Save Twilight

cortazarJulio Cortázar
City Lights Books ($12.95)

by John Serrano

This book, a selection from Cortázar's collected poems which he labored on throughout his life and which appeared only after his death, is a fitting addition to City Lights' famed Pocket Poets Series (Cortázar himself calls his verses "poemas de bolsillo"). While Cortázar's poetry cannot scale the heights of his fiction, it does offer an alternate glimpse of this master wordsmith.

The poems range from traditional rhymed sonnets to surrealist wordplay. There's no chronology to follow—Cortázar, not surprisingly, envisioned the book as a "game" with "no other schedule than that of unplanned encounters, the true ones." It's also no surprise, then, that the more successful poems are those with more adrenaline—the unrestrained first line of "The Knitters," for example ("I know them, those horrible women, the knitters wrapped in fuzz") or the caustic "To a God Unknown" with its refrain of "Whoever you are, don't come," or the magnificent long poem "Get a Move On," in which time, one of Cortázar's great obsessions, is envisioned as "a truckload of rocks." Stephen Kessler's translations are good, though occasionally too stilted to capture Cortázar's ironic tone. In "To a God Unknown," for example, Kessler translates the final words, "Dios mío," as the stately "God of mine," where the more colloquial "my God" would have picked up Cortázar's dismay more effectively.

Peppered throughout Save Twilight are prose passages in which Cortázar reflects on his poetic endeavor and offers quirky biographical hints as to its genesis. These tender manifestoes remind us why Julio Cortázar's writing, no matter what the form, is so animated. "Life provides the dreams but dreams return the deeper currency of life."

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