Marosa di Giorgio transforms everything it touches—a lily, a head, a hare, a ghost, a porcelain cup. All becomes beautifully and violently intertwined, dead and alive. Boundaries are blurred: an eagle drinks tea with a mother, a flower puts on the longest pearl necklace or kills you. Her obsessive, magical gardens serve as a stage for the ongoing encounter of nature and the supernatura

Image result for Marosa di Giorgio, I Remember Nightfall,

Marosa di Giorgio, I Remember Nightfall, Trans. by Jeannine Marie Pitas, Ugly Duckling Presse, 2017.

from Clavel y tenebrario (Carnation and Tenebrae Candle, 1979)

I Remember Nightfall, the first comprehensive collection of Uruguayan poet Marosa di Giorgio’s work to be published in English translation, is made up of her first four book-length poems: The History of Violets(1965); Magnolia (1968); The War of the Orchards (1971); and The Native Garden is in Flames (1975). Di Giorgio’s writing transforms everything it touches—a lily, a head, a hare, a ghost, a porcelain cup. All becomes beautifully and violently intertwined, dead and alive. Boundaries are blurred: an eagle drinks tea with a mother, a flower puts on the longest pearl necklace or kills you. Di Giorgio’s obsessive, magical gardens serve as a stage for the ongoing encounter of nature and the supernatural. These serial prose poems explore memory, family relationships, erotic desire, and war, animating a world that is always on the verge of explosion.

This is a bilingual edition, with cover art by Basil King.

Excerpt :

Oh, to return to the family property, to cross the field where the evening hydrangea lifts its head of smoke and feathers, its murmuring head, its hat of glass and turquoise, where the fierce mushroom appears, the toadstool of poisonous foam, to cross the fields sleeping with my eyes wide open, with my eyes closed, without making any mistake, without tripping over the brambles, the bonfires, the other beings who cross the field dreaming, toward that citadel always visible and lost, to go inside, to eat dinner, to sin furiously.
Unnumbered years, closed off like pastures, fog.

These new English-language collections by Marosa di Giorgio, long considered a major figure in Latin American literature, are the product of a great translator who has immersed herself, with thoughtfulness and dedication, in the life of a writer whose work is spooky, mystical, dangerous and magnificent. Everywhere in di Giorgio's work there are wars, crimes, monsters, possessed plants and animals, ghosts, illnesses and miracles animating a world that is always on the verge of explosion. In the later works, the unnamed presence of the brutal Uruguayan dictatorship lingers menacingly in di Giorgio's pastoral childhood gardens where the animals are going crazy, where the fruit is bubbling and murmuring, and where corpses noisily decompose in the ground. Di Giorgio's writing is as foreboding as it is tentacular, as intricate as it is unsettling. Jeannine Marie Pitas' ongoing and remarkable engagement with di Giorgio has brought us this exciting and valuable gift.Daniel Borzutzky

“Yesterday I learned the secret name of my house,” says Marosa di Giorgio at the end of this book, that “secret name” unfolding in the words of a druid-voice that wanders through the poems, suspicious that she’ll be soon devoured by her own inexhaustible imagination. To enter di Giorgio’s language is to give yourself to this sudden dissolution of reality. Jeannine Marie Pitas’ translation accurately follows this voracious and delicate rhythm.Lila Zemborain

Marosa di Giorgio's saturated necropastorals - at times mysterious, at times horrific, at times incredibly beautiful - are loaded with flowers. Flowers that may in fact kill. These remembered gardens seem to be entirely static in one moment, and then suddenly, startlingly turn volatile within the space of a sentence, switching between exoticism, nostalgia, violence, beauty and terror - and then back again. Few works have touched me as profoundly over the past decade as the translations of Marosa di Giorgio's poems. I'm so pleased to have another volume translated by Jeannine Marie Pitas, so that I can take it to all "the parties among the almonds and the bells."Johannes Goransson

Di Giorgio’s delicately extravagant poems loosely weave free verse and traditional Spanish meters to yield an unrestrained movement between the human and the animal, the overtly sensual and the intimately painful, the diaphanous underside of nature and the blunt cruelty of Uruguay’s military dictatorships.Anna Deeny

There’s a lot at stake here, namely the opportunity for a new generation of American poets to take di Giorgio as a model for wresting the “poetry of witness” away from humanism’s easy faith in testimony and remembering that the imagination is the organ of compassion.Farid Matuk

To read a poem by di Giorgio is to encounter the exquisite beauty of an exotic plant that may or may not prove lethal. [...] Di Giorgio is one who, like Blake, sees angels, explicitly and extravagantly. G.C. Waldrep

A rara avis of Latin American letters, Marosa di Giorgio (Salto, 1932-Montevideo, 2004) is best known for her prose poems. Infused with eroticism and populated by animal and vegetal life in constant transmutation, her writing renders the world anew—and easy prey to both hallucination and freedom. In I Remember Nightfall, translator Jeannine Marie Pitas has beautifully delivered di Giorgio´s vision—rather, her intimation: natural and supernatural creatures exchange secrets and yearnings here, by our side. As di Giorgio´s dirty and golden lions that first haunted and then entered the house of an obscure grandmother, her writing circles our lives, threatening and intriguing, with peculiar syntax and arresting beauty. - Cristina Rivera Garza

I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio (trans. From the Spanish by Jeannine Marie Pitas) is a bilingual poetry volume in four parts, consisting of the poems “The History of Violets,” “Magnolia,” “The War of the Orchards,” and “The Native Garden is in Flames.” Each of these prose poems is divided into numbered sections, and given its own page. While each poem has its own story and flavor, they all revolve around the relationship that gardens have with family, desire, memory, and war. Complex and possibly triggering themes exist in the text regarding love, family, and isolation. Visceral descriptions of violence, including murder, cannibalism, abuse, rape, and molestation are also prevalent.Both the original Spanish and the accompanying English translation are beautifully written, and although the themes within the text are at times highly disturbing, they are written in an enchanting style that pulls the reader into the fantastic world that di Giorgio created. Pitas’s translation brings the pain and beauty of the original into the English quite masterfully, and I spent many hours poring over both versions of the poems presented within the book.
“The History of Violets” is characterized by death, separation, and impermanence, intertwined with family and innocence. There is a recurring theme of recurrence, renewal, and change. Di Giorgio captures the cycles of life, using the language of nature and the logical nature of what feels like a young narrator to express feelings of loneliness, but also hope and expectation. In turn, the accompanying translation brings the poem into an anglophone context, and breathes life into the English poetry as a reflection of the Spanish original.
My perspective of the narrator of “The History of Violets” is that of a child who is interpreting life and death through the lens of imagination and interactions with the natural world. Reality is made supernatural to cope and understand the depth of human relationships as they begin and as they end. The narrator experiences a kind of sexual awakening and coming of age, which is tainted by a shiny veil concealing darkness.
One theme that persists throughout the collection is the smooth, dream-like quality to the poems. The narration is short and simple, but also flows in a way that appears to rapidly change subjects, while still connecting them in ways that one might not necessarily expect. The vivid images and bright colors of the poems hide some of the darker aspects of actions that are taken by the subjects of said poems. There is a certain and uncomfortable amount of violence in the prose, though it somehow remains enchanting, and keeps one inside the curious world that the narrator lives in, the shapes and shadows that haunt the garden.
The main theme present in “Magnolia,” “The War of the Orchards,” and “The Native Garden is in Flames” is the loss of innocence. The narrator in these poems is older than that of the first, and yet the poem also reads as a coming of age, as well as a sexual awakening. That this occurs in the context of violence and often violation is something that should be noted and something that I was not prepared for upon reading the text. There is a common theme of human to animal and animal to human transformation, as well as supernatural figures that are a mix of animal and human. Fairies and Angels are both featured in the text and are portrayed as both the instigator of conflict and that which appeases it. There is a sense that the narrator is the only person who sees things clearly, as other characters in the poem seem oblivious, indifferent, or malicious. The narrator seems to have very little agency throughout the course of the poems.
Overall, I consider I Remember Nightfall to be a fantastic collection, and one that I feel has changed my perspective on how violence can be portrayed in art. Violence in poetry can sometimes glorify or sugar-coat the acts presented; however, in these poems they exist sometimes in stark relief, and sometimes subtly, but never in a way that cloaks the horror of the events as they occur. - Talia Franks

This first comprehensive collection of English translations of Marosa di Giorgio’s poetry brings to the Anglophone-sphere an occult, surreal, and saturated poet from Uruguay. Jeannine Marie Pitas’ translations, and in-depth introduction, should, first and foremost, be applauded for what presents itself as an obvious labor of love for di Giorgio’s work. We should all be thankful for Pitas’ devotion to this poet, as that devotion in-turn translated itself into my own reading experience.
The title, I Remember Nightfall, captures the spirit of this collection, remembering the falling, not of sun, not of moon, but of night itself. Throughout the book are scattered memories that exist in the in-between times, the twilit mornings and evenings where shadows stretch, flowers begin to bloom, and imagination takes hold.  The book itself contains four of di Giorgio’s volumes – The History of Violets, Magnolia, The War of the Orchards, and The Native Garden is in Flames. These sections, taken from her writings of the 1960’s-70’s, contain twilit memories that find their linguistic path through a simple language structure and a calming repetition of scene. Memory itself is not necessarily reliable though, as there are dream-like injections of surrealism and pastoral plays between life and death, light and dark. In this remembrance are also the fallen human and inhuman figures that saturate di Giorgio’s poetry – trees, animals, mushrooms, mice, grandmothers, God. How else could night fall further than the sun, if it weren’t chasing reality from a garden, or into a bedroom?
And still, this is a violent place for us to be. Not a loud, obtrusive violence though, but a quiet, reserved disorder; there is an ambient terror that seeks its refuge in di Giorgio’s registers and syntax. “The gladiolus is a spear, its edge loaded with carnations, a knife of carnations. / … / That crazy lily is going to kill us.” (29) What are we to do, as readers, with these often, though not always, subtle and threatening undertones? How are we to be killed by flowers?
I would say stay still. Stay absolutely still in this affective place, and let the threats, anxieties, and terrors territorialize your reading. This is another magic of di Girogio’s work – her ability to create an affective sense of place, be it a garden, bedroom, dining room, cupboard. I often felt like I was about to be devoured by a giant snail, or else make love with God dressed as a bat at a wedding. These disturbances to reason, order, and memory make her poetic turns from scenery to action, and back again, simultaneously violent and sensual. The intuitive danger here also creates a sublime sensation, specifically in the garden and bedrooms, which makes me think of the strange meeting places in Joyelle McSweeney’s Necropastoral:
The Necropastoral is a strange meetingplace for the poet and death, or for the dead to meet the dead, or for the seemingly singular-bodied human to be revealed as part of an inhuman multiple body. It is a sublime site: a site of soaring flights and subterranean swoons.  It is also a strange meetingplace in the sense that diverse anachronistic poets meet in the Necropastoral, twinned in their imagery, motif, themes, spectacular strategies (Poetry Foundation, 2014).
In di Giorgio, Death and the Poet meet in twilit memories.
All of life and death was filled with tulle.
And on the altar of the gardens, the candles are steaming. Twilight’s animals pass by, their antlers covered with smoldering candles, and my grandfather and grandmother are there – my grandmother in her raffa dress, her crown of tine pinecones. The bride is covered completely in tulle; even her bones are tulle. (55)
There is also decadence – decadence in food, in life – which cause people to often associate di Giorgio with Baroque stylizations. Simplicity and exuberance, grandeur, excess – all revolving around life, and the sustainment of life – abound in Nightfall. There’s so much life happening in the twilight world of di Giorgio that Death is even welcome, given a seat at the table, and fed. Yet, how could Death possibly hope to eat its fill when such an abundance of life falls in crystals, jewels, and blood. Death cannot keep up, and the dead return to the living.
 … It seems to me that this is Epiphany Night.
A handful of stars fall down as if made of sugar. And all the garden and the firmament are filled with cakes covered in candles; there are sprinkles from east to west, tiny silver pearls from north to south.
My animals of long ago live again. The come from far away, from the world beyond, to bring me toys. (89)
The supernatural figures of Death, God, and Angels find homes, outside the Judeo-Christian canon, by losing the baggage of redemption, of other-worldly paradise. Instead they invade di Giorgio’s world to offer comfort, to terrify, or to be torn apart. God fights back against the abyss of a remembered nightfall. Speaking of God, she writes
Suddenly I saw him, blonde, smiling, carefree; I knelt down; my father’s steps became light and terrible. The butterflies hit my face, crunchy, dark, tasty as live, winged cookies. When I looked again, the other’s face had changed; he was hardly moving he was recoiling, stammering, but my father jumped out like a black cat from among the leaves and seized him by the veins (123)
God (Death?) is suddenly attacked by an anti-Oedipal father-cat figure. This is one instance of a violence that traumatizes, and this trauma is both physical and temporal. At other points, inhuman forms form from the human form. The speaker’s body becomes multi-pedal, broken, either by fingernail or by bone, in order to kill mice under a dinner table. The mother figure disappears/dies, the name of the father remains unuttered, and the smell of blood salivates the now Pavlovian pup of a reader. Is this not the trauma of memories that have been tortured by time and law?
Ultimately, for di Giorgio, true cruelty rests in order and reason, in restraint and conformity. “And then the white chick – almost a dove – flew from the trees to eat rice from my hands. She felt so real to me that I was going to kiss her. / But then, everything burst into flames and disappeared. God stows his things away safely.” (25)
As with any poet who has dedicated their life to the art, it is impossible to summarize the complexities of her work in the span of a book review. The ambient terror of di Giorgio’s poetry lives between abject affect and an object of effect. The law, symbolic or otherwise, is toyed with, teased, beaten and beating. Her poetics are also sublime – the terror and territories so vast, imaginative, real and surreal – they give the affective sense of place its sublime qualities. This often causes the identities of her subjects to fall apart, to become hidden, unknown, unknowable. The ambient terror and archaic twilit memories of I Remember Nightfall make this volume a necessary read for anyone interested in the occult power of spellbinding words. - Chris Muravez

The poems of Uruguayan writer Marosa di Giorgio (1932 – 2004) are luscious, dark and gorgeous — but they also leave the reader with a sickly taste, an effect similar to that following the rapid consumption of a bag of sticky sweets, gulped down one after another while in thrall to the violet sugar. Di Giorgio’s world deliberately provokes a very particular effect, one of simultaneous overdose and saccharinity, uneasiness and charm. Provokes is the word — for the saccharinity does not suggest gentleness, kindness, docility, generosity, or compassion, but precisely the reverse. In this domesticated decadence, sweetness always goes hand in hand with cruelty.
I Remember Nightfall is comprised of four of di Giorgio’s books from the 1960s and early 1970s: The History of Violets, Magnolia, The War of the Orchards, and The Native Garden is in Flames. In them, di Giorgio’s imagination is on full display as she creates imagery for its own sake with a limited set of words, combined and recombined in a faux-naive voice. Syrups, cakes, assassinations, strangers, thieves, sacrifices, cats, quinces, lovers, altars, roses, onions, eggs, wind, sugar, moon — you could almost write a parody of this poetry, juggling identical words into different arrangements. What makes di Giorgio’s poems work is precisely that they aren’t parodic, but (affectedly) sincere. Critics call her work ‘baroque’, but unlike other baroque writers, di Giorgio seems uninterested in linguistic fireworks. Her world is simple and repetitive, and although just as showy as the worlds of typically baroque writers, it is made up of basic components.
A child’s sense of strangeness permeates everything in this brutal, ecstatic poetry, written in solitude. A girl alone in the house will soon enter a world of her own as she plays with the cat, looks out the window, talks to the plants and invents stories to entertain herself. Unworried by the absence of company, she knows that the others will eventually return, and that she’ll be able to tell them (or not, as she prefers) what she’s been up to during the day. And so, she feels free to indulge in fears that might seem irrational to others, as well as eccentric delights that for most are hardly conceivable. The return of the others is the return of the “real world,” but in di Giorgio’s work, the others never come home — and so the girlish inventions spin on and on. The poems pay attention to the strange and sacred in everyday life, with household objects acting out magical roles: “The pages of the school textbook, alive in the air, the lobsters like scissors of silver paper, the desert wind loaded with perfume, my father’s horses galloping — always toward the south, the pale moon of the house, all the friends I didn’t have” (237).
But this little girl pose, so often the default tone of the female mystic, is not innocent. In spite of the simple vocabulary and sentence structure, one quickly discovers that di Giorgio delights in perversion, evil, secrets. “A huge curiosity came into my nails; I wanted to find out if I could kill; I sunk my nails into the back of one of the huge mice, and the smell of blood made me blissfully dizzy,” she writes (119). There is always a temptation or a threat, and sex or death is always waiting at the end of the poems (prose fragments, really). No one can trust anyone in this world of “perfumed masks,” and sweetness and horror co-exist or even overlap when “the peaches are like sinister rosebuds” (307, 41). Nothing ever just exists, or is simply neutral. The faux-naive voice is always waiting with petulance to recount a dark twist to the magic. There is great beauty in di Giorgio’s world, but also great nightmarishness.
The saccharine sweetness in di Giorgio’s work, like that of Silvina Ocampo or Hilda Hilst, requires a violent counterbalance. Sacrifice and incest abound in a far-from-innocent universe. The apocalyptic feel echoes a British line of poetry influenced by the Romantic tradition of Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Keats, and Shelley, and makes one question the relationship between the senses, imagination, and intellect. A phantasm between direct experience and ordered reason, existing in this purgatory by choice, di Giorgio’s work see-saws between horror and the sublime, or perhaps discovers a kind of sublime in the imagined horrors that can be told. The possibilities opened up in this shadow world of pre-reasoned creation can feel invigorating, but also claustrophobic. Things take place outside of a recognizable time and place, “somewhere within eternity,” in a kind of infinite version of the house where di Giorgio grew up: “It has always seemed unreal to me, the life of our house. Now, when I question mama, she refuses to tell me anything. Nevertheless, it all ended up written here. In the Book of Honey” (227, 233).
Animals behave in unexpected ways, changing shapes or possessing features such as flames or branches that go against nature. What never happened, or may one day happen, haunts the empty spaces:
Only us on the path; and in the air: the dogs, the years, and the moon. (229)
In the cupboard plums lie in their sugar syrup […] (231)
At that time — nightfall — the white flowers were roasted, made gold by their own perfume; you could almost eat them, they looked like little dough balls, candies. (233)
This eternal world is ultimately a stagnant world, and it is no accident that so many unnatural deaths occur — there is no other possible way out for the lives that throb in such a tiny space. This is a world that creates, but also kills.
The translator, Jeannine Marie Pitas, has previously worked on di Giorgio, and she lived for long periods in Uruguay to investigate the author’s work. Although di Giorgio’s simple vocabulary doesn’t always have an elegant English equivalent (i.e. masita as ‘little dough balls’), the bilingual edition of selected poems is generally devoted to drawing out the meaning and rhythm of the original. It’s possible that this deep engagement even ends up altering the poems in a manner more comfortable for English-language readers, shortening sentences, adding clarifying phrases, and adopting simplified punctuation where the original was complex or abstract. For example, Marie Pitas translates di Giorgio’s phrase,
Y por el jardín, un caballo, alto, negro, que parecía ya muerto, la abstracción de los caballos, iba y venía, con una diadema de rubíes bien ceñida, que centelleaba con el sol y en el rocío; y una voz dijo: “Esa es la guerra”; y nosotras lo mirábamos asombradas. (148)
And in the garden one tall, black horse—he looked like he was dead, the abstraction of a horse—ran back and forth with a crown of rubies fixed tightly on his head, shining in the sun and the dew, and a voice cried out, “This is war.” And we—the women—stared at him in shock. (149)
Here we see the sentence split up, the semicolons replaced by commas, the commas switched out in their turn for dashes, and — as occurs several other places within the text — a phrase added that does not appear in the original Spanish, namely, “the women.” These are possibly legitimate translation choices, but such cleaning-up does have the effect of making di Giorgio seem a much neater, more staccato writer in English.
What motivations lie behind the chaotic, sinister loveliness of di Giorgio’s invented worlds? Humor isn’t di Giorgio’s strength, but it would be a mistake to read her entirely seriously. As the translator writes in her endnotes, hers is arguably also a world of camp. A degree of irony exists in the kitsch and heavy use of diminutives, an irony that doesn’t quite manage to be comedy. Fair enough, but it does all make one crave earth and salt. My favorite phrase of di Giorgio’s has nothing to do with her abstractions of wind, sugar, and roses, but is simply the strange mention of “the farms of tomatoes and blue beans” (229). - Jessica Sequeira

