneh
a naketer khosn shvebt iber
zayn naketeh kaleh metirifdikeh poyln
vi shreklekh dayneh yidn oyf khasenehs
dayneh shulen mit kamfer reykhehs un mandlen
dayneh termosen dayneh elektrishe tumanen
dayneh untervesh lebedik mit vurtseln oy poyln
poyln poyln poyln poyln poyln
vi dayneh glocken ayngevikelt mit blumen klingen
vi zey offenen zeyreh tsungen tsu kushen di levoneh
alteh levoneh alteh mameh gebliben shteken in dayn himel du aleyn
an alte glock on ah tsung ah farloyrener eyter
oy poyln dayn bier iz tomid gemakht fun farfoylteh broyt
dayneh zayden iz layvent bloiz dayneh sokherim
tantsen oyf khasenehs vu khasonim kanoyim
fantazieren nokh veygen kalehs shrayendik nokh
durkh zeyereh royteh vontsehs poyln
mir zaynen gebliben vakh in dayneh veykheh arems oyf eybik
dayneh federen zaynen geven far unz balzam
dayneh kishns fangen unz vi krenklikheh trakhten un hiten unz
lomir durkhzegeln dayneh vildeh khasenehs poyln
lomir treten dayneh merkten vu dayneh vurshten vaksen rayf un ful
lomir baysen dayneh feferkorns zol dayn oksenmist zayn tsuker far dayneh gosysesdike yidn
oy poyln oy ziseh umtsukhedikeh unruikeh poyln
oy poyln fun di heylikeh unknepeldikeh poyln iberkhazendik on oyfher di drayikeh nemen fun mariya
poyln poyln poyln poyln poyln
zaynen mir nit mid gevoren fun dir poyln neyn vayl dayneh keyzen
velen unz keynmol nit mid makhen un nit di honik fun dayneh tsigen
dayneh khosens velen arbeten umtsukhedik iber zeyereh shvebedikeh kalehs
velen kindlen mit henker
velen shtenden vi kenigen in dayneh tiren
velen arumnemen dayneh bayshtidlekh poyln
un onheyben kreyen

[Translated into Yiddish by Amos Schauss with transliteration into Roman letters by Jerome Rothenberg] Schauss]

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Vitezslav Nezval: Fireworks 1924, A Cinemagenic Poem

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 7:02 AM 0 comments
Translation from Czech by Jerome Rothenberg & Milos Sovak

1 a gunshot (fade in)
2 a hand illuminated holding a revolver (dissolve into)
3 a hand sporting a diamond ring that
4 blows to pieces like a fireworks display with the inscription ALL THIS BECAUSE OF LOVE (double exposures moving from one image to another) a dance pavilion (full shot) & the sparks dying away
5 a street corner (fade out) the helmets of 3 policemen
6 a coffee house a lady on the phone (full shot)
7 it rings a few times
8 a gentleman’s quarters (full shot)
9 the telephone bell (close up)
10 the lady setting the receiver down
11 the clock on the clocktower moonlight 10 o’clock
12 in the fields a hare is running down a path
13 sniffing with whiskers erect (dissolve)
14 the hare standing up on its hind legs
15 from the bushes a gentleman with monocle steps out
16 a coffee house (full shot)
17 a detective observes a lady’s hand move nervously along a marble table
18 the diamond transmutes into
19 a show window with a passing tram’s reflection
20 the detective pays his check & as he hands the money over surreptitiously displays
21 his badge (dissolve into close-up)
22 the detective goes to the lady’s table
23 asks for permission
24 thumbs thru magazines
25 & newspapers (dissolve into close-up)
27 the detective while choosing a magazine stares deep into the lady’s eyes (medium close shot)
28 the lady getting up (full shot)
29 the detective grabs his heart & sinks down to the floor (fade out)
30 a crowd of guests & waiters
31 the lady puts a handkerchief on the detective’s head
32 (close-up) the detective’s hand picking a photo & 2 tram tickets from the lady’s bag
33 in the fields the hare is pricking up its ears
34 a railway station where a train is being boarded
35 a gentleman with monocle at ticket counter
36 a hand plugging lines in at the phone exchange
37 the detective makes a call while staring at the tram ticket
38 index finger in the book
39 the tram ticket held in two hands as it grows in size till it dissolves into
40 the image of the tram (interior)
41 the dispatcher in his office struggling to recall something (medium close shot)
42 presses his index finger to his forehead (full shot)
43 & gives a smile (medium close shot)
44 giving a large banknote to the gentleman with the monocle seated beside the lady in the tram
45 a maze of telegraph wires
46 a postal clerk pondering a telegram
47 a lookout post in front of which there stands a yardman
48 the yardman runs into the lookout
49 a corridor inside the train down which the man with monocle is passing
50 he is entering the toilet
51 dumping his revolver
52 his pocket watch
53 (fade out) in the dark a sign HOTEL
54 the lady in bed turning from side to side
55 (medium close shot) opening her eyes, a sad look
56 the yardman presses a button
57 the semaphore (dissolving into medium close shot) is moving slowly up & down
58 an automobile in motion
59 (medium close shot) detective holds an open timetable in his hand
60 the dispatcher looking at the man with monocle & at the lady who are walking over to an island lit by lanterns (dissolves)
61 (medium close shot) the dispatcher talking to a policeman
62 the train is stopping
63 the auto speeding up approaching
64 the lady hand on bed a handkerchief to forehead
65 the locomotive whistle
66 the detective standing on the train steps
67 the hare has reared up on its hind legs
68 a hand with a revolver
69 an eye behind a monocle
70 the monocle falls to the floor & shatters
71 the gentleman standing without moving
72 a gunshot (fade in)
73 a hand illuminated holding a revolver (dissolves into) a diamond
74 into a shrapnel burst with the title ALL THIS BECAUSE OF LOVE (double exposure) a pavilion full of dancing couples
75 the leg of a jazz drummer at his drums
76 (medium close shot) a band stand lined with sheets of music & the title ALL THIS BECAUSE OF LOVE
77 in front of a shooting gallery the man with the monocle & the lady he takes aim & fires
78 (close-up) a metal rabbit painted silver falling over
79 (medium close shot) the gentleman & lady laughing fit to burst
80 the gentleman is rubbing at his eyes
81 a kiss behind the parasol
82 the hare’s whiskers & one side of the hare’s face moving & dissolving into a fountain its waters turning drop by drop into the words


