Book Review

The Foreign Passion / La Pasión Extranjera by Cristian Aliaga

very very good Argentine poems

Necesito practicar mi español y para muchas meses no he practicado nada. No hay una razón, para ser honesto, por que no he hecho depresión hasta el invierno, y una inhabilidad para hacer nada estaba una síntoma de mis problemas con mi salud mental.

I need to practice my Spanish, I haven’t been recently, even tho I’m not depressed any more.

Recibí este libro gratis cuando compré el libro sobre la poesía del Sahara oeste de Influx Press a un punto loco en 2017.

Sorry, I started typing this hours ago and intended to write the whole thing in Spanish as an exercise, to push myself. Now, however, the day has slipped away and it is later and I am keen to tie this up, keen to move onto the next volume of poetry, the next edit of my own poetry collection, the beginning seeds of the rest of my life, the future, the present, the present, the future. I have washed my dog today after walking with him for hours. I have done life admin and sent the manuscript of my poems to a writer whose work I think is fucking amazing, and I’ve also, mere moments ago, emailed it to the person whose opinion I – right now – care the most about, so that’s pretty intense too.

ANYWAY, you’re not here to hear more about my formally and publicly announced imminent poetry collection, Bad Boy Poet, but to see my thoughts on the 2016 Influx Press publication The Foreign Passion or La Pasión Extranjera, a collection of poems by Cristian Aliaga, translated by the British academic Ben Bollig (I’m sure he had fun at school).

Aliaga is an Argentine poet, and the poems included in this collection are written in prose, are prose poems. Aliaga spent some time in Europe as part of a cultural exchange programme, and the poems collected here reflect the memories and encounters that he had. He goes to parts of Belfast that were ravaged by nationalistic violence, he visits wild, rural, England; he writes poems about things he sees in London stations, in museums all over the UK, he visits sites of massacres on the continent and he reflects on, reflects on, reflects on-

arrrrrrrrrrr i’m tired and nervous, stopped for twenty minutes just to keep refreshing my phone in the hope of words of praise arriving from-

I fucking loved this collection, and I wandered around large London parks in this, the beginning of Spring, reading the Spanish originals and extracting as much meaning as I could before looking at Bollig’s translations. My Spanish is better than I often give it credit for, but not fluent: I lacked essential vocabulary, but keeping half an eye on the words and phrases I couldn’t understand helped me navigate my way through these pieces where my impressions, predominantly, were rooted in Aliaga’s language, Aliaga’s words and sounds and tonal choices… for the first time, possibly, I read a book in Spanish where I honestly felt like I was experiencing the Spanish as my main engagement with the text. I read a lot of it aloud, too, especially words I didn’t know and structures that confused me: I want to get better at Spanish – again again again – and I think I may have found a way to do it, to make the work that is required seem less like work. The quickest my language skills ever developed was during the period when I had regular conversation classes, i.e. chats, with a guy who was a similar age to me and had similar interests. My classes were spent hanging out with a postgraduate architecture student while I was tidying up the (alas, unpublished) novel I wrote while doing my MA. My classes were fun, socialising where I had to focus my mind in order to talk, but when I did talk, we’d talk about things that were much less dull than what I’d found I have had to make dialogue about in any classes I’ve had before or since. I think, though, this is the answer: read banging Spanish poetry.

Aliaga’s thematic interests appeal to me. He is from Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego, the parts of South America as far away from here as one can be. It is a part of the world that fascinated me for many years during my long standing depression. I hated my life, and I fantasised about being as far away as possible from it a lot. And I mean A LOT. It is odd to wrestle when happy with the themes of an interest gained when sad, but Aliaga plucks the practical ideas of isolation and expands them: when people are isolated, people can get away with things they ordinarily wouldn’t, things happen which do not have to be explained. As Aliaga spends time in rather mundane parts of the UK and elsewhere, he connects ideas between Patagonia, which is the limit of the world, of a continent, with ideas of conflict and industrial decline and political apathy and the destruction rendered by market forces here, back here, in the homes of colonial powers.

I’m too tired to go back through the book and pluck out images, ideas and phrases that stuck with me, I’m too tired to write about this book with the force I’d like to.

Aliaga made shit bits of England sound amazing, he imbues mystery into parts of my own country that I’ve only ever been able to find in other people’s. In poems of poverty and religious oppression and political discord and crime and punishment and disagreements and the landscape, Aliaga evokes places, globally, in an exciting and meaningful way. I wish I had the time to dive into this properly, go like kinda crazy on the praise and the justifications for it, but fuck it, I have to iron a shirt and go to sleep. It’s late.

Top book. More poetry like this, please.

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