Image result for Marosa di Giorgio, Jasmine for Clementina Medici,
Marosa di Giorgio, Jasmine for Clementina Medici,               

Trans by Peter Boyle, Vagabond Press, 2017.

In this extraordinary last book by Uruguayan poet Marosa di Giorgio poetic fragmentation, memories, nightmares and brief surreal sequences create a portrait of a mother, her daughter and the relationship between them stretching over a lifetime. Simultaneously evoking childhood and old age, tenderness and horror, di Giorgio gathers the sense of an entire life in its sadness and dignity. One of the great renovators of Uruguayan literature, through her bold experimentalism di Giorgio blurs lines between genres to deliver the raw immediacy of experience.

Jasmine for Clementina MEdici is the final book-length installment of Di Giorgio's opus, The Savage Papers. As such it is the culmination of a magnificent oeuvre. Long have we known of the great men of Latin American poetry, but this book is a powerful reminder that this vast, poetic landscape is populated by many great women as well: from Mistral to Bracho, from Pizarnik to Di Giorgio. This is a translation of major proportions. Indeed, Boyle could be Di Giorgio's ideal translator: like the Uruguayan's, so much of Boyle's own poetry is becoming increasingly marked by the trespass of generic boundaries, and the entwining of the living and the dreamed, of microscopic observation with philosophical enquiry, of syntactical play with a commitment to patient witness. -- Stuart Cooke

Marosa di Giorgio, The History of Violets, Trans. by Jeannine Marie Pitas, Ugly Duckling Presse, 2010.

"THE HISTORY OF VIOLETS is a collection of poems by Marosa di Giorgio, one of the most prominent Uruguayan poets of the twentieth century. Her unusual style, which attempts to recapture the magic of childhood while creating a new world populated by gods, angels, monsters, and the sublime presence of nature, has attracted much critical attention in Latin America. While some critics have categorized her as a surrealist, she herself denied membership in any literary movement or school. Although she was relatively unknown outside the Southern Cone, she is now becoming more and more widely read throughout Latin America and Europe."

"Originally published in 1965, The History of Violets (Historial de las violetas) twists the familiar face of a family farm, populating the fields and grounds with gods, monsters, and a whole "foamy army" of extras. Di Giorgio—whom Kent Johnson hails as "one of the most spectacular and strange Latin American poets of the past fifty years"—locks the natural and supernatural in a perilous dance, balancing humor and violence, beauty and danger, simple childhood memory and complex domestic drama. With disarming grace, these poems leave the reader swirling about, among the flowers, where no one is safe."

"There is no doubt at this point that Marosa di Giorgio is one of the greatest Latin American writers of the twentieth century. Her work, which cuts across all genres, has opened up new avenues for poetry and prose alike. Her incomparable world and style both come alive in this translation by Jeannine Marie Pitas. It was high time for American readers to have access to this and other precious jewels di Giorgio grew in her magnificent garden." —MERCEDES ROFFÉ

"Di Giorgio’s delicately extravagant poems loosely weave free verse and traditional Spanish meters to yield an unrestrained movement between the human and the animal, the overtly sensual and the intimately painful, the diaphanous underside of nature and the blunt cruelty of Uruguay’s military dictatorships." —ANNA DEENEY

"Drawn by memory, the narrator advances through the realm of childhood, unearthing from the family orchard in the deep Uruguayan countryside a perplexing landscape of becomings…. It is not strictly the sinister that speaks in these startling texts, but the condensation of the marvelous and the sinister, skillfully noted between dashes, like perfume in a bottle." —LILA ZEMBORAIN

"There’s a lot at stake here, namely the opportunity for a new generation of American poets to take di Giorgio as a model for wresting the “poetry of witness” away from humanism’s easy faith in testimony and remembering that the imagination is the organ of compassion." —FARID MATUK

"Me acuerdo del atardecer y de tu alcoba abierta ya, por donde ya penetreban los vecinos y los ángeles. Y las nubes— de las tardes de noviembre—que giraban por el suelo, que rodaban. Los arbolitos argados de jazmines, de palomas y gotas de agua. Aquel repiqueteo, aquel gorjeo, en al atardecer.
Y la mañana siguiente, con angelillas muertas por todos lados, parecidas a pájaros de papel, a bellísimas cáscaras de huevo.
Te deslumbrador fallecimiento.
[I remember nightfall and your room’s open door, the door through which neighbors and angels came in. And the clouds—november evening clouds, drifting in circles over the land. The little trees burdened with jasmine, with doves and droplets of water. That joyous pealing, endless chirping—every evening the same.
And then the next morning, with its tiny dead angels strewn everywhere like paper birds, or the most exquisite of eggshells.
Your dazzling death. – trans. Jeannine Marie Pitas]
Marosa DiGiorgio’s booklength sequence, Historial de Las Violetas (published in Jeannine Marie Pitas’s English translations as The History of Violets), begins with a dazzling death – or does it? The event of the death is not portrayed in this opening salvo, but is somehow folded up into the dazzling white cloth, the white space that separates the first and second stanza. We don’t see Death’s entrance, but, arriving at that killer last line, we read the entire spray of langauge that has proceeded it as Death’s array, Death’s radical penetration into every crevice, leaf and shell of the conventionally enclosed spaces of both childhood memory and the childhood garden. Rather than seclusion, penetration is everywhere, the door is open, the neighbors and angels come and go, the trees are “burdened with jasmine, doves, and droplets of water,” and the tiny dead angels are strewn around. In the Spanish, Death’s lilting ‘l’ sounds are planted everywhere like poison lilies. Death’s implacable, impalpable spectre comes into the space of the poem and turns all intimacy, domesticity and nature to its spectacular ends. It makes a dazzling body for itself through spectacle.
In some ways, Di Giorgio’s speaker, penetrating the scene everywhere with her memory,and thereby constructing it, is Death’s novitiate, copying and producing Death’s spectacles with the same domestic materials, producing/reproducing Death’s porous and delicate and terrible and dazzling scenes.
I learned of Marosa Di Giorgio through the excellent and diverse selection in Hotel Lautremont: Contemporary Poetry from Uruguay, translated by Pitas, Susan Briante, and Anna Deeny, a selection which makes me greedy for each of Di Giorgio’s 15 books of poetry to come into English. For now, English readers have only History of Violets, but that is no meagre feast. This work of prose poetry looks delicate, but as one sets foot in its damp grass one feels a wire snare tightening around ones ankle, as the gorgeous landscape turns out to be in fact engorged in violence, constructed of many little sites of death:
The gladiolus is a spear, its edge loaded with carnations, a knife of carnations. It jumps through the window, kneels on the table; it’s a vagrant flame, burning up our papers, our dresses. Mother swears that a dead man has risen; she mentions her father and mother and starts to cry.
The pink gladiolus opened up in our house.
But scare it, tell it to go.
That crazy lily is going to kill us.
The prose poem seems the perfect vehicle for this vision of seductive, opening, radiant Death, a Death which weaponizes the innocuous and sends its angels down in larval swarms. The electric, hyperfloral force of the ‘gladiolus’ makes it a spear and a knife, but also a flame, something that can flex and penetrate. Di Giorgio deploys a Catholic mobility of imagery; the bodily tenacity of saints with their incorruptibilty and heavenly odors are here turned as a weapon against the family. Event itself has a frightening and uncertain status in these poems; like the gladiolus, it opens up again and again, not just once, and sometimes not at all in any detectible way, except that it leaves dead angels scattered around like pollen or eggs. Event itself might be analogous to Death, travelling the same distribution channel for celestial special effects, and similarly smiting down the tiny beings who cannot withstand such Immanence. Death might be the only Event, and every Event Death. It is for this Event that the tableaux/altars/stages/masques of these poems are mounted and dismantled, staged and restaged.
I understand a selected edition of Marosa Di Giorgio’s work is forthcoming from BOA editions in 2013. While I will anticipate and devour it hungrily, I am grateful for Jeannine Marie Pitas’s work translating History of Violets and to Ugly Duckling Presse for publishing it. I am very desirous of these singular volumes each to be translated and published, to work upon me its fatal interventions, its thorned language of flowers." - Joyelle McSweeney

