A couple of days ago I was pleasantly surprised to receive the first copies of my translation of Against Professional Secrets by César Vallejo, published by Roof Books (NYC). The official publication date is April 1, 2011, however, I am told there’s a chance that they may be available online &/or in bookstores before then.
I am grateful to James Sherry & Abigail Méndez for providing editorial & translation support with remarkable tenacity & patience. Ernesto Livon Grosman, Pierre Joris & Mónica de la Torre were all kind enough to write blurbs for the back cover, which I’m copying below to give you a taste of what to expect from this curious book of thoughts.
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César Vallejo is indispensable to the Latin American experimental tradition and one of the first Peruvian poets to become a reference point for American writers. Vallejo’s Poemas humanos and Trilce opened up a dialogue between North and South American poets. In Against Professional Secrets Vallejo cannibalizes the European tradition and transforms it into an American experience. Joseph Mulligan’s exceptional translation opens up that dialogue to English, to a new readership, and to the Present.
—Ernesto Livon Grosman
These small (by word-count only) proses by the great Peruvian avant-gardista César Vallejo carry the master’s unmistakable meandering complexity of language and thought, of language in thought. These meditations are “answers without questions which are the spirit of art and the dialectic consciousness of things.” Into these not very Borgesian fictions, Vallejo is able to insert a rocky, rollicking, mestizoed “r” — thus making for abrasive thinking, for to cleanse your moral palate you need fricative pumice stone, not soft soap-opera-ted fictive ablations. Vallejo is wont to upend familiar expectations, so let us take him at his word and suggest (as he does in relation to Baudelaire) that his writing pounces not like a cat, because the cat “has malice in all its paws,” but moves, thinks and writes like a bat, the animal that, he says, brings “wisdom in shadows.” This is so because the bat, like Vallejo’s writing, is “able to perform upward falls.”
The prose pieces in Against Professional Secrets offer an oblique explanation for Vallejo’s eschewing the radical poetic experimentation of Trilce (1922) in favor of the limpidness of the work he wrote in Europe. A rebuke of the codes of confidentiality that certain professions, poetry included, require of its practitioners, Vallejo’s politic and poetic stance articulates itself throughout the volume: poetry cannot be for initiates. Motifs running through Trilce appear here reworked and accessible. Language’s insufficiencies: “Might it not be that the words supposed to help me express myself in this case were spread throughout all the languages of the land and not only in one of them?” The autochthonous vs. the so-called universal: “Lorca is Andalucian. Why don’t I have the right to be Peruvian?” This is an essential, if overlooked, book in Vallejo’s corpus.
—Mónica de la Torre