Sunday, June 1, 2014



Micrograms by Jorge Carrera Andrade, Translated by Alejandro de Acosta and Joshua Beckman
(Wave Books, Seattle and New York, 2011)

What is a microgram?  

In these translations — and re-translations — of Jorge Carrera Andrade’s haiku-like verses and his renderings of Japanese haikus, I was thankful for the chance to renew my limited understanding of an ancient poetic form, invented through Carrera Andrade’s poetic imagination.  Nourished and inspired by the natural world, the Ecuadorian poet develops a distilled voice based on the purity of sounds: a music grounded in immediacy, undecorated but timeless.  The translators inform us, “The microgram is a poem usually between three to six lines long and about little natural creatures (both flora and fauna) and their existence in the universe.”  Part-essay, part-collection of Carrera Andrade’s short poems (which also contain his Japanese translations of haikus), this handsome little book is very much in itself a microgram.  The poet’s introduction of nineteen pages, “Origin and Future of the Microgram” is, in particular, an interesting read: while Carrera Andrade himself specified from the outset that he did not “pretend to have invented the Microgram,” he was clearly motivated to reinvigorate the form via characteristics of the new Latin American poetry that he knew well.  For this and other reasons, one should not be surprised by the contemporary feel and modern appeal in each of these micrograms.

This volume contains thirty original “micrograms” that Andrade wrote when completing his stint as an ambassador in Japan, and twenty of his translations of haikus ­by Japanese masters Yaha, Chigetsu-ni, Basho, Sora, Ransetsu, Hokushi, Joso, Inembo, Otsuyu, Issa, and Kikaku.  The compilation was first published in Tokyo in 1940.  Reading translations of translations is fun, and of course, a challenge: how much of each text is being “lost” a second time, or “gained” better in a different register?  On this, the translators offer us their direct experience: “We chose to translate these poems directly from the Spanish without referring to any of the numerous translations into English (or to the Japanese, which we do not know).  It seemed that doing this would help us create a more unified tone, consistent with the tone of Carrera Andrade’s book.  We also thought we would enjoy the experience.”

I, for one, very much enjoy the experience of these intelligent micrograms, and take the opportunity to quote some of my favorites.  I remember them for their stark imagery, quick humor, and the signature (though deceptive) economy of words:

Nut: wisdom compressed
little vegetal turtle
magic brain
paralyzed for all eternity.
— “Nut,” p. 36

Late Night Toad: your little
typings strike
the moon’s blank page.
   “Typewriting,” p. 37

The air string cannot
spin its green top.
   “The Pear,” p. 45

Imprisoned beneath the leaf
an anemone watches
the world’s sadness pass.  (Yaha)
— p. 65

Closed house:
Around the paper lantern
The bats dance.  (Ransetsu)
   p. 70


Greta Aart lives in France.

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