WORLD LITERATURE TODAY Feb.2010
Amir Or. Plates from the Museum of Time and other poems. London, New Delhi, New York, Toronto. AARK ARTS. 2009. 28 pages. £3.99. ISBN 1-899179-31-3.
The half-dozen “other poems” in this collection art have been translated from Hebrew, but Amir Or, like some emerging world poets, has written the rest in English. Absent the translators’ credit lines, even the discerning reader would find it hard to see a difference. Both groups contain direct, spare language, lines with significant internal hesitations to isolate a clause or image, and a reflected, understated tone.
The six translated poems tend towards narrative: an unrepentant Nazi reflects on “The perfect murder” in “A Glass of Beer”; cooks follow a master’s detailed recipe in “Immortality”; barbarians sink seamlessly into the conquered city in Or’s variation on Cavafy’s “Waiting for the Barbarians”; the surge of lust in “El Amor Brujo” grows and peaks with “The animal in my heart smells you always.”
The poems in the “Plates” sequence are more reflective—literally, since mirrors and surfaces like eyes and paintings are invoked. These are suggestive rather than definitive, since they cannot convey process or metamorphoses. But they can, on (mental) reflection, shed light and lead to both kinds of vision.
Several of these poems deal with the creative process. Amid the synaesthetic chaos of “The Desk,” the “treacherous pen” cuts beyond the edges of the page, and the poet has to perform surgery, using stitches in both medical and literary senses, so that “between the lines….you’ll find the right poem.”
Although the “Plates” are less immediately accessible than the translated poems—which generate their own kind of excitement—they provide the reader with ways of discovering not only something about the elusive self but about the light, and darkness, which surround and define us. These poems provide an introduction to an important poet new to the Anglo-American audience.
Robert Murray Davis
University of Oklahoma