Notes from a Catalan village: summer on its way

18 May



The weather has been cloudy, windy and wet for much of May – validating the Catalan proverb, Al maig, cada dia un raig (in May, a shower every day) – with just the occasional day of glorious sunshine, when we take off for a walk, just to reassure ourselves that summer is really coming. On one of these occasions, wandering round the lanes near Rabós, we came upon this goat, standing in proprietorial fashion in the doorway of a caravan. She stared at us as we passed, not remotely deterred by the dog, who wisely stayed away.

Spring started a long time ago now, announced by the cherry blossom in February. It always seems to me that the summer is on its way when the first shoots appear on the vines, in early April. The poppies shoot up at the same time, bestowing on the olive groves a scattering of scarlet.


vineyard april

poppies and olive tree


The first tourists start to appear then too, almost exclusively French at this time of year, driving in the middle of the road on country lanes, and getting lost in the medieval labyrinth of the village.

One of the walks we took a couple of weeks back was to the Santuari de la Mare de Deu, near Terrades. A half hour’s climb to a tiny chapel rewards with views of Canigou and beyond.


Santa Maria

Chapel on mountain at Santuari de la Mare de Deu, near Terrades


Another of my favourite places, all year round, which still provides unspoiled beaches out of season, is Cap Norfeu – named after Orpheus – on the Cap de Creus peninsula, where, if you listen carefully, you can hear strains of song from below the cliffs. But don’t venture too close. Or go stepping on any snakes. You might end up in the underworld.


Cala Pelosa etc

Cala Pelosa and Cala Montjoi from Cap Norfeu

I kill out of rage

14 May


Shoes hanging

An exhibit by the artist Alfredo Lopez Casanova, using the shoes of missing people with messages on their soles, in an exhibition currently running at the ‘Casa de la Memoria Indomita’ in Mexico City, titled ‘Huellas de la Memoria‘ (Memory Traces).


Since posting María Rivera’s ‘The Dead’ on Wednesday, over 500 people have checked in, and María herself emailed to thank me for posting her poem. ‘The Dead’ evoked some powerful responses from readers. Echoing the views of others, John Freeman commented (on FB) that María achieves something he thought was ‘impossible to do – for a poet to create such emotional immediacy with such a sweep of large political anger’.

Shortly after encountering María’s poem, my friend Carlos López Beltrán directed me towards another fine poem  – again by a woman – that addresses the terrible swathe of violence in which Mexico has been immersed for the past decade. It appears in the anthology of Mexican Poetry edited by Pedro Serrano and Carlos himself, and titled 359 Delicados (con filtro), (Santiago de Chile: Lom, 2012).

The poem, ‘I kill out of rage’, by Claudia Hernández de Valle-Arizpe, adopts the voice of an assassin, reciting a list of random, barbaric ‘reasons’ for random, barbaric murder. In the poem the act of killing builds up its own terrible momentum, so that in the second stanza, the possibilities – or potential – for murder extend even to those hypothetical victims who are not killed on this occasion, but who might just as easily have been, according to the appalling logic that propels the actions of the poem’s speaker.

This poem, along with 156 others by 97 Latin American poets, selected and translated by Richard Gwyn, will be published in October 2016 in The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America, from Seren Books.

‘Mato por rabia’ first appeared in the collection Perros muy azules, México DF: Era (2012).



I Kill out of Rage

by Claudia Hernández de Valle-Arizpe (México)


I kill out of rage, out of hatred, out of spite; I kill from jealousy,

for revenge; I kill to bring justice (for me or for you),

so that you understand for once and for all, to get a rest

from you; I kill out of fear, to rob, to flee, to defend myself;

I kill out of habit, for fun; I kill as a reaction;

so that you don’t kill me, so that you don’t rape me. I kill because

I can’t bear it anymore, because I want to die but don’t dare,

because even children kill, because I’m sick because

I’m crazy, because I’m sad, because nobody loves me anymore.

I kill in the name of my religion, in the name of my people,

of freedom, of democracy. I kill in the name of God.

And also I kill because here I feel like it, in the shack,

in the neighbourhood, in the nightclub, on the road, in your house, in mine.

I kill for drugs, because it excites me, because it’s exercise, because

one day it’s me they’re going to kill. I kill dogs, cats, pigs, people.

I kill who’s going past in the street, or sleeping, or having fun.

I kill with weapons so that there’s blood, so that the blood runs

like my rage, my weariness, my injustice, my ugliness, my sex,

my obesity, my diabetes, my cirrhosis, my cancer, my mental retardation,

my stupidity, my nightmares, my hopeless life.


I kill you but could kill your sister, your father, your wife,

your children, your lover, your grandmother, your dog. I kill you today but

don’t trust me, because I can kill you tomorrow, any day,

with bullets that will pierce your lung and your stomach

and will lodge, very hot, in your neck, in your groin,

in your head. And what is yours will be no one’s, you see: what you proclaimed,

what you did, what you knew, what you liked so much: your mornings,

your nights in company, your memories, your plans, all of this will bite

the dust. Bullets, brother, bullets; what a tragedy, what sorrow,

those who knew you will cry, and you now in ashes, man,

woman, child, ugly, pretty, ignorant, brilliant, poor, rich, whatever.

Have you ever killed? Have you tried to?

Shoot, says the killer to the boy,

or don’t you dare?

There has never been a weapon in my house, there never was,

I have never fired a shot.



Mato por rabia

Mato por rabia, por odio, por despecho; mato por celos,

por venganza; mato para hacer(me), hacer(te) justicia.

Para que entiendas de una vez y para siempre, para descansar

de ti; mato por miedo, para robar, para huir, para defenderme;

mato por hábito, para divertirme; mato por reacción,

para que no me mates, para que no me violes. Mato porque

ya no aguanto, porque quiero morirme pero no me atrevo,

porque hasta los niños matan, porque estoy enfermo, porque

estoy loco, porque estoy triste, porque ya nadie me quiere.

Mato en nombre de mi religión, en nombre de mi pueblo,

de la libertad, de la democracia. Mato en nombre de Dios.

Y también mato porque se me da la gana aquí, en la chabola,

en el barrio, en el antro, en la carretera, en tu casa, en la mía.

Mato por droga, porque me excita, porque me ejercito, porque

un día a mí me van a matar. Mato perros, gatos, puercos, gente.

Mato al que va en la calle, al que duerme, al que se divierte.

Mato con armas para que haya sangre, para que corra la sangre

como mi rabia, mi hartazgo, mi injusticia, mi fealdad, mi sexo,

mi gordura, mi diabetes, mi cirrosis, mi cáncer, mi retraso mental,

mi estupidez, mis pesadillas, mi vida sin remedio.


Te mato a ti pero puedo matar a tu hermana, a tu padre, a tu mujer,

a tus hijos, a tu amante, a tu abuela, a tu perro. Te mato hoy pero

no confíes porque puedo matarte mañana, cualquier día,

con las balas que van a perforar tu pulmón y tu estomago

y que se alojarán, muy calientes, en tu cuello, en tus ingles,

en tu cabeza. Y lo tuyo no será de nadie, ya ves, lo que pregonaste,

lo que hiciste, lo que sabías, lo que tanto te gustaba: tus mañanas,

tus noches acompañado, tus recuerdos, tus planes, todo se lo comerá

el acero. Bullets, hermano, bullets; qué tragedia, que dolor,

van a gritar los que te conocieron, y tú ya en cenizas, hombre,

mujer, niño, feo, bonito, bruto, genial, pobre, rico, qué importa.

¿Mataste alguna vez? ¿Lo has intentado?

Dispara, le dice el asesino al muchacho,

¿o es que no te atreves?

Nunca ha habido un arma en mi casa, nunca la hubo,

nunca he disparado.




The Dead

10 May

Mexico Drugs War


The Dead


María Rivera (Mexico)


Here they come

the decapitated,

the amputees,

the torn into pieces,

the women with their coccyx split apart,

those with their heads smashed in,

the little ones crying

inside dark walls

of minerals and sand.

Here they come

those who sleep in buildings

that house secret tombs:

they come with their eyes blindfolded,

their hands tied,

shot between their temples.

Here come those who were lost in Tamaupilas,

in-laws, neighbours,

the woman they gang raped before killing her,

the man who tried to stop it and received a bullet,

the woman they also raped, who escaped and told the story

comes walking down Broadway,

consoled by the wail of the ambulances,

the hospital doors,

light shining on the waters of the Hudson.

Here they come

the dead who set out from Usulután,

from La Paz

from La Unión,

from La Libertad,

from Sonsonate,

from San Salvador,

from San Juan Mixtepec,

from Cuscatlán,

from El Progreso,

from El Guante,


those who were given the goodbye at a karaoke party,

and were found shot in Tecate.

Here comes the one they forced to dig his brother’s grave,

the one they murdered after collecting a four thousand dollar ransom,

those who were kidnapped

with a woman they raped in front of her eight year old son

three times.

Where do they come from,

from what gangrene,

oh lymph,

the bloodthirsty,

the heartless,

the murdering


Here they come,

the dead so alone, so mute, so much ours,

set beneath the enormous sky of Anáhuac,

they walk,

they drag themselves,

with their bowl of horror in their hands,

their terrifying tenderness.

They are called

the dead that they found in a ditch in Taxco,

the dead that they found in remote places of Chihuahua,

the dead that they found strewn across plots of crops,

the dead that they found shot in la Marquesa,

the dead that they found hanging from bridges,

the dead that they found without heads on common land,

the dead that they found at the side of the road,

the dead that they found in abandoned cars,

the dead that they found in San Fernando,

those without number they cut into pieces and have still not been found,

the legs, the arms, the heads, the femurs of the dead

dissolved in drums.

They are called

remains, corpses, the deceased,

they are called

the dead whose mothers do not tire of waiting,

the dead whose children do not tire of waiting,

the dead whose wives do not tire of waiting,

they imagine them in subways, among gringos.

They are called

baby clothes woven in the casket of the soul,

the little tee shirt of a three-month-old

the photo of a toothless smile,

they are called mamita,


they are called

little kicks

in the tummy

and the newborn’s cry,

they are called four children,

Petronia (2), Zacarías (3), Sabas (5), Glenda (6)

and a widow (a girl) who fell in love at primary school,

they are called wanting to dance at fiestas,

they are called blushing of hot cheeks and sweaty hands,

they are called boys,

they are called wanting

to build a house,

laying bricks,

giving food to my children,

they are called two dollars for cleaning beans,

houses, estates, offices,

they are called

crying of children on earth floors,

the light flying over the birds,

the flight of pigeons in the church,

they are called

kisses at the river’s edge,

they are called

Gelder (17)

Daniel (22)

Filmar (24)

Ismael (15)

Agustín (20)

José (16)

Jacinta (21)

Inés (28)

Francisco (53)


in the scrubland,

hands tied

in the gardens of ranches,


in the gardens of ‘safe’ houses,

in some forgotten wilderness,

disintegrating mutely

and in secret,

they are called

secrets of hitmen,

secrets of slaughter,

secrets of policemen,

they are called sobbing,

they are called mist,

they are called body,

they are called skin,

they are called warmth,

they are called kiss,

they are called hug,

they are called laughter,

they are called people,

they are called pleading,

they were called I,

they were called you,

they were called us,

they are called shame,

they are called sobbing.

Here they go









breasts bitten,

hands tied,

their bodies burned to a crisp,

their bones polished by the sand of the desert.

They are called

the dead women that no one knows no one saw being killed,

they are called

women who go out alone to bars at night,

they are called

working women who leave their homes at dawn,

they are called








chucked away,

they are called meat,

they are called meat.


without flowers,

without tombstones,

without an age,

without a name,

without sobbing,

they sleep in their cemetery:

its name is Temixco,

its name is Santa Ana,

its name is Mazatepec,

its name is Juárez,

its name is Puente de Ixtla,

its name is San Fernando,

its name is Tlaltizapán,

its name is Samalayuca,

its name is el Capulín,

its name is Reynosa,

its name is Nuevo Laredo,

its name is Guadalupe,

its name is Lomas de Poleo,

its name is Mexico.


Translated by Richard Gwyn

This poem, along with 155 others by 97 Latin American poets, selected and translated by Richard Gwyn, will be published in October 2016 in The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America, from Seren Books.

A video of the poet reading ‘The Dead’ can be found here:


Los Muertos


Allá vienen

los descabezados,

los mancos,

los descuartizados,

a las que les partieron el coxis,

a los que les aplastaron la cabeza,

los pequeñitos llorando

entre paredes oscuras

de minerales y arena.

Allá vienen

los que duermen en edificios

de tumbas clandestinas:

vienen con los ojos vendados,

atadas las manos,

baleados entre las sienes.

Allí vienen los que se perdieron por Tamaulipas,

cuñados, yernos, vecinos,

la mujer que violaron entre todos antes de matarla,

el hombre que intentó evitarlo y recibió un balazo,

la que también violaron, escapó y lo contó viene

caminando por Broadway,

se consuela con el llanto de las ambulancias,

las puertas de los hospitales,

la luz brillando en el agua del Hudson.

Allá vienen

los muertos que salieron de Usulután,

de La Paz,

de La Unión,

de La Libertad,

de Sonsonate,

de San Salvador,

de San Juan Mixtepec,

de Cuscatlán,

de El Progreso,

de El Guante,


a los que despidieron en una fiesta con karaoke,

y los encontraron baleados en Tecate.

Allí viene al que obligaron a cavar la fosa para su hermano,

al que asesinaron luego de cobrar cuatro mil dólares,

los que estuvieron secuestrados

con una mujer que violaron frente a su hijo de ocho años

tres veces.

¿De dónde vienen,

de qué gangrena,

oh linfa,

los sanguinarios,

los desalmados,

los carniceros


Allá vienen

los muertos tan solitos, tan mudos, tan nuestros,

engarzados bajo el cielo enorme del Anáhuac,


se arrastran,

con su cuenco de horror entre las manos,

su espeluznante ternura.

Se llaman

los muertos que encontraron en una fosa en Taxco,

los muertos que encontraron en parajes alejados de Chihuahua,

los muertos que encontraron esparcidos en parcelas de cultivo,

los muertos que encontraron tirados en la Marquesa,

los muertos que encontraron colgando de los puentes,

los muertos que encontraron sin cabeza en terrenos ejidales,

los muertos que encontraron a la orilla de la carretera,

los muertos que encontraron en coches abandonados,

los muertos que encontraron en San Fernando,

los sin número que destazaron y aún no encuentran,

las piernas, los brazos, las cabezas, los fémures de muertos

disueltos en tambos.

Se llaman

restos, cadáveres, occisos,

se llaman

los muertos a los que madres no se cansan de esperar

los muertos a los que hijos no se cansan de esperar,

los muertos a los que esposas no se cansan de esperar,

imaginan entre subways y gringos.

Se llaman

chambrita tejida en el cajón del alma,

camisetita de tres meses,

la foto de la sonrisa chimuela,

se llaman mamita,


se llaman


en el  vientre

y el primer llanto,

se llaman cuatro hijos,

Petronia (2), Zacarías (3), Sabas (5), Glenda (6)

y una viuda (muchacha) que se enamoró cuando estudiaba la primaria,

se llaman ganas de bailar en las fiestas,

se llaman rubor de mejillas encendidas y manos sudorosas,

se llaman muchachos,

se llaman ganas

de construir una casa,

echar tabique,

darle de comer a mis hijos,

se llaman dos dólares por limpiar frijoles,

casas, haciendas, oficinas,

se llaman

llantos de niños en pisos de tierra,

la luz volando sobre los pájaros,

el vuelo de las palomas en la iglesia,

se llaman

besos a la orilla del río,

se llaman

Gelder (17)

Daniel (22)

Filmar (24)

Ismael (15)

Agustín (20)

José (16)

Jacinta (21)

Inés (28)

Francisco (53)

entre matorrales,


en jardines de ranchos


en jardines de casas de seguridad


en parajes olvidados,

desintegrándose muda,


se llaman

secretos de sicarios,

secretos de matanzas,

secretos de policías,

se llaman llanto,

se llaman neblina,

se llaman cuerpo,

se llaman piel,

se llaman tibieza,

se llaman beso,

se llaman abrazo,

se llaman risa,

se llaman personas,

se llaman súplicas,

se llamaban yo,

se llamaban tú,

se llamaban nosotros,

se llaman vergüenza,

se llaman llanto.

Allá van









los pechos mordidos,

las manos atadas,

calcinados sus cuerpos,

sus huesos pulidos por la arena del desierto.

Se llaman

las muertas que nadie sabe nadie vio que mataran,

se llaman

las mujeres que salen de noche solas a los bares,

se llaman

mujeres que trabajan salen de sus casas en la madrugada,

se llaman









se llaman carne,

se llaman carne.


sin flores,

sin losas,

sin edad,

sin nombre,

sin llanto,

duermen en su cementerio:

se llama Temixco,

se llama Santa Ana,

se llama Mazatepec,

se llama Juárez,

se llama Puente de Ixtla,

se llama San Fernando,

se llama Tlaltizapán,

se llama Samalayuca,

se llama el Capulín,

se llama Reynosa,

se llama Nuevo Laredo,

se llama Guadalupe,

se llama Lomas de Poleo,

se llama México.


Facing Rabbit Island

6 May




Facing Rabbit Island


That night we came down

from the colony on the hillside.

The afternoon had strewn

about our heads

a debris of hyperbole

and vague menace.

Bewildered before

the declaiming of Hikmet

by an Air Force General,

cast into stupor

by amphitheatre kitsch,

we sought out the solace

of the purple seaboard,

along with something darker.

But our path was convoluted

– the geography, as someone once

remarked, would not stay still –

and the road abandoned us.

A big white dog appeared, on cue,

led us to the village of Gümüslük.

Across a narrow stretch of sea

lay Rabbit Island.

I might have swum the strait,

but feared the straying tentacles

of confused sea creatures.

Everywhere was closed,

and what wasn’t closed

was closing in. Fishing boats

rocked gently in the harbour;

the awnings of the restaurants

pulled down, dark and silent.

No movement in the street

besides those watchful cats.

I looked to our canine guide,

but he had slipped away.

No respite from the labyrinth,

it pursues you

even when you think

you have evaded it,

sucks you in deeper,

lets you wander, trancelike,

from one variety of despair

to another, presents you

with a chthonic version of yourself,

the one that leads you back

at five a.m. to stagnant water,

the merciless mocking of the frogs,

the ironic moon.




Ballad of the House

2 May
Romulo Bustos

Colombian poet Romulo Bustos Aguirre



Last Tuesday saw the launch in Bogotá of Rómulo Bustos Aguirre’s Collected Poems (1988-2013), La pupila incesante. The event was introduced by another fine Colombian poet, Darío Jaramillo Agudelo. Both poets feature in my forthcoming anthology, The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America, to be published by Seren in October. Using a language rich in metaphysical allusion and sensual imagery, Rómulo Bustos is a writer of ‘slow’ poetry, inspired by the landscape and themes of his native Caribbean. A professor of literature at the University of Cartagena, he has won the National Poetry Prize from the Instituto Colombiano de Cultura, and the Blas de Otero Prize from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Here is my translation of a poem of Rómulo’s, which was published in the Irish poetry magazine Cyphers, back in December 2014.


