Terra Leigh Bell - In August of 2011, poet Terra began reading Don Quixote and after about six months of reading the book, a poem began to write itself in response to the strange beauty and melancholy whimsy of the novel
Terra Leigh Bell, Beltenebros, or the Beautiful Obscure. Babel Salvage, 2014.
In August of 2011, poet Terra Leigh Bell began reading Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and translated by Tobias Smollett. The Smollett translation struck her as particularly beautiful, and after about six months of reading the book, a poem began to write itself in response to the strange beauty and melancholy whimsy of the novel. Beltenebros, or the Beautiful Obscure is the result.
The author and editor of the following would like the reader to understand it as homage to the aforementioned Spanish novel” . . . (page 7, emphasis mine)
Warning: I have never read Don Quixote. I have not read many of the “Great Novels by Men” in the literary canon, and Don Quixote is one of those. Others include Ulysses, Infinite Jest, War and Peace, Life: A User’s Manual, and so on and so forth. But, like many works of literature that get referenced by the masses of literati taking to the streets in their joy and their madness and their sexual deviance, spouting this title provides this benefit and that title provides that benefit, I have always wanted to encounter these works on an intimate level. Terra Leigh Bell’s book does nothing short of go so far as to invite me into Don Quixote (and Don Quixote the man, the myth, the legend) as though her and his hands together are wrapped around a chain leading me toward some darkened cave where only the most disturbing acts occur.
“dead damsel: / altisidora / oh so long upon her back” (page 24)
Yes, whether she agrees or not, Terra Leigh Bell has, with Beltenbros, or the Beautiful Obscure, ensnared me in a sexual, mesmerizingly shadowy space of literary existence, where I cannot tell truth from falsehood, cannot discern the legitimate from the bastardized. And in this grey space, the ambiguous pasture of bodies rolling amongst bodies, I have become reacquainted with the idea of the adventurer cum sexual treasure that is Quixote. (And Sancho, and Dulcinea, of course; and, dare I say Bell has provided a nice backdrop of her own tangible, contemporary existence to add fuel to the fire of attractions in this literary lamplight?)
Let me pause and abstract myself for a moment and talk about what the book actually is: well, what it is based on concept is easier said than its resultant nature. Bell originally was transfixed by Smollett’s translation of Don Quixote de la Mancha to the point where she was forced onto the text, sprawling her limbs and her mental and emotional tendrils across each word in an effort to understand, to love and, as I’ve interpreted it, to nurture the text as symbolic gesture, as icon of warmth. Held close to her breast, Bell investigated how she could be true to the text while releasing her inner rumblings, her quivers and her sighs and her bellows, as an editor with energy needing to be spent. What we have is a kind of literary offspring that allows the reader to see this intimate relationship play out: what one might call a “simple erasure” in most cases is, through the editorial invasion posed by Bell (and her own conflicting sentiments toward her own editorial nature), a spellbinding child of a text, born out of two voices converging. This is the ida pingala, the snake that eats itself, the incessant and maddening transfixion.
“who / doesn’t want such killing joy?” (page 38)Now, fortunately for those who can only take such closely-bonded literary works in small gulps, Bell’s book is under 50 pages. Unless there is something wrong with your eyesight (perhaps you are crying too hard from the orgasmic epiphanies the book brings to you?) or you are distracting yourself (self-defense from so many years of yawning through your “responsibility” toward reading and literacy and literature?), you will find this book readable and read in under a half hour. The lines of collage that mix Bell’s shuddering, manic vision with the sturdy, claspable, and deeply masculine source text are mixed and merged in a unison evocative of, well, a sexualized escapade. Fortunately for us, we believe in the benefits of sexualized escapades (and if you don’t, ask your page-turning claws why they are smudging the folios) and we can allow the insemination of melting and the revisions throughout Beltenbros to swoon us over in the name of our own loneliness and our own icy transposition toward the dead poetics of the 21st century.
I would be remiss to not mention some significant elements of this book which will further transform the reader and truly invite them into the playground of Bell’s most sensual literary corners. The first is that, in addition to alternative spellings and grammar littered throughout (and expected of) the source text’s translation, there are typos. But unlike other books, books where perfection and “the clean” is key, the precision of the typo here, the misspellings (including one that’s on the back cover), further elevates Bell’s uncanny investment in the work. She reminds me of myself, in many ways: the surge of energy from temple to belly to toes causing the pen to shake as notes are scribbled, the urge “to publish” pushed forth to the point of implosion, where only the noise and fuzz rule the consciousness, the awareness darkened by the passions.
“a lit candle growing from each horn” (17)Second, the book’s format is, in a style Babel/Salvage (the publisher) is known for, unlike any format you have come across. The book reads organically, organic as Quixote’s most devilish sides and smiles (see page 17), as momentous as fire, fruitful and lush and seductive. In the case of collage, we the reader must rely on the form to drive home the point of collage, the point of the mix-up, the point of the pick and choose, the push and the pull, the layer to layer. Bell has created a linear experience that demonstrates the frenzied tact in motion, and leaves out the pretentious proclivities of the literati. I imagine Bell in her apartment (which I have never seen, and thus I am imagining entirely from scratch), a hammock bundled in the corner, scraped wooden floors and a wooden chair on the verge of a collapse. I imagine Bell’s hands bruised to purple the color of rotten plums, her hair (as they say) “a mess,” and the pens entirely devoid of ink. Actually, instead of pens, it’s a laptop, but the laptop is a shattered screen, and Bell is hastily attempting to circumvent the idea of the obscured image of the screen by peering more deeply and deeply into the text, her fingers warping that which she finds through a keyboard missing keys, covered in bits of quinoa and perhaps a dried pluck of kale. It is winter and we see our breaths. No, it is summer and we have burned our skin from too many reads on the beach.
“She has therefore determined to clarify” (page 25)Turn to Bell’s work, glossy cover reflecting your greasy eyes, as an example of the relationship you might decide to make with a language of words, a history of symbols and lustful instincts. The heroes of our most prized literary history will carry us away and before our blood has been shed or left to soak into the earth they will enjoy us and ruffle us into a tendency to be ejaculative in our creation of the rosiest ideas. - Greg Bem