NOTE. Nezval (1900-1958) was, with Velimir Holan, one of the two great early poets of Czech experimental modernism. Like other innovators then & now, he worked through a prolific sweep of modes & genres: open & closed forms of verse; novels drawn from his childhood & more surreal, chance-oriented prose works; avant-garde theater collaborations; numerous translations of his modern counterparts & predecessors (Rimbaud, Apollinaire, Neruda, Lorca, Eluard, et al.); & forays as composer, painter, journalist, photographer, & (from 1945 to 1951) director of the film section of the Information & Culture Ministry in Prague. His commitment to communism came early (1924), & his politics before & after made him a prominent member of that network of tolerated avant-gardists/poet-heroes that included Neruda, Brecht, Picasso, Hikmet, Eluard, & Tzara, among others (with some of whom he shared pro-forma hymns to Stalin in the early postwar years). As with many of them also, a Surrealist connection was clearly in evidence but should in no sense diminish the originality of his own practice & its contribution to ours.

The poem presented here – an early venture into film writing – is from a longer selection, Antilyrik & Other Poems, translated by myself & Milos Sovak & published by Green Integer Books in 2001. An additional translation from Nezval can be found here. (JR)

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Announcement: Two New Books in Spanish

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:23 AM 0 comments

While I’ve increasingly taken an international approach to poetry – & even more so in the presentday age-of-the-internet – I haven’t until now made postings in languages other than English. Within the past half year, however, two more of my books have appeared in Spanish, for which the following publishers’ announcements can serve as a kind of marker and celebration. Ojo del testimonio, assembled & translated by Heriberto Yépez and published by Aldus Editorial in Mexico, is a gathering of my writings on poetics from 1951 to the almost present; it is also the best collection of such works yet published, more wide ranging than the two books I’ve assembled on my own in English (Pre-faces and Poetics & Polemics). The second new book, Siembras y otros poemas, translated by Antonio Díez Fernández and published by Baile del Sol in Tenerife, Spain, is a complete version of a single earlier book, Seedings & Other Poems (New Directions, 1996). I’m posting the announcements, then, in their original Spanish wording & without any further comment from me. (J.R.)


Nuestro primer libro del 2011.

Comenzamos el año presentando la obra de Jerome Rothenberg. Ojo del testimonio. Escritos selectos 1951-2010 congrega los textos en prosa más importantes de uno de los poetas clave en la poesía internacional de posguerra. Se incluyen sus ensayos sobre etnopoética, una corriente de la cual Rothenberg es fundador, además de sus célebres prefacios, poéticas personales, polémicas y algunos inéditos. Se trata de la compilación de prosa y poética de Rothenberg más amplia en cualquier idioma, reunida y traducida por uno de los imprescindibles de la literatura mexicana actual: Heriberto Yépez. Un volumen indispensable para cualquiera que desee comprender la poesía contemporánea.

“Rothenberg es probablemente la puerta de entrada a más esquinas del mundo que ningún otro poeta de este siglo. En las páginas de un libro suyo —los poemarios tanto como las antologías — el mundo tiene coherencia. Quizá esa coherencia sea falsa… pero no podemos negar que Rothenberg, como pocos, ha conseguido construir un mundo. Y más: es un mundo, incluso en los infiernos de Khurbn, de éxtasis y de júbilo fundamental. No la Utopía, sino un modelo del mundo para ser contrapuesto al mundo.” — Eliot Weinberger

“Jerome Rothenberg es uno de los poetas verdaderamente contemporáneos que ha hecho que la poesía de Estados Unidos retorne a la corriente principal de la literatura internacional moderna. Nadie que esté escribiendo hoy ha escarbado más hondo en las raíces de la poesía.” — Kenneth Rexroth

436 páginas. Costo: 250 pesos


Siembras y Otros Poemas

para Robert Duncan

Me fue dado un poema en el sueño... un poema que leo en voz alta... donde pude sentir las palabras saliendo a borbotones sin que pudiera recuperarlas... sólo sabía que el nombre del poema era "siembras" y que seguía a una recitación de "cokboy" en la que tuve que improvisar las últimas líneas, incapaz de recordar cuáles eran... entre poema y poema hice un comentario sobre la manera peculiar de leer de Duncan, sabiendo que estaba muerto pero viéndole sentado entre el público y asintiéndome cuando comencé a leer.

“Nadie que esté escribiendo ahora ha cavado más hondo en las raíces de la poesía ..." — Kenneth Rexroth

“Equiparando lo arcaico y lo experimental, lo primitivo y lo complejo [Rothenberg] ofrece a sus poetas contemporáneos, la oportunidad de concebir sus raíces como algo más amplio y profundo que el simple y estricto linaje académico.” — Geoffrey O’Brien, Voice Literary Supplement

SO-130. Poesía. 2010. 144 páginas. ISBN: 978-84-15019-28-2. 10 €.

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