"Born in Salto, Uruguay, in 1932, Marosa di Giorgio was one of the most prominent poets of her generation, and yet The History of Violets, originally published in 1965, is the first full-length work of her poetry to appear in English. One oft-cited statistic states that only 3% of the books published in the United States are in translation, but even so, it is surprising that a celebrated poet with nearly twenty published collections could remain unknown to Americans for so long.
The sequence of 35 prose poems that makes up The History of Violets teems with flowers, pearls, eggs, potatoes, onions, olives, and grapes, and the setting—which we can gather from the introduction is based on the farm where the author was raised—is as fertile a place for memory and imagination as it is for flora and verdure. The poems are filled with sensory descriptions; we don’t just see things, we feel and smell hear them:
That summer the grapes were blue—each one big, smooth, without facets—they were totally strange, fabulous, shining with an awful blue brilliance. On the paths through the vines you could hear them, growing with a deep, outrageous murmur.
And in the air there was always the perfume of violets.
Even the plants which were not grapevines bore fruit.
The similes Di Giorgio uses throughout this collection never stray from the sequence’s framework of vegetal and botanical growth: “the peaches are like sinister rosebuds,” the “tomato like a carnivalesque orange,” and the daisies “like golden rice.” While it can sometimes grow tiresome to read, it is impressive that Di Giorgio has come up with so many unique descriptions within this limited lexicon, and the incessant repetition and reorganization is effective in creating a feeling of overwhelming abundance.
Di Giorgio’s poems are replete with fairies, butterflies, and angels, but there is little whimsical or precious about them. What initially seems an idyllic garden becomes much more complex as the sequence moves forward; a darker presence is lurking in the vegetable patch, and even the mushrooms sprout from corpses (“I do not dare to eat them; that most tender meat is our relative”). Among the ominous adult figures of druids, ghosts, and thieves, not even the flowers are safe:
The gladiolus is a spear, its edge loaded with carnations, a knife of carnations. It jumps through the window, kneels on the table; it’s a vagrant flame, burning up our papers, our dresses... That crazy lily is going to kill us.
Death is continually present in these poems, but it is described from a child’s perspective and it is not always clear who has died or under what circumstances. In the first poem, the speaker remembers “your dazzling death,” but we do not know to whom she speaks. When, one night, a rabbit is shot in the potato patch, the poem’s speaker becomes the hare, experiences its pain, remembers its memories—as if the child’s imagining of the rabbit’s experience has become one of her own recollections. Nearer the end of the sequence, the speaker’s sister is taken away by “the god”—“with his long braids, his woolen cloak, his colossal wooden staff.” Here we also see the strange, childlike blending of pagan mythology and Catholic iconography, which occurs throughout the collection:
And the virgin is there, painted in the sky... And an angel—so tiny—appears beside her forehead, gleams for an instant, disappears, shines again. Suddenly, he hurls himself to the ground, runs through the grove of trees, steps into the house, leans over my apple pie, stares at me.
In her memory, it seems, she is unable to distinguish between imagination and reality, making her recollection of death bizarre and difficult to fully comprehend.
While other translations of Marosa di Giorgio’s poems have appeared in anthologies of Uruguayan poetry—and more will appear in a new anthology, Hotel Lautréamont, forthcoming from Shearsman in October—The History of Violets gives us a more extensive and seductive glimpse at her work than we have seen thus far. Jeannine Marie Pitas has done a commendable job of bringing these odd and sensual poems into English. Translation, of course, is subjective—there is never one definitive way of carrying a poem from one language to another. And while the original Spanish text is slightly weirder and more vague than its English counterpart, The History of Violets is a lovely collection of poems in English and a testament to the translator’s own strong, poetic voice." - L. Greenwife

