Micrograms, Bilingual Edition: Spanish-English
By Jorge Carrera Andrade; Edited by Ivan Carvajal and J. Enrique Ojeda;
Translated by J. Enrique Ojeda (essay) and Steven Ford Brown (poems)
Reviewed by Juan Carlos Grijalva
Ecuadorian poet Jorge Carrera Andrade is more alive than ever. After reading a good number of outstanding Latin American poets, I usually ask my students: “Who was the most interesting, provoking, and engaging poet?” The simplicity, beautiful imagery, and existential complexities of Carrera Andrade are always among my students’ top poetic preferences. For their and my own enjoyment, and for that of others who do find in Latin American poetry a good companion, this new Spanish-English edition of Micrograms (Tokyo, Japan, 1940), edited by Iván Carvajal and J. Enrique Ojeda and translated by Ojeda and Birmingham native Steven Ford Brown, is an occasion for celebration.
In his essay, “Origen and Future of the Microgram,” also included in this publication, Carrera Andrade defines a microgram as a poetic relative of the Castilian epigram composed by Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo y Villegas or later Manuel Machado. It is an “essentially graphic,” “emotional,” “pictorial” poem that captures “the gesture of insignificant lives.” In its metaphorical use of language and verbal purification, Micrograms is a poetry book deeply connected to the Spanish Vanguards, the Creationism and Ultraísmo movements, and the inspiring presence of the Japanese haiku or haikai, which was introduced by Mexican poet Juan José Tablada to Latin American letters for the first time.
In Carrera Andrade’s own words, “I discovered that ugly beings also fulfill, in their own way, a beautiful task and that the toad, the hornet, the worm are other multiple ciphers of the universe’s secret key. The flamingo’s animated snow, the cactus’s vegetal misanthropy, the caterpillar’s hidden work in the tree, they led me in ascending cosmic ladder to decipher the bird’s alphabet, high signals that maintain the planet’s spiritual order.”
In Micrograms, Carrera Andrade discovers for us a universe of poetic analogies and unexpected ways of looking at small things. Poetry becomes a powerful magnifying glass through which the eye’s reader is amazed by a microphysics of meanings. To say it very simply: Carrera Andrade writes poetry at its best possible and compressed expression.
Unfortunately, as Brown has explained in his English edition of Carrera Andrade’s Century of the Death of the Rose, “since his death in 1978 Jorge Carrera Andrade has suffered a decline in his literary reputation in the United States. . . . Although he has become a forgotten poet among U.S. literary critics and anthologists, his reputation remains very high in France, Germany, Italy, and South America.” With this new bilingual edition of Micrograms, published by Orogenia Corporación Cultural in Quito, Ecuador, Ojeda and Brown not only have made available to the English-speaking world this important book of poetry, but also contributed to the “rediscovery” of Carrera Andrade, among Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral, and Cesar Vallejo, as one of the finest contemporary poets of Latin America. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1975.
Juan Carlos Grijalva is an Assistant Professor of Spanish and Latin American Literature at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts.