Zine Review: Enigmas

ZINES_EnigmasEnigmas
Lit Zine, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (trans. Stalina Emmanuelle Villarreal), 25 pgs, BOMB Magazine/Libros Antena Books/Ugly Duckling Presse, uglyducklingpresse.org, $10

Written in 1693 and left undiscovered until 1968, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz originally constructed these twenty quatrains as a kind of philosophical brain-teaser for her Portuguese nun contemporaries. This short introduction to Enigmas does Cruz little justice, however, as her poems are much more than puzzles to be completed over a short train-ride. Presented by poet Stalina Emmanuelle Villarreal, this edition of Enigmas offers an intimate, rhythmic translation of Cruz’s work, side by side with the originals. It is undeniably refreshing to see this kind of work being performed by the zine medium: clean, authoritative, transparent literary work. Cruz’s 323-year-old poetry is not “fashionable” in today’s sense of the word, but Andrew Bourne’s book design is gorgeous by any standard. A strong translation, however, is perhaps a lot like a funny joke: difficult to explain, and thereby often better left undissected. This is not to discourage Villarreal from being transparent in this rigorous and theoretically-informed art, but it is to note that this publisher trio might have better spent its efforts in establishing a historical context for Cruz’s 20 quatrains. In lieu of an introduction, the reader is offered a reluctant translator’s note (literally titled “Translator’s Not-[subtractive letter]) which does more to confuse the reader’s understanding of the text than offer clarity. Take, for instance, Villarreal’s proposal that “sound accused of covering silence, however, sheds expression,” or further, “horizontally, rhyme tugs between the traditions of euphonic Spanish assonance and cacophonic English consonance”. Presented in an anthology or academic journal, such crypticisms might swing, but in a fashionable little zine such a tone seems counter-intuitive or out of place. (Joel W. Vaughan)

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