cover image Vertical Poetry

Vertical Poetry

Roberto Juarroz. North Point Press, $22.95 (161pp) ISBN 978-0-86547-306-5

These poems, appearing in Spanish and Engish translation rendered by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Merwin, convey the Argentine Juarroz's ideas about the continuity and infinity of human experience: once external factors are stripped away from one's life, what remains is abstract and primitive. The physicality of a poem is integral to the meaning of its words: Juarroz devises his creations vertically, geometrically; they can begin at the first word or the last, the constant being motion, fundamental and never-changing. A lilting symmetry of sound results, but because the crux of this work is Juarroz's conviction of the immutability and significance of form as meaning, the volume becomes one long poem, a cycle of form repeating itself. Metaphysical designs, however gracefully sculpted into verse, do not allow here for much variety in language or music in individual words; while the poems often have a mesmerizing, heady quality, just as often they are indistinguishable, repetitive and inaccessible. If the collection were shorter, perhaps the esoteric quality of the poems would be provocative, rather than overwhelming. Juarroz's aphorisms are illuminating and original, but the plethora of them diminishes their power. (August)