Waly Salomão - From “THE TRUE STRUCTURE / OF NATURE,” to a “locked poem” to “jet turbines” and “scanners” to “Dr. Martens” shoes to a “sexualized mother / joyful mother” to “the burning of archives” to a “déjà vu sensation” to “gradual loss of hair” to “Narcissus,” to Valéry, Ashbery, and W. Stevens, and Sartre, they all sit together in the book to dig deep into many layers of our being in the world

Algaravias: Echo Chamber

Waly Salomão, Algaravias: Echo Chamber, Trans. by Maryam Monalisa Gharavi, Ugly Duckling Presse, 2016.


You can read the complete “Jet-lagged Poem” in Asymptote.
A few other poems from the book can also be found at The Brooklyn Rail.

The fifth and most critically acclaimed volume of poetry by Syrian-Brazilian poet Waly Salomão (1943-2003), Algaravias: Echo Chamber takes its title from an entangled history, referenced in an etymological epigraph: “From al-garb, the West; that language of the Arabs considered corrupted, little understood by the Spanish. Also a name of a plant, given that name for the messiness of its branches.” Its ruminations on passage, self-placement, virtual geography, human-electronic interaction, poetic consciousness, and mortality are inflected by Salomão’s dual heritage; they also confront the isolating nature of the dictatorship he lived through as well as the aggressively optimistic discourse of post-dictatorship “modernization” efforts: the torrential influx of mass media and multinational corporations, and the sterile, touristic, and militarized landscapes of modern space and spectacle.

The book starts with a word definition:
“Algarabia: from the Arabic al-garb, the West; algarabia, where the sun sets, occidental thing, people who live facing westward, language of the Arabs that lived facing westward: And as that language of the Arabs was considered a corrupted form of Arabic, little understood by the Spaniards, from here algarabia began figuratively to pass for something written or said in a way that one does not understand, and the clamor of various people who by all speaking at the same time, cannot be understood. – Others say that it came from alarabiya, the Arabic language. Algarabia is also the name of a plant, and it appears that it was given because of the messiness of its branches, alluding to the most coming meaning of the voice of algarabia (Academia Española).” (7)
This is significant; a good introduction to what comes next in Algaravias: Echo Chamber, Waly Salomão’s book that won Brazil’s highest literary prize, the Prêmio Jabuti. The poems in the collection might have a semblance of clamor and messiness but they actually form a modern complex whole. They thread together and mirror many aspects of our human experience, such as the human fate, knowledge, creation, language, place, time, displacement, belonging, etc. delving into what, in all this, is understood or, for one reason or another, misunderstood or not understood at all.
From “THE TRUE STRUCTURE / OF NATURE,” (9) to a “locked poem” (13) to “jet turbines” and “scanners” (21) to “Dr. Martens” shoes to a “sexualized mother / joyful mother” (33) to “the burning of archives” (39) to a “déjà vu sensation” (57) to “gradual loss of hair” (71) to “Narcissus,” (85) to Paul Valéry, John Ashbery, and Wallace Stevens, and Sartre, they all sit together in the book to dig deep into many layers of our being in the world.
Salomão (1943-2003) was born in Jequié, Bahia, Brazil to a Syrian immigrant father and a Brazilian mother. Translator Maryam Monalisa Gharavi was born in Iran and became an immigrant herself at the age of seven. In an interview with Mirene Arsanios, Gharavi speaks about her first encounter with Salomão’s work when she lived in Brazil as a student:
“I was instantly drawn to his poetry, and ended up tracing his footsteps all over the bookstores and public squares of Rio de Janeiro where he would give huge outdoor readings. Poetry quite literally stopped traffic at the time.
There was something vibrant in Salomão’s work that drew people in, even though he was also accused of writing too intellectually.”
It is with this intellectual composed voice that is meanwhile intimate and vulnerable that Salomão contemplates the natural and the unnatural world. He deals, in Gharavi’s words, with “a conjugated and multivalent reality.” And in the process, he reveals to us our distances and our ties, our achievements and our failures, our gains and our losses.
In the “Jet-Lagged Poem” (21-29), he writes,
“Writing is to avenge loss.
Although the material has dissolved completely,
like melted cheese.
Writing is to avenge?
From loss?
Notwithstanding? In good standing.”
Even though in Salomão’s world “all the full things tear each other to pieces / or are lacerated” (“Guarding the Hollow of Time” 75), “the days follow each other and settled is the intention / to convert all prohibited things and rust / into pieces of paradise. Or vice-versa” (“Open Letter to John Ashbery” 41). - Poupeh Missaghi

And all:
the same paste that the worms of entropy

amalgamate into a single compound.
But to stay, for what and where to,
if there is no remedy, syrup or elixir,
if the foot does not find ground to step on,
even in the do-it-all English footwear
of Dr. Martens,
(the feeling of having your foot stuck in jackfruit)
if traveling is the only way of being happy
and full?

Writing is to avenge loss.
Although the material has all melted,
like melted cheese.

Writing is to avenge?
Of loss?
Notwithstanding? In good standing.


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