"I. I Remember Murder and Incest
"When I look toward the past," writes Uruguayan poet Marosa di Giorgio, in the 2nd of the 35 interconnected prose poems that make up The History of Violets, "I only see perplexing things: sugar, jasmine, white wine, black wine, the strange country school I attended for four years, murders, weddings among the orange blossoms, incestuous couplings." Later, in the very last poem in the book, the memories continue: "I remember the white, folded cabbages...and the tall blue church...and the gnome asparagus, turrets of the kingdom of gnomes...and the snakes with their long, orange wings." Finally, she concludes: "I remember eternity." I start with these sentences because they offer a synthesis of entry ways into di Giorgio's writing: monster and memory and the monstrousness of memory and the monstrousness of nature and the peacefulness of the pastoral that at any moment can be disrupted by gnomes or mutants or murders.
The History of Violets, originally published in 1965, can be read as an extended novelistic narrative from the point of view of a first-person narrator, the child of a wealthy, land-owning rural family whose property is over-run with magical and monstrous flowers and plants and fruits and vegetables. For example, the 6th poem in the sequence is devoted to grapes. They are "totally strange, fabulous, shining with an awful blue brilliance. On the paths through the vines you could hear them, growing with a deep, outrageous murmur...A big, rough blue bunch even emerged from the wardrobe—ancient wood—and lasted forever, like a poet." An outrageous murmur. Note this phrase's combination of excess and restraint. The image here is important, but it is not a deep image; it is a light one. The adjective, "outrageous," stands on its own. We don't learn what makes the murmur outrageous. And isn't a murmur a restrained sound to begin with? Some writers would describe the murmur in detail, thinking that if one were to believe in the outrageousness of this murmur then we would need evidence of its {textual} excess. However, di Giorgio's approach is to trust in the stand-alone power of the word to induce words and images not on the page but in the mind of the reader. Perhaps the murmur might be more of a growl or a hiss or a vibration or some incommunicable form of energy bursting out of the grapes (if you listen hard enough, you can hear the grapes grow!) that has some connection to the looming violence of the landscape? I remember the Fruit of the Loom guys as I write this, though at other times I remember Little Shop of Horrors, as in the 11th poem which is about psychotic flowers and their discontents:
The gladiolus is a spear, its edge loaded with carnations, a knife of carnations. It jumps through the window, kneels on the table; it is a vagrant flame, burning up our papers, our dresses. Mother swears that a dead man has risen; she mentions her father and mother and starts to cry. The pink gladiolus opened up in our house. But scare it, tell it to go. That crazy lily is going to kill us.
In this last line, "That crazy lily is going to kill us," we see the very good translator, Jeannine Marie Pitas, grappling with not just the content but also the sound of the poem. The original line is: "Esa loca azucena nos va a asesinar." Note the repetition of "a" sounds and, more interestingly, the structural parallelism: the four syllable pairings in "esa loca/azucena" that forms the poem's rhythm. The English, in complement, offers a repetition of "eee" and "o" sounds and by including only one and two syllable words the rhythmic effect nicely mimics the original. It is these small moves that a translator makes that go largely unnoticed and yet they determine so much of what and how we read. Something similar can be seen in the book's 9th poem, which in Spanish ends: "Dios tiene sus cosas bien guardadas." Pitas translates this as: "God stows his things away safely." A more literal translation would be: "God keeps his things nicely put away." The choice of "stows" here skillfully evokes the "s" and "t" and "o" sounds in "Dios tiene sus cosas." "Stows" is certainly not an obvious choice here, and sonically speaking it is a good one.
But let's return to the notion of memory. Contemporary American readers may associate the "I Remember" lines with Joe Brainard's I Remember (originally published in 1970), a sentence-by-sentence chronicling of Brainard's memories, each of which begin with the words "I remember." Brainard's project is to present memory as poetry, to try to use a simple formula to make us aware of just how rich memory can be, and of how the mere act of writing these simple terms—I remember—can awaken a collection of life experiences which are at once mundane and unsettlingly beautiful. Similarly, di Giorgio frames the narrator's memories with the strategies of narrative realism, and they are often presented through the filter of nature; sometimes the narrator speaks of her life in the past tense, and other times in the present. However, if Brainard's project is to make memory, and the mere act of remembering, magical, then by contrast di Giorgio's project is to demonstrate that in the everyday events of country life there is mutation, decomposition, death, nightmare, imagination and horror:
The mushrooms are born in silence; some of them are born in silence, others with a brief shriek, a soft thunder...Each one bears—and this is what's awful—the initials of the corpse it comes from...But, come afternoon the mushroom buyer arrives and starts picking...My mother does not realize that she is selling her race.
It's useful to linger a moment on the image of a mushroom—one you cook with—originating from a dead body and even containing writing—in the form of ownership-signifying initials. The narrator's relatives are fungi, moldy, earthy, tasty little creatures to be destroyed by spiritual forces beyond her understanding. The past (written here in the present tense) is both reality and dream. The dreams are wonders and horrors that are completely and fundamentally intertwined. Nature frames the subjectivity of the narrator's psychic life, yet one doesn't get the sense that di Giorgio has a spiritual interest in its stillness, its permanence. On the contrary, in her poems country peace is continuously interrupted and infused by, among other things, "deformed, circular birds"; "murderers and thieves who will strip us of everything"; and 'the dark of heads of thieves that appear among the trees.' Elsewhere there are fragrant flowers that assault; a god to whom family members are sacrificed; heads that suddenly burst into flames; and men who fire bullets into the narrator. Describing the 'events' of the book makes it sound ornamented and macabre. Remarkably, though, that's not the effect. If there's hyperbole, it is controlled. If there's gruesomeness, it is lyrical, as in: "the turkey—beheaded an hour ago, its jewel-like head who knows where—strutting, preening because it drank up all the nuts and a hyacinth of rum."
In this book the awfulness of life is precisely what makes it magical.
II. As Uruguayan as Apple Pie
The easiest thing for a poet or a translator or a critic to do to a work in translation is to take it apart and find fault with seemingly odd word choices that the translator has made in the service of her craft (as a reviewer I've been guilty of this, and as a translator I've made my share of embarrassing mistakes). And such nit-pickery can even be fun. Remember 1999? Who among us didn't have to sit through a dinner party where someone had something to say about William Gass' decision to begin the Duino Elegies (there are over twenty English translations) with the lines: "Every angel is awesome," to which Marjorie Perloff responded by writing: "Was Gass aware, one wonders, that in our current argot, 'awesome' is equivalent to 'fabulous' or 'out of this world,' as in 'That dress is awesome.'" Perloff is undoubtedly a smart critic; however I question her assumption that Gass, an equally astute thinker, was not aware of what he was doing and that he thus had little control over his ideas and choices. And though I haven't read the entire Gass translation of the Duino Elegies, I think that Perloff's objection here is more about context than content (though separating the two is not so simple). In other words, "awesome," as in "awesome dude!" appears to have no place in Perloff's vision of Rilke's idiom. But without entering too far into the realm of judging the "awesome" on the good/bad spectrum, let me suggest that I find "awesome" to be interesting perhaps for the same reason that Perloff objects. It's out of place. It's cross-contextual. It's trans-historical and I'd even say it represents an interesting take on the trans-national. That is, Gass' "awesome" situates Rilke's Elegies in a Wayne's World cosmos. It's goofy because it mixes rhetorics. It's surprising because it brings a particularly late 20th century American goofiness to Rilke's early 20th century Central European goofiness.
I digress.
But before I nitpick let me reiterate that I think Jeanine Marie Pitas does an excellent job translating di Giorgio, and she should be commended for bringing us the work of such a strange and wonderful poet, and for translating her poems with intricate attention to the thorny questions of content, sound and their inevitable interminglings.
Which brings us to apple pie.
There are two occasions in The History of Violets (the 3rd and 31st poems) where Pitas, to my mind, makes a Gass-like "awesome" move by translating the Spanish phrase "pastel/pasteles de manzanas" as "apple pie":
"Suddenly, {an angel} hurls himself to the ground, runs through the grove of trees, steps into the house, leans over my apple pie, stares at me." And: "It was the lovely hour, the hour of smoke, of red wax candles, the time when every grandmother was stepping sweetly around an apple pie."
I've never been to Uruguay, but I've spent lots of time in Chile, and in the process of writing this essay I've consulted Uruguayans and done some research on Southern Cone baking, and I'm pretty certain that what they are eating in these passages is not what North Americans would consider apple pie. Instead, I think it is more like an apple turnover or maybe a soft, apple cake (not doughy and crusty but rather light and flaky—"spongy," was the surprising suggestion of one Uruguayan correspondent—and with a greater fruit-to-flour ratio than what we'd expect from a pie). Unlike Perloff on Gass, though, I'm going to assume here that Pitas knows what she's doing when she uses the word "pie" instead of "cake" or "turnover." And I think it is an odd and surprisingly compelling choice which exemplifies the inevitable and productive awkwardness of the trans-cultural, transnational, trans-contextual and trans-historical clashes that occur in an act of translation. By which I mean to say that apple pie is clearly a loaded symbol in the United States. Thus to pluck it into a rural Uruguayan setting is to assert that one of the pleasures of translation is the way in which linguistic and cultural contexts get confused, intermingled and cross-contaminated.
The translation, as an immigrant to a dominant culture, must attempt to assert its identity into a world that could mostly care less about its existence. But the translator is also inevitably nationalizing the original text with a new language. In this sense, "apple pie" and "awesome" serve to make us aware of just how awkward the act of translation can be; they make us aware of the translator by pulling her out of the invisibility that Lawrence Venuti has correctly identified as the assumed cultural position that the translator is expected to occupy. Critics will label these choices as clunky or out of place, though perhaps that's precisely the point.
III. The Package
Speaking of context: writer and translator Johannes Göransson, on the group blog Montevidayo, has often referred to the distrust by which the gringo literati views translation. He writes:
"There's a deep suspicion about translated texts: How do we know that they're real? How do we know that the translation is correct? How do we know that they deserve to be translated? How do we know that they're good? That they're not a hoax?"
This suspicion, which I believe Göransson is correct to identify, and to link within the larger frame of xenophobia in the publishing word, contributes to another very real problem for the translator. The translation is thus born suspect, and as I've written about elsewhere, one problem for the translator is how to acknowledge what a native reader of the work might take for granted, and this becomes especially tricky when the writer is well known to readers in her native country but completely unknown to readers in the target language. In this case, it is difficult to know how much to discuss a poet's literary influences, her upbringing and surroundings, her critical reception and her personal life. Any statements the translator makes about the work will become "authoritative" since no one else in the target language is writing about her. Writing about Cuban literature in particular, I commented that "such contextualizing is valuable for the same reason that it is dangerous: it often embeds the work with critical, cultural, or political stances that might not be obvious to a foreign reader. Without the translator's critical commentaries, then, the trip through this foreign land might be hard to understand. But on the other hand, the didactic translator risks intruding too far into whatever relationship a reader might 'naturally' strike up with the text."
The History of Violets is a good test case for this problem, and the translator and publisher take a very detailed approach to contextualizing the work of the author. The book begins with an "Introduction" that fuses biographical information with critics' interpretations; the Introduction ends with literary lineages (her affinities to Dylan Thomas, Emily Dickinson and Lewis Carroll), and the author's own view that the writing is reminiscent of Wordsworth and Blake and the Romantics, though to my surprise there is no mention of other Latin American writers, of surrealists, of Rene Char or other French prose poets. And in all this background I hear the questions that Göransson sheds light on and criticizes. In other words, the introduction makes sure that we understand that this is an important writer who deserves to be translated; she's not just an invented hoax whose esteem cannot be verified. On the one hand. On another hand, I hear a response to Venuti, who uses the term "invisibility to describe the translator's situation and activity in contemporary American culture." Venuti, of course, wants to reject this invisibility; he refers to it as a form of "self-annihilation" that 'reinforces translation's marginal status in Anglo-American culture.' In The History of Violets, the presence of the translator is certainly strongly asserted.
I highlight these two ideas that Göransson and Venuti isolate in order to show just how difficult it is to navigate the expectations that are placed upon works of translation. As Göransson calls our attention to, it is expected that the translation must justify its existence with external bells and whistles in order to break into the world of English-language publishing. However, as Venuti discusses, it is also expected that the translation remain in the background, as a translated work is valued most when it is smooth and natural and when we cannot notice that we are actually reading a translation. Interestingly, I think Pitas is addressing both of these concerns by discussing: 1) di Giorgio's lineages and her critical acclaim; and 2) the process she undertook to complete the translation.
After the "Introduction" comes a "Translator's Note" which details the commitment and rigor that Pitas has shown to the work: she moved to di Giorgio's hometown of Salto so that she could learn as much as possible about the author and her surroundings, and we learn about some of the mechanical issues she dealt with that were specific to di Giorgio's writing. Then there is an "Acknowledgments" page, which includes several paragraphs of thanks to all of the people, both in Uruguay and in the U.S. who contributed to the presentation and publication of the work.

