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This translation offers for the first time the splendid poems of Sidney West to English readers, supposedly their original addressees. West is among the best imaginary poets of America, allegedly his native land, and of all possible lands. His texts, although rich with exceptional life experience, will satisfy those who still believe in “the death of the author.” No less satisfied, in spite of his anti-romanticism, will be those captivated by “committed writing.” And in another paradox that West himself would have loved, if he had existed, what’s offered here constitutes a translation of a translation. An English version based on the prior version into Spanish completed in 1969 by Argentine writer Juan Gelman, one of the greatest living Latin American poets. He should be considered the genuine author of the author of these poems, and the poems themselves.
Gelman’s superb text poses a radical question: must human beings in modern society die in order to recuperate their human condition? Something happens after the passing of the book’s thirty-five characters, their absence causes unforeseen consequences, generates certain kinds of presence. This profound questioning of Western assumptions surrounding death requires an innovative form that challenges the traditional boundaries between poetry and narrative, privileges the magical as a vital aspect of reality, and ultimately seeks a redefinition of the lyric persona. In The Poems of Sidney West, writing, without lessening its essential condition of creative practice, is conceived as an instrument not only to interpret but to transform the world.
‘One of the greatest poets the world has today.’ —José Saramago, Nobel Prize in Literature, 1998
‘Juan Gelman’s poems bring us to a state of mind, at once thoughtful and instinctive, forcing us to search for what we really are…This state of mind has no need for cries, proclamations, or insults. The ultimate force of Juan Gelman’s words is born from abandoning the surface of pain and anger to penetrate their roots.’ —Julio Cortázar, author of Hopscotch