Although Marosa di Giorgio (1953-2004) is rightly considered a prose writer of considerable distinction throughout the Spanish-speaking world, she remains largely unknown to English language readers. In 2010, Ugly Duckling Press released an excellent translation of di Giorgio's 1965 book The History of Violets, but Diadem: Selected Poems by Marosa di Giorgo, the 22nd installment of BOA Editions's Lannan Translation Series, is the only available edition to provide an overview of the poet's prose poems. It is fortuitous, then, that Adam Gianelli's compelling translations, which appear alongside the Spanish texts, capture many of the tonal and rhythmic nuances of the original poems, including two trademark features of di Giorgio's style: idiosyncratic punctuation and unexpected shifts from prose to verse.
Gianelli's anthology also provides persuasive evidence that between 1965-1987 di Giorgio's individual volumes of prose poems could be considered extensions of one ongoing book. Butterflies, freesias, loquats, shepherds, snails, virgins—these are the familiars of di Giorgio's world, a bucolic landscape that evokes both the nostalgic innocence of childhood and the disturbing thresholds of sexual awareness. Time and again, these themes appear and reappear, in each instance presented in a slightly different shade, as if each poem were the panel of a stained-glass window. If, however, di Giorgio tended to write the same poem again and again, she was nonetheless endlessly inventive within the limits of her procedures. It is a testament to the strength of her imaginative powers that her repetitions do not feel repetitious; in fact, they seem necessary.
The bulk of the poems in Diadem come from her 1981 volume, The March Hare. At once an allusion to the fictional character of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and a reference to the actual wild rabbits that darted through fields of her childhood, the book's title braids two strands of di Giorgio's work, namely earthy celebrations of pastoral Uruguay and semi-surreal moments of magical realism. Consider the following poem:
A butterfly descended to a dark spot; it seemed to have lovely colors; it was hard to tell. The youngest of the girls thought it was a rare doll and wanted it for herself; the other children said, "Beneath the wings there's a man."
I said, "Yes, its body looks like a little man."
But they explained it was a full-sized man. I knelt down and saw. What the children said was true. How could a normal-sized man fit beneath those tiny wings?
We called over a neighbor. He brought tweezers, removed the wings. A tall man stood and walked off.
And all this, which seems almost incredible, later was inexplicably painted on a box.
Inhabiting the same lush, complex psychological world of Guillermo del Toro's film Pan's Labyrinth, this characteristically untitled poem begins with a quotidian reality that quickly turns fantastic. Naturally, its sly conclusion resists closure, for the graphic depiction of this "almost incredible" event is as logically impossible as the event itself.
Other poems are more erotically tinged, such as when a young girl cannot stop roses from sprouting from her skirt, or the eldest of three sisters marries a beautiful horse. Occasionally, the erotic is coupled with menace:
One morning I'm so afraid that I lie down and try to take up as little space as possible, I hardly eat, or only drink water.
They carry me to the table, they operate on me; from deep inside of me, they remove monstrous objects: clocks, dolls, several teeth and combs, and eggs, eggs, eggs, blue, white, and pink eggs, endlessly as if I were a four-winged dove.
I don't know if I'll die.
...And in the middle of the afternoon they grab me, again.
It is tempting to read these poems as moments of a life told through metaphor, but in truth they are more much more than artful shards of autobiography. As with the works of Kafka, Pizarnik, and Cortázar—writers with whom di Giorgio has been often compared—these prose poems possess the sort of allegorical dimensions one finds in myth and fable. What is more, the "I" of her poems struggles with many of the same complications that typify the most sensitive and aware persons of our age.
"What happened next was beautiful and horrible," di Giorgio says in another untitled poem, this one about a shepherd's sexual encounter with "Amelia," the narrator's life-sized doll (presumably an extension of the narrator herself). Evoking the "terrible beauty" of Yeats's "Easter 1916," the voice draws in, then recoils: "I watched, transfixed, and didn't watch." In a century that saw new heights of cultural refinement coexisting with unspeakable brutality, di Giorgio's quiet, lyrical voice bravely faces the abyss without ever stepping entirely into that darkness. After the shepherd leaves, Amelia remains behind, "her gold wings still quivering."
Ultimately, it is nature or, more accurately, one's awareness of the natural world that saves us from despair. In another Amelia poem, the voice recalls, "It was God who spoke...I spun around...But nothing was there; only the wind playing, as always, in the garden of figs and violets."