Finally, the book concludes with "Notes on the Poems" that again serve to contextualize by providing both biographical information as well as readings by critics who have written about di Giorgio. A few of these notes helpfully clarify odd terminology, such as "Aigrettes" and "Teru-terus." But some of these notes, to my taste at least, provide interpretive stances that I would rather come to on my own, as in: "I interpret this shift in verb tense as signifying the changing dynamic between the act of remembering and an immersion into the consciousness of the past;" or: "According to {critic Leonardo} Garet, this poem..."reveals the author's limitless compassion."
There are of course no rules to govern how much or how little translators and publishers should say about the work they are presenting, and what is intrusive to one reader may be helpful to another, and there is certainly a lot of useful information provided in the book to contextualize di Giorgio and her writing. Nevertheless, it is worth noting here the extent to which poetry in translation is treated differently from English-language poetry. It would be considered ostentatious and illogical if, say, Rae Armantrout's or John Ashbery's next collection of poems included sentence-level explanations. It's notable that literary culture both expects demonstrations of authenticity and validity (as Göransson highlights) along with the silence of the translator (as Venuti highlights). Pitas concludes the "Introduction" by urging the reader to 'bear in mind that her translation is only one of many possible readings.' That she works so hard to frame and contextualize this reading is an indication of her obvious dedication to the writing as well as an illustration of the balancing act facing translators and publishers who seek to bring an unknown author into our weird, xenophobic marketplace.
I don't have the one-size-fits all answer to how to address this context problem, which may ultimately be about training the audience to apply fair expectations to works in translation. But that this training even needs to take place speaks to the uncomfortable outsideness—the state of neurotic exile—that translation has always occupied.
Having said all of this, the poems in The History of Violets are tremendous, and as a whole this book is a great introduction to di Giorgio. I hope we see more of her work in translation so that we can begin to form these contextual associations on our own." - Daniel Borzutzky

"One of the many impressive effects of Marosa Di Giorgio’s THE HISTORY OF VIOLETS is the compression of time and space. If there was a landscape from which these poems took off—as is described to be the poet’s family farm in Salto, Uruguay(1) in the useful Introduction by translator Jeannine Marie Pitas(2)—it is a landscape that effortlessly transcended geography to become the universe. Among other things, this results in lovely and pleasingly-surprising phantasmagoric results, as in section XIII
They always had the reddest harvest, sparkling grapes. Sometimes at noon, when the sun gets us drunk—otherwise we wouldn’t dare—my mother and I walked hand in hand along the paths through the orchard, up to the nearly invisible line, up to the monks’ vines. Each vine raised its lantern of grapes; each was like a ruby without facets, with a spark inside. They stood here and there in their black or red robes, absorbed in contemplation, and they seemed to be scrutinizing miniature stamps, great paintings, or else meditating intensely on the Saint of those parts. Hearing our approach, one turned toward us with a stare like a gold or silver arrow. And we fled, never to return, trembling beneath the immense sun.
or, from section V
I barely knocked on the door; inside, I was met by the grass, loneliness.
Well, yes, in this reader’s mind-eye, grass suddenly becomes an apt symbol for loneliness—that lawn where each blade stands surrounded by others, say, but where each blade stands concurrently by itself shooting forth from ground rather than entwined with others. And look at that above sentence again—how grass is “inside” rather than, say, outside some dwelling, bespeaking the collapse of space.
I’m moved to take this effect further—that is, what these poems offer seems to me to be that indigenized space where one becomes the other, where one becomes the many, and does so across all time. And in certain cultures (the Native-American or Filipino cultures, for example), such indigenized space is specifically rooted in nature. Thus, as one reads through the book, easily tipped into these poems’ indigenized version of the world, one finds realistic such references like
The gladiolus is a spear
And since a spear can bear edges, the sentence continues seamlessly into
its edge loaded with carnations
to become ultimately, all within the same sentence,
a knife of carnations. (35)
There are many such resonant, often sensuous, examples of instantaneous transformations throughout the book, compelling for their surprises, mysteries—this is a reading where perhaps the only thing that can not fit is boredom! And yet, even as I look over the first draft of this review and observe my joy over the so-alive! language of the poems, joy wasn’t what surfaced during my actual reading. Instead, I felt a deep desire mixed with a sense of foreboding, of something sinister, of something perhaps not totally dark but certainly shadowy. I believe this impression is generated from how the fantabulousness delivered by these poems are heightened further by an acceptance of death’s inevitability.
But isn’t that what gardens—gardening!—emphasizes so much? That things are birthed and grow, yes, but that they also will decay and die? I feel this book is brilliant because it accepts the inevitability of death without conceding the proactive nature of living as the verb relishing. It achieves this—and it is an achievement—partly by treasuring memory, by treating history as also a source of joy. Here’s the ending section—doesn’t it make you pause and feel … alive!
I remember the white, folded cabbages—white roses of the earth, of the gardens—cabbages of marble, of most delicate porcelain; cabbages holding their children inside.
And the tall blue chard.
And the tomato, a kidney of rubies.
And the onions wrapped in silky paper, rolling paper, like bombs of sugar, salt, alcohol.
And the gnome asparagus, turrets of the kingdom of gnomes.
I remember the potatoes, and the tulips we always planted among them.
And the snakes with their long, orange wings.
And the tobacco of the fireflies, who smoked without ceasing.
I remember eternity." - Eileen Tabios

"The History of Violets is a book to read at dusk, when the light changes, the room darkens and the boundaries between day and night, real and fantastic, seem permeable. First published in Spanish in 1965, Uruguayan poet Marosa di Giorgio's collection of short prose poems, as translated into English by Jeannine Marie Pitas, is a voyage into a garden world populated not only by exquisite flowers and hearty vegetables, but also angels, underground creatures and rabbits, figures both tragic and destructive. Throughout the book, we follow a family living by the garden, whose house is often invaded by its denizens, whether it is the insistent angels or the crazy gladioli. Di Giorgio's own particular brand of magical realism and gift for compelling description ease us into this world where the erotic pulse of creation in the garden is counterbalanced by an undercurrent of death and destruction.
Di Giorgio writes, “When I look toward the past, I only see perplexing things: sugar, jasmine, white wine, black wine, the strange country school I attended for four years, murders, weddings among the orange blossoms, incestuous couplings.” Does the protagonist, remembering her childhood, invent this fantastical world, or do the precision of her memories indicate true experiences? Perhaps instead, it is the act of remembering that renders the past magical. Regardless, through her, we experience a peculiar connection to the garden. She seems to understand the garden more than her parents. In “XV,” the speaker is disturbed when her mother allows a buyer to pick mushrooms from the garden. She sees that the mushrooms grow from corpses, are products of their dead relatives: “My mother does not realize that she is selling her race.” Though the narrator's age is indeterminate—“I am always the same child in the shadow of my father's peach trees,” she seems to be on the cusp of her sexual awakening. She watches the cycle of creation in the garden with elation that turns to shame and embarrassment when Mother arrives to tap her on the shoulder (“IV”).
It is unclear whether this “Mother” is the narrator's corporeal mother or if it refers to the Virgin Mary. The History of Violets is full of rather unusual religious imagery. The angels that infest the garden more closely resemble slightly malicious fairies than the traditional Christian angels we usually see. At one point, they drive the narrator and her mother from the house, having stolen their sweet things (honey, sugar, apples) and behaved so mischievously that her mother cannot stand it any longer (“XXX”). Yet these egg-laying angels are explicitly linked to the Virgin and God. An unconventional view of God emerges in the garden, earthy and indifferent, always near.
This type of dynamic, between the humans and their God, seems to fit perfectly with the other interactions in the garden. As beautiful as the inhabitants of the garden are, undercurrents of violence and consumption are always present: “From all directions came butterflies—the most absurd, the most unusual—from the four cardinal points came the forest roosters with their wide wings, their heads of pure gold. (My father dared to kill a few of them and got rich.)” The somewhat sinister underground creatures who attack “the best violet, the one with a grain of salt,” are in turn eaten by the family: “One time, my mother decided to trap one; she killed her, skinned her and put her in the middle of the night, of the meal. And that creature retained a bit of life, an almost unreal death […] We gulped her down, and she was almost alive.” In the same way, the figure of a rabbit first appears as a foreshadowing of violence, of a girl (standing in for a garden plant, perhaps) being attacked and eaten, but it is later the subject of tragedy. The narrator becomes a rabbit, caught and killed by the “guardian of the potatoes.”
The History of Violets is a fascinating blend of beautiful description and disturbing narrative. Di Giorgio's style emerges as precise and haunting in Pitas's skilled translation. The world she creates, with its daisies like “golden rice,” pink gladiolus that will kill, flocks of angels with “wax faces, blue eyes,” and underground creatures with “smooth alabaster faces,” is engrossing and seductively real. As an English-speaking reader, I am grateful to Jeannine Marie Pitas for this opportunity to experience di Giorgio's unique, beautifully-wrought poetry." - Stephanie Burns

