cover image What’s in a Name

What’s in a Name

Ana Luísa Amaral, trans. from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa. New Directions, $16.95 (160p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2832-9

Amaral offers provocative reframings of familiar texts, from Old Testament stories to Shakespearean tragedies, in her second book to appear in English. As she revisits narratives from a predominantly male literary tradition, Amaral gives voice to female characters who existed on the peripheries of these stories: Lot’s Wife considers her “namelessness”; Juliet imagines a life that is “ungovernable”; and a female speaker indicts Janus for his privilege, the “luxury of looking.” Amaral’s persona poems gradually defamiliarize canonical texts, shifting their focus and intent. Through poems made up of orderly looking lines and stanzas, Amaral carves a space for fragmentation, uncertainty, and meditative silence within the repertoire of inherited forms. In “Things,” Amaral considers the arbitrariness of the signifier, challenging the very foundations of the social order: “That’s why, and despite all, I speak of names:/ because I cannot find/ a better way:” By ending the poem with a colon, gesturing toward the page’s blank space, Amaral invites the reader to complete the philosophical work that she has set in motion. In this accomplished volume and translation, Amaral’s subtle experimentation makes strange an artistic repertoire we thought we knew. (Feb.)