Captain of the Butterflies

Cees Nooteboom, Author, Herlinde Spahr, Translator, Leonard Nathan, Translator
Cees Nooteboom, Author, Herlinde Spahr, Translator, Leonard Nathan, Translator Sun and Moon Press $11.95 (0p) ISBN 978-1-55713-315-1
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At first reading, the poems in this first collection of translated poetry by acclaimed Dutch novelist and poet whose The Following Story won the European Literary Prize for the best novel in 1993 seem strangely affectless. Their overall tone is uninflected; the speakers are often disembodied; the imagery is an odd, sometimes off-putting mixture of intense realism and difficult abstraction. Culled from Nooteboom's voluminous work published in Holland between 1955 and 1996, the poems in this selection are much concerned with time and the pain of the inexpressible: ""Three o'clock at night./ Stuffed and shut, square boxes/ of silence surround my bed./ But that silence stings/ a pain that cannot pass."" For the most part, though, the poems present litanies of ""forms without weight"" (vacant lots, faded photographs, words lost in translation) that are thematically arranged (with no dates given) in sections with such titles as ""Self and Others"" and ""Travels and Visions,"" rather than chronologically. In one especially beautiful and uncharacteristically expressive love poem, a speaker openly laments making ""a disaster out of the ordinary""- in some ways, an apt description of the subtle alchemy at work throughout this volume. Nooteboom's transformation of the ordinary into an art of loss lingers in the mind with the obliqueness of an Edward Hopper painting. (July)
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