"Ugly Duckling Presse has just published a translation of Uruguayan poet Marosa di Giorgio’s 1965 book, The History of Violets. The press’s website, which has not-to-be-missed audio clips of the author reading her work in the original Spanish, bears quotes from Kent Johnson and the Argentine poet Mercedes Roffé citing di Giorgio as one of the most important and “spectacular” Latin American poets of—if not the 20th century—then at least of the past 50 years. Despite this fact, Jeannine Marie Pitas’ UDP translation, which includes both the English and Spanish texts, is the only one of di Giorgio’s 18 books that is in print in English.
A visionary poet, di Giorgio gives physical form to what does not tangibly reveal itself to the senses: the past (the book both begins and ends with poems starting “I remember…” and often focuses on childhood), dead ancestors, the spiritual. With the use of vegetal imagery, angels, monsters, dream, and myth these forces become embodied. For example, in poem “XV” (all 35 poems are titled with roman numerals), mushrooms bear “the initials of the corpse” they come from. The poem ends with the arrival of a mushroom buyer: “My mother gives him permission. He chooses like an eagle. This one white as sugar, a pink one, a gray one. My mother does not realize that she is selling her race.”
However enticingly psychotropic, such surreal angling is not the primary element that makes The History of Violets of interest. The work’s merit resides in the craft that yokes the terrifying and pretty fantasies with an arc that advances the reader’s experience of the supernatural through the book’s poems. As such, di Giorgio not only offers an eccentric view of the world, but enacts an epistemology for arriving there by moving us from descriptions of a reality we can apprehend as literally based—to fantastic narrative. And in this respect, the hybrid in-between of the prose poem makes it the perfect form for this journey.
The book begins with the shortest prose poems often anchored in description of tangible, everyday things and works its way outwards towards visionary experience. For example, “II” includes nothing supernatural, but sets up both the fantastic imagery that will appear in the later poems, and one of the primary tactics that will be employed to launch the poems away from literal description into the extra-ordinary:
When I look toward the past, I only see perplexing things: sugar, jasmine, white wine, black wine, the strange country school I attended for four years, murders, weddings among the orange blossoms, incestuous couplings.
That towering old woman who walked by our orange trees one night with her long white gown, her hair in a bun. The butterflies that left us when they flew off to chase her.
From a speaker raised in the countryside in the mid-twentieth century Uruguay there is nothing remarkably strange about the list of things di Giorgio ascribes to her past. There isn’t even anything remarkable about the appearance of the “towering old woman.” However, the poem employs a tactic that I’ve come to call the “And suddenly—” maneuver, for many of the early poems in the book include a trigger phrase (“and suddenly” or “and then”) or the unexpected appearance of a figure (as in “II”) to catapult the poem from one state of affairs to another. Although nothing overtly supernatural happens, we are led to know that significant changes ensue after the appearance of the woman: the butterflies leave, marking the gap in the poem from the way things were to the way things are, thus pointing to shifts in experience that are always already there when the present moves into the past.
As we progress deeper into the book, di Giorgio transports us further into the supernatural by heightening a second tactic, that of simile. This tactic is most pronounced in the very middle of the book, in poems “XIX” and “XX,” which almost entirely depend on figurative yoking for their substance and movement. Poem “XIX” begins:
Beyond the land, through the air, in the full moon’s light, like a lily’s stem, it loads its side incessantly with hyacinths, narcissi, white lilies. The wolves draw back at the sight of it; the lambs get down on their knees, crazy with love and fear. It moves on, goes off like an errant candelabra, a bonfire; it goes towards the house, passes the cabinet, the hearth; with only a glance it burns the apples, illuminates them, wraps them in candied paper; it flings colored stones into the rice; it makes the bread and pears glow…
Here di Giorgio not only focuses on the intangible substance of moonlight, but hi-lights the movement of the moon in all of its shape-shifting glory. The piling up of verb and figure speaks to the gap between language and vision as well as a sense of continuous experience that cannot be encapsulated by nouns. The poems work to pry apart experience, seeing a world, so to speak, in a grain of sand.
In the last twelve poems of the book di Giorgio employs a third tactic: narrative. Through narrative she makes good on the list of “perplexing things” that she provides us with in poem “II” (“sugar, jasmine, white wine, black wine, the strange country school I attended for four years, murders, weddings among the orange blossoms, incestuous couplings”) by forming stories around these subjects. “XXIV,” for example, features “The bride” who “is covered completely in tulle; even her bones are tulle”—here we have a wedding. There are also darker plots of abduction and murder.
As the book draws to a close and comes to feel more solid because of its narrative technique (it feels as if the “And suddenly—” maneuver and heightened figures accrete in story, a sort of magical excess), di Giorgio at the same times begins to destabilize the poems by shifting point of view from poem to poem. Some of the poems are written in the third person, narrating a “she” that is and is not the speaker. Other poems employ the “I,” but this “I” is not always human. In “XXXIV” the “I” is a hare who meets its demise: “At dawn he came from me, lifted me; the blood ran down my sides.” As such, the arc of the book is completed, moving the reader from a description of the world that feels known, to new territories where even the location of subjectivity is subject to doubt and to change.
+ At this point in writing, I find it impossible not to engage in my own “And suddenly—” maneuver and turn from talking about what the poems in the book do to the physical fact of the book itself. In particular, the book begs attention to be paid to its paratextual materials. Before the 35 poems begin we move not only through the usual table of contents, title pages, etc, etc but also traverse a 5-page introduction, a 2-page translator’s note, and a full page of acknowledgements. After the poems’ end we move through 3 pages of notes before we hit the colophon. This averages out to roughly 1 full page of introductory-type apparatus for every 3 poems. If preface is to book as vestibule is to architecture this book’s lobby, threatening to overwhelm the house, raises the question of why the small book needs such prefacing.
The begging escalates with the first paratextual item, a full page devoted to a photo of Marosa di Giorgio and her dates (1932-2004). The photo shows the bust of a striking young woman with long black hair, large gypsy earrings, and a bare shoulder-line (think Senior Yearbook Picture, where you can imagine the girl naked because the photo cuts off just before the place the strapless dress would appear). Her gaze is direct, sad, and it is no surprise that she has been called a Uruguayan Emily Dickinson. To add to the romance, the introduction begins, on the facing page, with the following quote from Marosa di Giorgio talking about herself in third person:
That girl wrote poems: she placed them near the alcoves, the cups. It was the time when the clouds were floating through the rooms, and a crane or an eagle was always coming to drink tea with my mother…That girl wrote poems; she placed them near the alcoves, the lamps. Sometimes, the clouds, the April air came in, lifting them up, and there in the air they gleamed. And then the saints and butterflies crowded around, filled with joy, to read them.
The body of the introduction, written by Pitas, goes on to tell us that di Giorgio never doubted “her calling.” We learn she never married and that, while “she took an office job managing the Civil Register of the Salto city government” she “devoted free time to her creative work. Each day she spent several hours reading—everything from classic, Golden Age Spanish texts to American and English poetry to world mythology—and writing what would become her fifteen collections of poetry, two collections of short stories, and one novel.”
From this information and other details revealed in the introduction we are led to see Marosa di Giorgio in a compellingly contradictory light. She is both the mystic that is “called” to write, rather than just a writer with literary ambition. She herself reinforces this myth by talking of “saints and butterflies” reading her work. Additionally she was, alas, unmarried, although there is a “mysterious figure named Mario who makes many appearances through her work.” In terms of visionary poetesses it doesn’t get much better than this: all of these assertions render her transcendent. However, at the same time, we are assured that she was productive in her writing, publishing, and—a recipient of “grants that allowed her to travel to the United States, Europe…and Israel,”—a cosmopolitan artist taking part in literary culture work. Furthermore, she not only managed to put out a lot of work and to sufficiently educate herself in her craft, but was gainfully employed until her retirement in 1978.
As such the photo, the quote, and the biography, while contradictory, all seem to be in service of authenticating the text, of letting us know that di Giorgio is serious in her visionary stance (the work is not “just literature”), and that she is serious in her literary stance (the work is not “just visionary”). If the introductory material is not enough to create authenticity, the translator’s note and acknowledgments go even further in this direction. We are told that the translator learned of di Giorgio while studying at Sarah Lawrence, worked on the translation while on a Fulbright, and not only spent “hours in Salto’s public library reading di Giorgio’s work” but also “spent hours conversing with di Giorgio’s friends and relatives.” Acknowledgements further vet the work with thanks to the likes of Maria Negroni, Jen Hofer, and a series of Spanish literary professors who led a seminar on di Giorgio’s work. From these sentiments we see that the translation is backed not only by prestigious institutional support and by important translators and scholars, but also by the labor of primary research into the person and place of di Giorgio.
What can be made of this? On the one hand, the beguiling photograph, biographical details, and institutional authenticity are troubling features for the foyer of this book. Critics have suggested that di Giorgio can be read as a writer who seeks to subvert gender and patriarchal hierarchies. Why must her prefatory materials entrench them? On the other hand, the paratext of this book might be a logical and necessary extension of the author’s original project. If di Giorgio’s work takes us on an arc from tangible description of daily things to the altered state of being and point of view of the visionary, what greater extension of her quest than to begin the book with the most tangible of aspects: with the author’s very own, very human, face. If the book serves to pry open our reality, what better crowbar than the image of a woman who is both off cavorting with the butterflies and holding down a 9 to 5? Or, on a third hand, perhaps the paratext serves to counter the expectation that a sharp-eyed contemporary reader may be turned off by the book’s floriated vocabulary, the moments of the text that dive into preciousness too sincerely to be cool. “It’s a translation” the paratext excuses, “there are contextual and linguistic aspects that you can’t understand.” “She’s a visionary,” the paratext mutters, giving us permission to indulge in flowers, doves, angels and tears. “What do you expect?” - Karla Kelsey

