cover image Defense of the Idol

Defense of the Idol

Omar Cáceres, trans. from the Spanish by Mónica de la Torre. Ugly Duckling, $15 trade paper (64p) ISBN 978-1-946433-03-9

Chilean avant-garde poet Cáceres (1904–1943) mines the urban landscape for keys to opening the alienated, self-questioning psyche in this beguiling collection, a high-modernist work first published in 1934 and his first work translated into English. Automobiles, faces, shadows, mirrors, “victorious rubble,” and the sky, particularly at night, serve as portals into “the spiral of our own selves.” If the subject matter possesses a familiar dynamic, the language is anything but, thanks to de la Torre’s adroit translations. Surprising descriptions, emotionally and visually alert, stir commonplace images into otherworldly life: the dreamlike “Mansion of Foam” posits “A town (Blue) arduously flooded” and makes confessions to a “Legislator of urban time, unfurled, abundant”; a “Nocturne” reveals a scene where “The trees are drunk, from nocturnal lights,/ and they drag their shadows, nervous and stiff.” De la Torre’s resourceful, elegant work relays the sonorous, vowel-rich Spanish into English’s distinct musical potential, as in when “Oráculo Inconstante” becomes “Fickle Oracle,” or “un ciego lucero hinca su diversidad en nuestro ser” becomes “a blind star sinks its diversity into our being.” Cáceres’s works are few, but these slippery, evasive poems operate through sly evocation and reward multiple readings. (July)