“If exile were not a terrible experience, it would be a literary genre.” So begins Christina Peri Rossi in her prologue to her moving book of poetry State of Exile, translated by Marilyn Buck and released last month by City Lights Publishing (http://citylights.com/). State of Exile fell into my hands because of the illness of David Meltzer. He was scheduled to read Marilyn Buck’s translation but had to cancel at the last minute. I was asked to read in his stead. What a gift that was! I had not known Rossi’s poetry before this offering.
On a Sunday morning the book was pushed through my mail slot. That afternoon I picked it up and began to read. It opens with a graceful essay by Marilyn Buck. She is a political prisoner who has been behind bars for more close to 30 years. (For more on Marilyn Buck and to read some of her wonderful work http://www.prisonactivist.org/pps+pows/marilynbuck/) Through a network of friends and supporters, but mostly because of her resilient spirit and her firm hold on what justice looks like and what it means to be not only human but humane, Marilyn Buck has survived with both clarity and vison and, it seems, a healthy sense of humor. (To hear some Buck’s work read on the CD Wild Poppies by wonderful poets including Amiri Baraka, carolyn baxter/Nottiehead Bosco, Dennis Brutus, Aya De Leon, Fanny Howe, Uchechi Kalu, Elana Levy, Genny Lim, devorah major, Sara Menefee, Kiilu Nyasha, Maria Poblet, Presente!, Carlos Quiles, Samsara, Sonia Sanchez, Staajabu, Jean Stewart, Piri Thomas, Kwame Ture/Stokely Carmichael, Nellie Wong, Merle Woo, and Mitsuye Yamada go to http://freedomarchives.org/wildpoppies/index.html) Marilyn Buck is a gifted poet who has brought her insights about humanity and her skill with verse into the transforming of these poems from Spanish to English. She speaks of the idea of exile “Political exile is a location, among places unknown. Flight into exile is rarely and unforced decision...” Showing us how even prisoners live in a state of exile: “In prison, men and women wait to return to a home that no longer exists, to the shreds of a once-lived life.” Buck presents herself as “the translator in exile of a translator of exile.” And it is this understanding and compassion that brings us fully into a work that is profoundly moving even as it is excruciatingly sad and forces us, if we are honest, to face America today with its acceptance of torture, its record of “extraordinary rendition,” creating a new population of the “disappeared,” and a growing number of Americans, by birth or as naturalized citizens who are finding themselves exiled.
This book is nothing but treasures, treasures crafted out of pain and inexorable sadness, treasures polished by love and the human impulse to survive with dignity, with consciousness.
“I have a pain here,
On my homeland side.”
Rossi writes after having been forced out of Uruguay after her books were banned, her university position removed and even her name banned from all media. (For more Ms. Rossi go to
She maintains her own website in Spanish at http://www.cristinaperirossi.es/
And to hear her read one of her own poems http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CoT4-bs-TPI&feature=related)
State of Exile is not a book of romance
“Exile is to spend our last
for pesetas for a metro ticket
to go interview for a job
they won’t give us.”
The happy ending is not the celebration of return but the acceptance of a new home land and the love found therein.
“The is no return:
everything spins in infinite circle
of cruel absurdity.”
The art of translation is, as Marilyn Buck touches on in her introduction, an art of transformation. I have sat with poetry translators and over and over again they speak of the new poem that is created during the act of translation, the one that holds on to the truth and rhythm of the original but bends to accept the clothing of the new language. Marilyn Buck does great honor to the work of Christina Peri Rossi. State of Exile is one of the best books of poetry I have read this year.