Ballad of the House

You will find a house with a strange name

	that you will attempt in vain to decipher

And walls the colour of good dreams

But you will not see that colour

Nor will you drink the red plum wine

	that expands memories

On the fence

a child with a half-open book

Ask him the way to the big trees

whose fruits are guarded by an animal

that sends passers-by to sleep just by looking at them

And he will answer while conversing

	with a green-winged angel

(as if it were another child playing at being an angel

with wide banana leaves stuck to his back)

barely moving his lips in a gentle spell

“the cockerel’s song isn’t blue but a sleepy pink

like the first light of day”

And you will not understand. And nevertheless

you will find an immense hallway that I crossed

where the portrait of a lord hangs, shimmering

	slightly, his heart in his hand

And at the back, right at the back,

the soul of the house seated in a rocking chair, singing

But you will not heed her

Because in that instant

A distant sound shall crumple the horizon

And the child will have finished the last page


Translation by Richard Gwyn



Balada de la casa


Hallarás una casa con un nombre extraño

que intentarás descifrar en vano

Y muros del color de los buenos sueños

Pero tú no verás ese color

Tampoco beberás el vino rojo de los ciruelos

que ensancha los recuerdos

En la verja

un niño con un libro entreabierto

Pregúntale por el camino de los grandes árboles

cuyos frutos guarda un animal

que adormece a los andantes con sólo mirarlos

Y él contestará mientras conversa

con un ángel de alas verdes

(como si fuera otro niño que juega al ángel

y se hubiera colocado anchas hojas de plátano a la espalda)

moviendo apenas los labios en un leve conjuro

“el canto del gallo no es azul sino de un rosa dormido

como el primer claro del día”

Y tú no entenderás. Y sin embargo

hallarás un zaguán que yo recorrí inmenso

donde cuelga el retrato de un señor que resplandece

levemente, con el corazón en la mano

Y al fondo, muy al fondo

el alma de la casa sentada en una mecedora, cantando

Pero tú no la escucharás


Pues, en ese instante

Un sonido lejano ajará el horizonte

Y el niño habrá pasado la última de las páginas


Rómulo Bustos Aguirre (Colombia)


The War of the Idiots

26 Apr


blown bridge


The War of the Idiots

by Beatriz Vignoli (Argentina)


We dynamited the bridge before ever

crossing it, the lovely bridge

that we built.


The bridge over the river of forgetfulness, it was.


Now we will die forgotten.

Let’s die then, and from this.


Translation by Richard Gwyn.



La Guerra de los tontos


Dinamitamos antes de cruzarlo

el puente, el bello puente

que habíamos construido.


El puente sobre el río del olvido era.


Ahora, moriremos olvidados.

Muramos ya, y de esto.


‘La Guerra de los tontos’ was first published in Beatriz Vignoli’s collection Viernes, Bajolaluna, Buenos Aires, 2001.

This poem, along with 155 others by 97 Latin American poets, will be published in October 2016, in the anthology The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America, from Seren Books.








Ten Tequilas

21 Apr

Ten tequilas


Ten Tequilas  

 by Julio Trujillo (México)


I went out into the street in flames

and without myself,

what was left were shreds of gazes:

the world was my eyes

and my eyes


seeking and at the same time

willing to be found,

striding down there below,

gasp and echo,

a flow without direction that wants

to debouch.

What sea awaits the man who brims over?

But the instant doesn’t ask questions,

it advances and remains standing,

straightens up to full height,


its colours

that in this blue night

keep flying.



Diez tequilas


A la calle salí en llamas y sin mí,

lo que restaba eran jirones de miradas:

el mundo era mis ojos

y mis ojos


buscando a la vez

dispuesto a ser hallado,

zancadas allá abajo,

resuello y resonancia,

caudal que va sin rumbo y que desea


¿Qué mar espera al hombre desbordado?,

pero el instante no pregunta,

avanza y se mantiene,

se yergue a toda altura,


sus estandartes

que en esta noche azul

siguen ondeando.


Translation by Richard Gwyn.

This poem, along with 155 others by 97 Latin American poets, will be published in October 2016, in the anthology The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America, from Seren Books.