Interview with Garth Graeper and Jeannine Pitas about The History of Violets

"Born in Salto, Uruguay, and raised on her family's farm, Marosa di Giorgio (1932-2004) is one of the most prominent Uruguayan poets of the twentieth century. Di Giorgio began writing in her childhood and published her first book of poems at the age of twenty-two. She then went on to publish a total of fourteen books of poetry, three collections of short stories, and one novel. While some critics have categorized her as a surrealist, she herself denied membership in any literary movement or school. Although she was relatively unknown outside the Southern Cone during her lifetime, she is now becoming more and more widely read throughout Latin America and Europe."

Image result for Marosa di Giorgio, Diadem: Selected Poems Marosa di Giorgio, Diadem: Selected Poems, Trans. by Adam Giannelli, BOA Editions, 2012.

"Green, pink, ringed, hand drawn. It's said they have relations with themselves and are visible when they shudder.
Or rigid like a finger they manage to drink in the fountain of roses. They're related to roses, bromeliads, and the pear tree. Some consider them only reveries that represent the sins of men.
But I, since I was a girl, in the light of the sun and moon, believe in them; I know they're real.
I saw them open their lips, black as the night, their gold teeth, after an almond, a pumpkin seed.

To face one's own mark, playing and fighting; and in love without others, to twist until death."

Marosa di Giorgio has one of the most distinct and recognizable voices in Latin American poetry. Her surreal and fable-like prose poems invite comparison to Kafka, Cortázar, and even contemporary American poets Russell Edson and Charles Simic; but di Giorgio’s voice, imagery, and themes—childhood, the Uruguayan countryside, a perception of the sacred—are her own. Previously written off as “the mad woman of Uruguayan letters,” di Giorgio’s reputation has blossomed in recent years.

“Since the publication of her first books in the mid-1950s, Marosa di Giorgio has introduced a seemingly indefinable element into Uruguayan literature. Angel Rama and Roberto Echavarren regard her as one of the most original and brilliant descendants of the Uruguayan-born Lautreamont. Other commentators portray her as an eccentric whose poetic prose is virtually synonymous with the idiosyncratic … She is therefore a writer who has been praised but also marginalized – insofar as she is repeatedly held up as the ‘mad woman’ of contemporary Uruguayan letters – because of a critical tendency to theorize negatively the very aspect of di Giorgio’s surrealist practices for which she has become most famous: her visionary escapism.” KATHRYN A. KOPPLE

In Diadem, Di Giorgio’s prose-styled poems are a collage of images ranging from the surreal to the innocent and childlike. Shadows stalking about the farm house amongst rose gardens, God appearing as a face and speaking, and children performing plays in the garden. Giorgio speaks to us through these images, playing with them, distorting them, and living in them; she speaks of “The owls, with their dark overcoats, thick spectacles, and strange little bells”, and “Virgin Mary, enormous wing over my whole childhood and the whole countryside.” These images, contrasted with the speech-like prose style, paints surrealistic and beautiful pictures of culture, childhood, sexuality, and death.
“God’s here.
God speaks.”
As noted by the translator of the collection of poems, Adam Giannelli, these poems could be read as a novel, cover to cover, or on their own as individual pieces, and they would still have the same power and depth. The poems themselves blend and blur the lines between each other, in effect recreating an idea of recalling memories of the past; sometimes fantasy, sometimes all too real, and always fleeting and hard to properly pin down.
The poems themselves are often quick to change in subject matter and mood; often these poems begin with something childlike, like a story or a memory.
“We would put on plays in the gardens, at twilight, beside the cedar and carob trees; the show was improvised on the spot, and I was always afraid I wouldn’t know what to say, although that never happened.”
The poems often quickly turn, however, such as in this fragment. What is meant by a play is quickly distorted into something else; be it the anxieties of adolescence, maturation, or something more so. What makes these pieces stand out is that sometimes it is hard to know exactly what is happening, but it doesn’t take anything away from it.
“The mushrooms are born in silence; some are born in silence; others, with a brief shriek, a bit of thunder.”
The flexibility Di Giorgio employs with image, as well as grammatical constraints, helps give the pieces a somewhat corporeal feel; there is some sort of otherness to them.
“Each ones bears-and this is the horrible part-the initials of the dead person from which it springs.”
The themes turn so quickly that the reader almost can’t keep up. First one has this image of a mushroom growing in the ground, but being born of thunder turns the poem; why would there be thunder? And then, the initials of the dead are introduced, so perhaps these are supposed to symbolize some sort of cultural thing; death and rebirth. However, the piece makes another turn in the very next line.
“But in the afternoon the mushroom buyer comes and starts to pick them. My mother lets him. He chooses like an eagle. That one, white as sugar, pink one, grey one.”
Here now the subject has changed again; perhaps the mushroom buyer is reaping the spoils of war? Perhaps this is westernization? Maybe they are just regular mushrooms? It is these parallels of images working together, juxtaposing themselves rapidly and fluidly, which creates powerful pieces of poetry all under a single breath.
“The locusts came from Paraguay; each one seemed sheathed in a soft bone, a husk; a waterfall, a deluge, they came tumbling down from the forests in the sky. Everyone ran out to face them. Papa, my grandparents, the owners of all the houses nearby, the farmhands and hounds, wearing huge masks with trailing bears and little dangling lamps, matador suits, as if they were off to fight a bull; they would run out, dressed that way, to scare off the locusts, they used pots and toys. They placed a straw man in every garden, every seedbed; they defended each and every plant/ They caused such havoc, such racket.’
Here again you see her flexible approach to grammar; using them not as a frame of narrative, but to give the words a sense of breath, pause, and motion; one that reflects both speech and thought  blending together,  giving the pieces a more natural and human feeling in each piece. You can hear the panic, the movement, the action; the locusts, with images of bone and death, cascading like waterfalls onto the small village. What you also get is the picture around the images; they might be the insects, or they could represent something else, but either reading is just as powerful. The flexibility of the language, whilst using these fleeting, collage like images, creates for the reader an endless possibility of narratives and stories within the lines themselves.
In using these prose-styled poems, Di Giorgio is able to take the strengths of poetry; the distillation of images down to their purest form, the uses of metaphor, and flexibility of language, to enhance these pieces beyond the idea of a short story or micro-fiction. The blurring of the lines between poem and prose serves these pieces well, giving these poems a story book feeling; like fables that had been passed from generation to generation, and with each telling the story had slightly changed. What is here, in print, is the distillation of memory, stories, and ‘real life’, into something moving and beautiful. And although these pieces can be quite surreal, the strength and emotion of them is still not lost on the reader. That is the true essence of these pieces; that they feel natural, real, meaningful, despite incorporating fantasy and surreal images.
On the Day of the Dead the trees become very plain, like leaves; a blue light passes through them.
The dead appear, lying down, or on their knees, and try to walk.
One glances leeringly at a dead blonde who stands out from afar.
But right away it starts to get cold. The sun goes black, leaving only
A ring, a raveled thread; birds chirp and fly to their nest.
A sheep lies on its back; with its hooves in the air.
And what’s below begins again to lower.’
These poems, or prose poems, are both unconventional and timeless, sharing the space of confusion and simplicity in the same breath. What Di Giorgio was able to do is share to us her own thoughts, fears, stories, and memories, in a way that makes one feel like they are their own memories; she connects us with her words, and shares with us her experiences. That is what makes these poems truly beautiful, and often moving; we feel these words, these memories, and these stories. We feel like the little girl in the garden wondering who the strangers are. We remember the shadows that moved around at night. We remember locusts, and we remember the animals in the forests. Although these aren’t the familiar images of our own everyday lives, one can’t help but feel like Di Giorgio is sharing with us something universal that we can’t quite put our finger on. - Rhys Nixon